Throwing the book at people is nothing new, but in our post-9/11 world the screws are tightening. Take San Francisco, whose District Attorney is Terence "Kayo" Hallinan, a progressive fellow. Indeed, in his 2000 re-election bid Hallinan survived years of abuse in the San Francisco Chronicle for supposedly being altogether too slack a prosecutor, with poor conviction rates and kindred offenses betokening softness on crime.
Yet this is the same Hallinan who's hit two gay AIDS activists with an escalating barrage of charges, currently amounting to forty-one alleged felonies and misdemeanors, all adding up to what he has stigmatized in the local press as "terrorism." That's a trigger word these days, as Sarah Jane Olson, a k a Kathleen Soliah, recently discovered when a judge put her away for twenty years to life for actions back in the 1970s.
Held in San Francisco County Jail since last November 28 are Michael Petrelis and David Pasquarelli. Neither man has been able to make bail, which Hallinan successfully requested to be set at $500,000 for Petrelis and $600,000 for Pasquarelli.
Why this astonishing bail? What it boils down to is that the two accused are dissidents notorious for raising all kinds of inconvenient, sometimes obscene hell about AIDS issues. They've long been detested by San Francisco's AIDS establishment, which Petrelis in particular has savaged as being disfigured by overpaid executives, ineffective HIV-prevention campaigns and all-round complacency and sloth.
They've taken kooky positions. Pasquarelli, for example, believes that HIV doesn't cause AIDS. Petrelis hasn't scrupled to form alliances with right-wingers in Congress when it suits his tactical book. Being attacked by them can be an unpleasant experience. Who wants to get phoned in the middle of the night and be asked whether your wife has got your syphilitic dick in her mouth?
The two were thrown in jail because of an escalating campaign they launched late last year amid calls for an expansion of quarantining laws across the country, prompted by fears of bioterrorism. Petrelis and Pasquarelli took after an SF public health official, Jeffrey Klausner, for seeming to endorse quarantining of people with AIDS. They also assailed the media, notably the San Francisco Chronicle, for relaying what the two claimed were inflated statistics about increases in the rates of syphilis and HIV in San Francisco. The higher the stats, the more dollars flow to various AIDS bureaucracies. The Chronicle claimed tremulously that not only had its reporters been showered with filthy nocturnal calls to their homes but that there had been a bomb threat against the paper.
On the basis of what has surfaced so far, the charges and bail are way out of kilter with the facts of the case. Their severity defies logical explanation, unless we acknowledge the loathing Petrelis and Pasquarelli inspire in San Francisco's respectable element and among some well-known organizers.
Take Kate Sorensen, an AIDS activist who herself was held on $1 million bail for leading demonstrations outside the 2000 Republican convention in Philadelphia. The DA there took her to trial on three felonies, though she was only convicted of a misdemeanor. Such experiences have not evoked any solidarity with the San Francisco pair. Wrote Sorensen recently, "I will fight for our right to demonstrate. I will fight for our right to free speech. I will fight this police state, but I will not fight for you."
This self-righteous stance was elicited by an open letter of concern addressing the prosecution of Petrelis and Pasquarelli. Organized by the radical gay civil libertarian Bill Dobbs of Queer Watch, the open letter (go to www.openletteronline.com and look under "Politics & Activism," then "Petrelis-Pasquarelli") has been signed by hundreds, including many well-known gay figures like Harvey Fierstein, Scott Tucker, Barbara Smith and Judy Greenspan. The letter questions the motivation for the charges and makes the scarcely extremist demand that the two get fair legal treatment and reasonable bail.
Moderate though the terms of the letter are, it has aroused much fury from the San Francisco gay establishment, whose animus against Petrelis and Pasquarelli was what apparently prompted Hallinan to have the pair charged and arrested in the first place. On November 15 Martin Delaney of Project Inform, Mike Shriver of the mayor's office and fifteen others published a letter in the Bay Area Reporter urging people to pressure Hallinan, demanding "full prosecution of Pasquarelli, Petrelis and their collaborators."
Petrelis and Pasquarelli have a potent posse howling for their heads. "They fucked with the wrong people," said a health official quoted in the San Francisco Examiner on January 23. The "wrong people" include a broad swath of liberals and leftists in and out of government, the AIDS establishment and media figures.
Time was when a decent death threat used to be a badge of honor in the Fourth Estate. Jimmy Breslin recently recalled to Dobbs his glorious "Son of Sam" days, when violent threats were so routine at the New York Daily News that the paper's switchboard operator was wont to ask callers whether they were registering "general death threats" or "specific death threats for Mr. Breslin."
Granted, Chronicle editor Phil Bronstein is a terror survivor of "Attack by Lizard in the LA Zoo," and his wife, Sharon Stone, is the marquee celebrity for one of Petrelis's targets, the American Foundation for AIDS Research, but Bronstein should remember that Daily News phone operator and get off his high horse.
Hallinan's got a radical past and even radical pretensions. He knows as well as anyone that conspiracy charges have long been used to smash protest. And he knows as well as anyone that militant protest is at the cutting edge of social conscience. It's easy to grandstand about the foul tactics, the obscenities, the all-round vulgarity of Pasquarelli and Petrelis, but should this add up to a demand that they be thrown into prison for years? Of course it shouldn't. Judge Parker Meeks Jr. should resist the entreaties of the posse and cut the preposterous bail drastically or release them on their own recognizance. Hallinan should get his sense of perspective back, and drop the drastic charges.
The Supreme Court has made a decision that is wrongheaded, and wrong.
Questions about Enron's links to the White House and Dick Cheney's Energy Task Force are reassuring. They mean that the nation, after the September 11 attacks, is now confident enough to focus on some of the more traditional threats to our democracy, like the corporate takeover of our political system.
Following the release of the White House energy plan last year, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) demanded the Energy Task Force's records, including any interactions with major Bush campaign donors like Enron's Ken Lay. The Vice President's office refused to release the documents, claiming that Congress was exceeding its oversight authority. One of the oil and gas men whose privacy the White House wants to protect is Cheney himself, who in 1999, as CEO of Halliburton, was a member of the Petroleum Council, an advisory group to the Energy Department. The council issued a report calling for the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and of roadless areas of the West to fossil fuel exploitation, proposals incorporated into the White House plan.
The GAO was preparing to sue for the first time in its eighty-year history when the terrorists struck. It then put its suit on hold so it could focus on "homeland security" and let the White House do the same. With the collapse of Enron and the beginning of Congressional hearings on the largest bankruptcy in US history, that holding pattern appears to be ending.
Still, even as environmental groups backed away from criticizing the President after September 11, the White House continued to push its "free market" environmental agenda. This past October, Interior Secretary Gale Norton had to explain why she'd altered scientific data, in a letter to the Senate, to make it appear that oil operations in the Arctic would not harm hundreds of thousands of migratory caribou, when in fact her own Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) had provided her with data suggesting it would. "We did make a mistake. We will take steps to clarify and correct that," she told reporters in explaining one of the many discrepancies in her letter.
Norton has also concluded that drilling in the Arctic won't violate an international treaty that protects polar bears. The FWS, which has twice issued reports stating that drilling poses a threat to the bears, was directed to "correct these inconsistencies" with Norton's position. Polar bears can live with oil drilling, the FWS now tells us. They'll just look more like panda bears.
Ten years after President Bush Sr. pledged "no net loss of wetlands," George W. has signed off on an Army Corps of Engineers proposal that will make it easier for developers and mining companies to dredge and fill America's vital wetlands through a "general permitting" process that is rarely if ever challenged. Again, Norton failed to forward comments from her FWS to the corps, even though the FWS had written that the proposed policy change would result in "tremendous destruction of aquatic and terrestrial habitat."
Among the beneficiaries of the new engineer corps rules will be mining companies involved in "mountaintop removal" in Appalachia. J. Steven Griles, Norton's deputy, was a longtime mining lobbyist, and Norton herself lobbied for the lead industry.
Over at the EPA Christie Whitman won greenie points when she ordered GE to begin dredging PCBs out of the Hudson River. At the same time, the EPA has begun moving top career people (from the office of wetlands, enforcement, etc.) around the agency in a strange reorganization no one quite understands. "Are they purposely designing this to hamstring EPA for the next twenty years?" wonders a career employee who also complains that enforcement actions (as opposed to industry-friendly out-of-court settlements) are down significantly in the past year.
Under White House and lobbyist pressure, the EPA is also getting ready to relax clean air standards (that, as governor of New Jersey, Whitman supported) requiring old coal-fired power plants to shut down or significantly reduce gaseous emissions that contribute to acid rain and other forms of pollution.
Even Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham's recent Detroit auto show announcement that the government will work with the auto industry to develop pollution-free hydrogen-fuel-cell cars got mixed reactions. That's because he used the announcement to abandon a program aimed at improving existing auto fuel-efficiency standards. As usual, most of these environmental policy decisions are rife with corporate conflicts of interest, but conflicts that in recent months have gotten even less media attention than they normally would.
In her public appearances Whitman now emphasizes the need to protect America's water supply from terrorists (if not arsenic). Norton has been pushing the argument that drilling in ANWR can provide as much oil as we import from Iraq in eighty years (or the oily equivalent of sixteen years of Cheney's diet), and President Bush insists that Arctic drilling will make us "more secure at home." If nothing else, America's new "war on terrorism" is helping the Bush White House in its old war on the environment.
"Former Yankee virtues, common sense, scepticism if not suspicion of authority, a belief in the mastery of the future, have been driven underground.
Read Senator Joe Lieberman's letter to ACTA.
Read comments from other new members of Tattletales for an Open Society.
Read Eric Scigliano's Naming-and un-naming-Names.
The September 11 attacks spread their pall over the AFL-CIO convention in early December as union representatives touchingly remembered the dead--including more than 700 union members--and honored the everyday heroism of workers like firefighters, ironworkers and nurses. But unions also confronted the political fallout of the terror attacks, which undermined major globalization protests, dampened a new antisweatshop campaign, chilled labor's crusade for immigration reform and gave Bush new clout, which he used to eke out a one-vote House passage of fast-track trade-promotion authority that labor strongly opposed. The attacks also deepened the recession, thus making collective bargaining tougher and shrinking union treasuries.
The low-key mood at the Las Vegas gathering obscured the determination of the labor movement to fight vigorously on its major campaigns, not simply to play defense or hunker down and hope as many unions did in the 1980s. Delegates thunderously pounded their tables in approval as AFL-CIO president John Sweeney condemned Bush and "his corporate backers [for] waging a vicious war on working families." Firefighters president Harold Schaitberger similarly warned politicians, "We don't want homilies. We want healthcare for every worker."
While supporting the war against terrorists, the AFL-CIO strongly attacked the Bush Administration's antiterrorism measures for threatening civil liberties with only one dissenting voice in the executive council. Union leaders showed little enthusiasm for the war despite their statements of support, and there were indications that labor would not uniformly, if at all, back extension of the war. "Catching and dealing with bin Laden and Al Qaeda is one thing," UNITE (clothing and textile workers) president Bruce Raynor said. "Waging war on lots of other countries is another."
While labor grieved, corporate America attacked workers with plant closings, layoffs and pursuit of legislative favors in Washington, Raynor said, but now unions must "be more aggressive than ever" in organizing and mobilizing public sentiment against the "deceit" and "hypocrisy" of big business and the White House. The minority of unions that have been organizing--with recent large-scale successes among workers ranging from janitors and homecare workers to graduate teaching assistants, nurses and engineers--plan to continue, even intensify, their organizing campaigns. "We don't believe the recession will have any substantive negative impact on organizing," argued Gerald McEntee, president of AFSCME, which since 1998 has doubled its spending on organizing and quadrupled newly organized public service workers to roughly 50,000 this year. The AFL-CIO now is concentrating on helping unions that haven't seriously pursued organizing opportunities in their industries. For example, the Teamsters, who have had few organizing successes recently, announced a new pact with longshore unions to organize 50,000 truckers at the nation's ports.
Most important, the AFL-CIO and affiliated unions are increasing the use of their growing political clout and community alliances to try to counteract employer opposition to unions, perhaps the most important obstacle to union growth. With the help of state labor federations and metropolitan central labor councils, and through their own collective bargaining, unions are winning agreements that require employers to be neutral during organizing drives and that prohibit use of public funds to fight unions. Also, labor is telling union-backed politicians that "they need to help us increase union density," explained AFL-CIO political director Steve Rosenthal, who recently honed labor's already sophisticated operations in New Jersey, getting 73 percent of union members to the polls, with 67 percent of those voting for the new, strongly prolabor governor, James McGreevy. It's in the interest of Democrats: With just 3,000 more union members in five key districts, Rosenthal calculated, the Democrats would now control the House of Representatives. Unions have also decided that they want to double--to 5,000--the current number of union members in elected office, creating what McEntee called "sort of our labor party." But union leaders put off a decision about how much money to give the AFL-CIO for politics as well as its other work until next February, reflecting union leaders' desire to be more involved in developing a focused, efficient plan for the federation.
The momentum for immigration reform evaporated on September 11, but union leaders were determined to renew their campaign early next year with a series of forums and a push to make sure that survivors of the terror attacks and families of victims are eligible for the same benefits, regardless of immigrant status. HERE (hotel workers) president John Wilhelm still hopes to make immigration reform a major issue in next year's elections.
Nobody was sanguine about the prospects for next year, with unemployment growing, state budgets shrinking and double-digit healthcare inflation, but Minnesota public employees successfully went out on strike shortly after the terror attacks, and Boston hotel workers recently won a strong contract on the brink of a walkout. Union leaders think that their members and the general public are quietly outraged at the greed and excess of corporations and the Bush Administration, even during a national security crisis. Mineworkers president Cecil Roberts joined Jesse Jackson in a call for labor to march on Washington in protest that gained warm applause. If Bush and the corporations want to wage war, as Sweeney said, they will find that the labor movement is better prepared than it has been in many years to engage the fight.
With the smoke still rising from the fallen twin towers of the World Trade Center, it seemed like an opportune time to throw some faggots on the fire. Or so thought Jerry Falwell, when, on Pat Robertson's 700 Club program, he proclaimed that God permitted the terrorist attacks because He was pissed off at those who have "tried to secularize America"-- civil libertarians, abortionists, pagans and, his favorite bêtes noires, gays and lesbians.
Falwell's demagoguery, though disgusting, was predictable. But then something surprising happened. The rabid reverend was immediately engulfed by a tidal wave of denunciation, from virtually every segment of society outside the insular world of American fundamentalism. Not only mainstream and liberal voices weighed in; even fellow conservative Rush Limbaugh and the National Review and Weekly Standard added their reproaches.
Falwell wasn't the only right-winger to use the WTC catastrophe to bash gays. Groups like the Traditional Values Coalition and The Family Research Council have deplored as "antifamily" efforts to provide benefits to gay partners of people killed in the towers on September 11. The Rev. Louis Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition commented that "this is just another example of how the gay agenda is seeking to overturn the one man, one woman relationship from center stage in America." But their meanspiritedness was rejected by public officials such as New York Senators Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer and the state's Republican governor, George Pataki, all of whom have supported such assistance.
You could say that the distaste for Falwell's rant was one sign of a post-September 11 truce--at least momentarily--in the culture wars that had raged until the Islamist faith-based initiative brought us all together in one big patriotic group hug. I prefer to think that three decades of struggle since the Stonewall uprising have given gays and lesbians social visibility and, to a lesser degree, political clout, such that brazen appeals to bigotry don't go down as smoothly as they used to.
The homophobic rhetoric from America's Taliban and the general repudiation of same make a neat metaphor for the current status of gays and lesbians, and they illustrate one of the key arguments of Suzanna Danuta Walters in All the Rage. So many years after Stonewall, homophobes still attack homosexuals, often scapegoating them for the purported decadence of society. But the greater public profile of gay people has changed in the interim, along with the context in which such attacks are made. Not so long ago, few outside the gay community or liberal activist circles would have denounced Falwell, and certainly not his comrades on the right.
Walters, a sociologist and member of the Research Advisory Board of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), sees both opportunities and dangers in the new, heightened visibility of gay people. "Visibility is, of course, necessary for equality. It is part of the trajectory of any movement for inclusion and social change.... There is nothing worse than to live in a society in which the traces of your own existence have been erased or squeezed into a narrow and humiliating set of stereotypes." But, she cautions, "visibility does not erase stereotypes nor guarantee liberation."
Walters asks, "If the problem once was perceived as invisibility itself, then how is the problem defined in an era of increased visibility? If the closet was the defining metaphor for gay life in earlier eras, then what do we make of the swinging door that is gay life in the nineties and beyond?"
Today's is a best of times/worst of times situation: "Never have we had so many openly gay elected officials, or so many antigay initiatives." Pop culture may be replete with images of gay life, but hate crimes are increasing, discharges of gays and lesbians from the military have risen precipitately since Don't Ask, Don't Tell was enacted and state legislatures all over the country are rushing to pass laws banning same-sex marriage.
Walters's argument is similar to that advanced by cultural critic Michael Bronski, who, in his excellent 1998 book, The Pleasure Principle, described a tension between "heterosexual fear of homosexuality (and the pleasure it represents) and the equally strong envy of and desire to enjoy that freedom and pleasure." In Bronski's analysis, heterosexuals try to mitigate their own conflicts over their desire for freedom and pleasure versus their longing for an ordered world built on "traditional values" by refusing to grant homosexuals full citizenship, basic civil liberties or minimal respect for their person and sexual integrity. Says Walters: "The paradoxes we are witnessing now (the simultaneous embrace and rejection) are reflections, if you will, of a culture terrified of the potential disruption that full inclusion and integration would provoke."
Although some commentators have described a paradoxical situation in which gay cultural progress unfolds in a retrogressive political environment, Walters claims that both politics and culture abound in contradictions. "The cultural moment is not wholly embracing, nor the political moment wholly rejecting: both realms coexist and interact in an uneasy mix of opportunity and opposition, inclusion and exclusion."
Walters, attentive to confusing contradictions and to the possibilities for progressive change they present, offers a dialectical reading of the current situation. Cultural visibility, she notes, can be "synonymous with commercial exploitation." But sometimes it "can really push the envelope, bringing complicated and substantive gay identities into public view," with the effect that intolerance, if not eradicated, is at least undermined. She sets out to identify "these disparate moves of visibility so we are better able to understand which forms...are the ones that shake up the world and which ones just shake us down."
Walters focuses her pop culture criticism on the "Gay Nineties," a decade in which depictions of homosexuality flourished on television and in the movies, theater, pop music and advertising. She emphasizes the tube because it "has become our national cultural meeting place, a site of profound social meaning and effect," and because the "story of gays on TV is a more complicated, fractured, and ultimately interesting one than its filmic counterpart."
Perhaps it's just as well that Walters develops this TV-centric approach, for her film criticism tends toward the obvious. Hollywood produces compromised representations that offer a safe, liberal view of gay life, in which homosexuals (usually white males) are either just like straight people or are colorful but harmless eccentrics. In these films--Philadelphia, To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything!, Julie Newmar, In & Out and numerous others--homophobia is easily overcome because it is, after all, just a matter of mistaken attitudes, not a deeply entrenched social prejudice. Independent and foreign films, not under the same commercial constraints of having to reach the largest possible audience, are more realistic and challenging. The late Vito Russo made the same observation two decades ago in his landmark The Celluloid Closet.
Walters notes that it was not until the 1970s that "any substantive depiction of gays occurred on entertainment, 'fiction' TV...." The subsequent decade saw some timid efforts, mostly "one-shots," in which a sitcom or drama presented a discrete gay episode. The 1980s, however, began to open the doors for what became, in her view, "the boom in gay representations of the nineties."
Sometimes Walters's TV criticism leaves the impression that it's propaganda she really wants. She scolds The West Wing for an episode in which a gay Republican rationalizes his support for an antigay bill by claiming that the GOP's agenda is more important to him than sexual politics. But gay Republicans really do say such things! Presenting a member of this strange species accurately doesn't legitimize his views, which is what Walters charges. And given the thoroughgoing liberalism of The West Wing, it's evident (though not to Walters) that the show doesn't endorse those views, either.
But she can also be right on target. The most successful gay-themed show, NBC's Will & Grace, is "a puzzle. Dabbling in double standards [Grace gets to have a sex life; Will doesn't] yet indubitably gay. Apolitical yet surreptitiously aware. Familial yet hedonistic. Gay male centered yet with two of the strongest female characters on TV. Devoid of larger community yet assuredly not tokenized."
She singles out for particular scrutiny--and commendation--the 1994 "lesbian kiss" episode of Roseanne and the very funny and subversive episode of The Simpsons directed by gay filmmaker John Waters. Both are notable because they "are not out to make homosexuality accessible and assimilable, they are not designed to make heterosexuals feel less threatened and to make gays feel more 'accepted.'" Both shows "deal hilariously with the strange mix of fear and fascination, desire and disgust that marks heterosexual engagement with the vision of the homosexual." "The gay characters are not the problems to be solved here, nor is homophobia the vaguely vile emotions of outside agitators. Heterosexual leads are here the problems: it is their discomfort, homophobia, bigotry that must be confronted."
Walters sees this more radical approach as both the strength of the canceled sitcom Ellen and its undoing. Ellen DeGeneres's character, Ellen Morgan, "was not solely seen and understood through the eyes of heterosexuals eager to counter their own fears. The series implicated Ellen in a larger world of gay people, with other gay characters, lovers, gay spaces, and even gay in-jokes. In other words, the series decentered heterosexuality and centered homosexuality, now no longer satisfied with being the object of heterosexual curiosity."
Walters is adamant that ABC canceled the show because it was "too gay." Ellen DeGeneres was "an acceptable homo when she promised tearfully (in interview after interview) that she just wanted to be the girl next door, and that the series would never foreground her gayness, quite to the contrary she repeatedly stated. But the show did become a gay sitcom and that was clearly unacceptable." Walters says although homophobia was the culprit, it was a "quite specific form" of bias. DeGeneres's show "was not cancelled simply because she depicted homosexuality, but because she refused to be then re-closeted, to relegate her gayness to the 'been there, done that' realm." (Walters's book was completed before DeGeneres's recovery at CBS in The Ellen Show, which has her playing a small-town dyke. The network has so far been a big booster, ordering additional episodes and changing her time slot to put the series in the vicinity of the megahit Everybody Loves Raymond.)
Walters detects a new kind of liberal homophobia underlying ostensibly sympathetic programs. A 1993 NBC documentary hosted by Maria Shriver "constructs a very particular narrative" about gays and AIDS in which gay men, under the threat of disease and death, abandoned their wanton, reckless behavior to become sober citizens. "The implication here is not that gay people rallied around each other to deal with AIDS, but rather that gays themselves needed saving as gays, and that it was the disease that made us 'clean up our act.'" Other well-meaning journalistic attempts include a Bill Moyers documentary that exemplified the mainstream media tendency to distinguish good gays--in committed relationships, churchgoing, wanting to parent, craving acceptance--from bad queers who wear leather, have sex with more than one person and otherwise don't want to be normalized or assimilated. Noting that both the Shriver and Moyers shows presented gay and lesbian couples doing wholesome domestic things, Walters exasperatedly wonders, "How many scenes of cooking and gardening do we need to see to prove the point that gays are human too?" Such depictions, she aptly notes, represent "a failure of imagination...where equality can only be posited as sameness."
It is refreshing, Walters observes, to see gay characters as "decent, loving human beings who are not homicidal serial killers, suicidal losers, or angst-ridden closet cases." Yet she contends that the introduction of the "good gay" often depends on a desexualization and loss of community. Heterosexual characters, after all, "can be valorous, brave, noble, without being stripped of passion and desire." In other words, "the emergence of the new good gay reveals to us both how far we have come...and how steadfastly double standards still prevail."
But breaking down sexual double standards doesn't necessarily result in verisimilitude. Turning to the Showtime cable series Queer as Folk, Walters recognizes "the breakthrough quality of its depiction of sexuality" while indicting the show for "substitut[ing] sexuality for community" and for implying "that gay sexual expression means an absolute erasure of everything else," including work and friendship. Moreover, as she astutely observes, the "Queer" sex doesn't even seem all that pleasurable.
Walters's attenuated discussion of cable TV, limited to Queer as Folk and the woman-centric If These Walls Could Talk films on HBO, overlooks the most in-your-face depiction of homosexuality on the small screen--the prison melodrama Oz, also on HBO. In the pressure-cooker, hyperviolent world of the Oswald maximum-security prison, virtually all inmates except Muslims engage in gay sex--some because women aren't available, or to exert power over other men, or because they discover, to their surprise, that they like the sex. Some inmates, including previously straight men, even fall in love with each other. OK, so they're mostly convicted killers. But this show at its best leaps right into Genet territory, with powerful images of passion and betrayal. (Not to mention that it features the most male nudity you're likely to encounter outside of a porn film or an off-Broadway show.) I'd rather spend time with the anguished, violent, complex same-sexers of Oz than with boring über-guppie Will Truman and his buddy, the shrill stereotype "Just Jack."
The latter chapters of All the Rage largely leave pop-culture criticism behind to focus on the social and political realities that media images often distort. Walters wades into the controversies over gay marriage and parenting, saying that these issues "will, I am convinced, be the last holdout in the battle for gay and lesbian rights." As a leftist, she unsurprisingly urges gays and lesbians not to mimic heterosexual patterns, instead endorsing "a utopian construction of 'families of choice' that is not bound by definitions of blood, of law, of sex, of gender." In other words, she wants homosexuals not only to challenge "traditional values" but also to replace them with more fluid and creative constructs. Walters makes a persuasive argument, but it's also a familiar and predictable one.
More interesting are her observations about one of the most notable aspects of the new visibility--the constitution of gays and lesbians as a "niche market" catered to by both straight and gay commercial interests. Walters acknowledges that gays and lesbians "can no more be outside the commodity machine than any other group: to turn difference into an object of barter is perhaps the quintessentially American experience." If all social movements and subcultures eventually become commodified, then the fundamental question facing gays and lesbians isn't assimilation into "mainstream" heterosexual, capitalist society versus subcultural identity and resistance. Such formulations, argues Walters, fail to capture the complexity of the moment, in which assimilationist and radical impulses both clash and coexist. Yes, "the rainbow world is a food court and shopping mall"; but it is also "filled with righteous young queers, whose insistence on the absolute right to visibility has spawned a tidal wave of teen trouble for heterosexual business-as-usual."
Walters views the story of gay visibility as one of "simultaneous containment and display, progress and regress, shattering of old ways and their reassertion." Refusing prognostication, she says we can't see how the still unfolding narrative will play out. "The space beyond visibility may be filled with commodified queens and buttoned-down wannabes, but it is also filled with possibilities unimaginable in previous eras. As the gaying of American culture continues on its uneven path, heterosexuals will--I am convinced--come to know themselves differently, to see their sexuality in less finite and tandem ways, opening up their sense of family, of place, of intimacy." This is essentially the same point historian John D'Emilio made in his 1983 book Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: "As the life cycle of heterosexuals exhibits greater variety and less predictability, they have come to face many of the choices and experiences that gay men and women confront."
But in the almost twenty years since D'Emilio's book was published, antigay sentiment has not only endured but, as Michael Bronski has argued, in some ways seems even more entrenched. (One of the consequences of being visible is that it makes it easier to be stigmatized.) So what will it take to move beyond this contradictory and confusing moment and achieve what Walters wants--"a kind of conscious, conscientious integration, where lesbians and gays are full citizens in a society that is fundamentally altered by their inclusion"? She doesn't say, exactly. But it's hard to argue with her insistence that a critical consciousness of both the pitfalls and possibilities presented by today's increased visibility is essential to advancing the gay agenda in the new millennium.
Read David Corn's full report on John Ashcroft's December 6 hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Most Americans are probably
unaware that "the Dark Ages were not all bad and the Enlightenment
not all good." Or that "homosexuality [is] a sin worthy of death." Or
that one of the greatest threats to the country is "the Feminization
of American Life." Or that we should still be debating the question:
"Who Was Right in the War Between the States: the Union or the
If you are active with the Christian
fundamentalist organization American Vision, however, this is
mainstream thinking--or, more precisely, the thinking you hope to
force down the throat of the mainstream. The Georgia-based group's
president, Gary DeMar, preaches about "the necessity of storming the
gates of hell" and cleansing public institutions of "secularism,
atheism, humanism, and just plain anti-Christian sentiment." He may
soon be dispatching a prominent foot soldier to do just that. J.
Robert Brame III, American Vision's board secretary, reportedly tops
President Bush's list of likely appointees to the National Labor
Relations Board, the five-member agency that determines the fate of
workers seeking union recognition and helps define how federal law
protects women, gays and lesbians, and others seeking representation
in the workplace.
Brame, a management lawyer, previously
served on the board from 1997 to 2000. Technically appointed by Bill
Clinton, he was actually a choice forced upon the former President by
Senate Republicans who refused to act on Clinton's appointments
unless he gave Brame the job. During those three years, Brame was the
most frequent dissenter from the board's pro-labor decisions. He
opposed moves to make it easier for temporary workers, graduate
students and medical interns and residents to unionize. He was a
lonely advocate of steps to limit the ability of unions to use dues
money to pay for organizing. Brame even complained about NLRB rulings
that "facilitate union organizing in the modern work
Brame's record, his association with American
Vision and the very real prospect that he could end up chairing a
Bush-appointed NLRB majority by the end of the year have energized
opponents. Taking the lead is the gay and lesbian labor group Pride
at Work, which aims, says interim executive director Marta Ames, "to
make enough noise so that Bush decides it's not worth it to appoint
someone who is associated with the viewpoint that LGBT people are
'monsters' who should be stoned."
"Gays and lesbians,
women, people of color and young people are harassed on the job all
the time, and that harassment becomes vicious when we're trying to
organize into unions," says Sarah Luthens, a Seattle union organizer
active with the Out Front Labor Coalition. "To think that someone
like Brame would be in a position to decide whether that harassment
represents a violation of labor laws that are already too weak is
In July, during the first US Senate hearing to examine the impact of the global gag rule on family planning services abroad, the Foreign Relations Committee heard the story of Min Min Lama, a teen