Last week I staffed a booth at a local fair for IMRU, the LGBT radio show I co-host. We were collecting and recording stories — any stories that people might want to share about their lives or points of view. Our only requirements were that the stories have something to do with LGBT issues and that they not be so long as to constitute bogarting the microphone. This was good fun, especially when I got to cajole people into the idea that they too have a story to share with the world. They’d get giddy and nervous, but as soon as the record light went on, they were off like greyhounds. Everyone has something to talk about, if given enough encouragement.
And there were the people who were bothered by the very existence of our show. Ironically, these people needed no cajoling at all to talk to us. They just needed to read our sign, “The nations’ longest running LGBT radio show!” One guy, dressed in coordinated velour leisure attire asked if we were communists. Thinking he was just messing around, my colleague replied with a hearty, “Yes!” He then launched into a spiel about how we wanted to throw away his tax dollars. OK, his wasn’t such an off the wall question, since we broadcast out of one of the oldest public radio stations around. If you shook our building hard enough, some old leftover reds would probably fall out from the cracks. But as far as I know, none of us on our little gay show is or has ever been a communist. We would have been happy to record his story too if it had any sort of LGBT theme, but he hurrumphed away before we could ask.
There are always a few versions of this sort of thing when we go out to meet the public at large. Since before the beginning of the gay movement, people have had a propensity to associate homosexuality with communism. We are, sadly, used to it.
I haven’t yet gotten used to what happened next, however. A woman challenged us from the left: “Why does your show have to be gay? Isn’t poverty more important?” Which begged the question, Is there only room in the world for one radio show? We explained the usual facts: that LGBT people are at high risk for poverty, that we have particular concerns that other shows rarely address, and that there’s nothing wrong with dedicating an hour a week of interminable pledge-drive-funded radio to a marginalized population anyway. Hell, no one seems to mind the entire oeuvre of Judd Apatow movies, which, as far as I can tell, are created primarily for and about 18-to-30-year old white guys getting hit in the crotch by something. If it meets their needs…
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard a lefty suggest that LGBT activists are taking resources away from “more important issues,” but this time it lingered with me for days. I could invoke Dr. King’s adage, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” but it’s not enough, even if it’s true. There’s still a peculiar resistance to actively supporting LGBT equality that has nothing much to do with where one resides on the left/right continuum. I could go on about the high suicide rate among LGBT teens, or the persecution of gays in Uganda, or the fact that millions of LGBT Americans have no family or workplace protections at all, and it won’t trump the notion that we are all rich white men living in WeHo or Chelsea, and thus not truly subject to injustice somehow.
So why does our community keep giving the left a pass on our issues? In my many years as a progressive, I’ve never seen consistent commitment to LGBT equality that squares with the left’s stated ideals of social justice. Meanwhile, more and more on the right are standing up for our rights as a matter of individual freedom, contrary to stereotype.
I’m done with making assumptions about who is in my corner based on a check box on a voter registration car. I’d rather just ask.
Abby is a civil rights attorney-turned-author who has been in the LGBT rights trenches for 25-plus years. She can be reached through her website: queerquestionsstraighttalk.com