Editor’s Letter: April/May Issue

By Matthew Breen

Originally published on Advocate.com March 11 2014 4:01 AM ET

Rather by accident, this issue has taken on a subtheme, one of challenging behemoth, established institutions: GMHC, which was for many years the juggernaut in battling AIDS; the Mormon Church, the global religion of 14 million members that, as an institution, leads the fight to prevent gays and lesbians from marrying in California; and even Britney Spears, undeniably a gay icon. I imagine that we’re going to get a lot of correspondence calling our good sense and provenance into question.

Much of what we do in LGBT media and activism is taking on fights, but still, I’m girding my loins for this first one in particular. It’s a look at whether Britney Spears should be considered a gay icon in the classic sense. The answer, in short, is no — not yet. (Hold your righteous outrage until you’ve read the piece here). Spears can churn out a pop hit, and she’s an extremely hard worker — neither point seems refutable. She even seems like a pretty nice person. But whenever I see her perform I can’t help thinking that it looks like she’d rather be doing something else. I see in her my own desire to take a nice, long vacation. I can just read it on her face. But her devotees are legion. After the premiere of Spears’ Vegas residency, one acquaintance of mine who posted dozens of his own snapshots and videos of her performance in many posts on Facebook, was challenged to give it a rest, and yet stood his ground: He’d rather have you unfriend him than temper his admiration for Britney even the tiniest bit. I, for one, can’t wait to see what she gets up to when it’s really up to her. Even if that’s retirement.

In “Whatever Happened to the Mighty GMHC,” contributor Tim Murphy looks at the prototype organization that began when writer Larry Kramer and 80 other men met in Kramer’s apartment to respond to the “gay cancer” plaguing New York City and San Francisco. GMHC sponsored the first major AIDS fundraising event in 1983 (interestingly, a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performance), and the organization was sought by the CDC in planning public conferences on AIDS the following year — all before the discovery of the HIV virus. They’ve had some rather public missteps in recent years as detailed in Murphy’s reporting, but the thing that jumps right out of the piece is the analysis that the original donor base of mostly white, mostly gay men, has dropped the funding ball rather dramatically. Have they decided that HIV/AIDS isn’t a crisis any longer, that it’s a chronic yet manageable disease? Or did they give all their money to marriage fights? Or could it be because the disease now disproportionately affects men and women of color. If the latter is the case, and we cannot see beyond our own proverbial front steps and acknowledge how the disease affects others, I worry for the both the health of the organization and our future as a multifaceted community.

Also in this issue I posit a theory about how Mormonism, given its unique structure, could suddenly become the world’s first truly 21st century religion, and embrace LGBTs. Ever since the stunning overturning of the Utah state constitution’s marriage ban, I’ve been turning over in my head how to frame the issue of equality in my home state. A high school friend tipped me off that she was working on the legal challenge to the ban, and it’s to my own discredit that I didn’t follow up, thinking, as many others did, that progress cannot be made there, it will have to be imposed externally. That was a mistake to be sure. In that court decision and other moves I see opportunity for a new openness in the dominant religious and political force in Utah.

The successes of the past few years have beaten some cynicism out me. It’s a good time to take on the giants.