Heavy hitter

With a new book of collected essays, activist, author, and radio host Michelangelo Signorile throws out his latest challenge to anybody—make that everybody—who stands in the way of LGBT rights

BY David Ehrenstein

August 28 2005 11:00 PM ET

When Michelangelo Signorile wrote Queer in America back in 1993, getting gay issues on the “mainstream” radar screen was a full-time job. Now we’re all fighting to keep up with LGBT stories erupting all over the place, and the man who pioneered the practice of outing has a queer talk show on a gay satellite radio channel. Who’d have thought? In the introduction to his new book, Hitting Hard—a collection of essays appearing in September from Carroll & Graf—Signorile cites the rightward twist of the country, plus the forward thrust of gay activism, as proof that the past 10 years are among the most important in gay America’s history. He also dishes Tom Cruise and Mary Cheney.

Parts of the mainstream are really terrific now [on covering gay issues], but The New York Times and The Washington Post still seem lost when it comes to gay stories. That’s because they can’t look at anything regarding homosexuality in a complex way. It becomes “icky” and “gross,” and they try to simplify it in a way that ultimately winds up being homophobic.

They were “deer in the headlights” about Jeff Gannon. They were duped. They didn’t know there was a phony reporter working in the White House, much less that he was a gay “escort.” What else are they missing? Mary Cheney. Now she’s writing a book and once again is trying to capitalize on everything she’s done to sell out the gay and lesbian community. First she was working for Coors, using herself as a lesbian to try and stop a very successful boycott, telling us, “Oh, these people aren’t as bad as you think.” Then she was doing the same thing with the Bush campaign, trying to make it appear that he might be different on gay issues. All of this rhetoric turned out to be absolutely false. Their whole presidency was going down the tubes because of the war in Iraq and all these other issues, so they just said, “OK, we’re going to ratchet up the hatemongers, divert attention to the Federal Marriage Amendment, hide Mary Cheney, and we’ll get by that way.” She was in on all of that. Don’t forget, she was running her father’s campaign.

I know it’s ludicrous, but many gay people sincerely believe that if George Bush is “nice to Mary Cheney” by not burning her at the stake, that counts for something. “Her parents love her,” in spite of hating other gays and lesbians— I don’t think her parents love her. I think her parents love power. They’ll sell out their own daughter for it. And she loves power too. Mary Cheney is using all of this to sell a book. It’s an amazing strategy the Republicans have. They’ve learned that if you lie and keep lying, nobody really will point it out. And if they do, you destroy them, and that’s the end of that.

It’s funny about the Tom Cruise piece in the book. You were writing about how he manipulates the press, but now with his arm-pumping over Katie Holmes and attacking poor Brooke Shields, he’s created the biggest celebrity disaster in years. What the new brouhaha shows is that the Hollywood machine is starting to break down.

Well, it just goes to show that there is such a thing as bad publicity. The public didn’t buy. They’re not just going to believe what the media says anymore. In Washington and Hollywood there’s a revolving door between the “industry” and the media. [But] there’s an enormous amount of organizing going on out there—well beyond the big cities. I have a piece in the book titled “Leave My Kid Alone,” all about a young boy in Arkansas coming out of the closet in high school, meeting up with other kids and dealing with homophobic attacks, and having his parents supporting him and connecting with other parents. That’s a very different thing today. It’s happening across the country, and not just in the big cities. The hatred is bigger than ever, and those people are organized, but the support is big too, and a lot of kids are finding it.

What do you see on the horizon for LGBT issues? Same-sex marriage came along right at the midpoint of the Clinton years. Republicans learned how to use it against Democrats. Democrats had no backbone about it and still haven’t developed one. The other issue that keeps popping up is HIV/AIDS. The drugs have done remarkable things and kept many people alive. They have also created a complacency for HIV prevention. If this situation continues, we will have drug-resistant strains of HIV spreading rapidly. We can’t put our head in the sand about this.

What we’re seeing too is a larger red-blue state divide. The blue states are becoming beacons of civil rights with everything from abortion to stem-cell research. Recently the governor of Texas was actually telling gay people to leave the state. It’s going to create a kind of ethnic cleansing in some places. I hear about all of this because I’m on Sirius OutQ doing a four-hour show five days a week.

What are you hearing from the audience on your radio show that we’re not getting elsewhere in the media? People will call up the show and tell their personal stories: “Hey, I was a victim of this kind of discrimination. I was fired from my job. I was attacked on the street. I had unprotected sex when I was young and stupid.” And then we have the good stories. Throughout the last year and half, people getting married in San Francisco and Oregon and New Paltz were calling us up after their weddings when they were on the road, and we were all celebrating right on the air. That’s what makes this an extraordinary experience.

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