The wrong battles

By Karel Charles Bouley

Originally published on Advocate.com September 01 2005 12:00 AM ET

Now I know why there’s the perception that gay people are always getting beaten up: We constantly pick the wrong battles. I see it all the time, and sometimes it’s laughable, other times it’s downright detrimental.

Two recent instances come to mind. First, there’s the Family Guy incident, which at best goes into the Are You Kidding Me? file, and second is last week’s Supreme Snub by several national gay coalitions against Judge John G. Roberts Jr., a man who will be the next Supreme Court justice no matter how much they stamp their Pradas.

First, Family.

I love South Park. It attacks everything and everyone. Often it makes me wince, and many times makes me laugh out loud. It was, and is, a groundbreaking series.

Then there’s Family Guy. While it’s a fine show on its own, it’s hard to top the antics of Kyle, Kenny, Stan, and Cartman on South Park or to push harder than Marge, Homer, and the other members of TV animation’s first family, The Simpsons. So, they have to push the envelope, and push it they do. They recently did a song and dance about AIDS. In a flashback, head Family Guy Peter is part of a foursome who are seen breaking the news to a sickly man with a goatee in a hospital bed. Well, it went too far, at least according to major gay groups.

“A barbershop quartet singing blithely about AIDS is about as funny as a song about breast cancer or leukemia, especially to the people living with the disease,” AIDS Project Los Angeles executive director Craig E. Thompson told Advocate.com. “It is inexcusable for Fox to air a program that stigmatizes AIDS and less than subtly reinforces homophobia. It should be socially unacceptable to see this kind of garbage passing for entertainment in 2005.”

Sounds an awful lot like censorship to me, and that final line of “socially unacceptable” could be lifted from a religious right press release about Queer as Folk, Ellen, or Will & Grace.

The fact is, I’d love to argue all the politically correct reasons as to why you simply don’t sing a song about AIDS. But before I do, I’d have to turn down the new version of “Seasons of Love” from the upcoming blockbuster film Rent, a—say it with me—musical about AIDS. And I’d have to feel guilty for watching Longtime Companion, Philadelphia, An Early Frost, or [insert title from ’80s or ’90s AIDS movie here) ever again. The fact is, we’ve commercialized the virus for our own use, both financial and political, and that puts it out in the public domain. That leaves it open to bad taste. If we make good art about AIDS, then there has to be some bad art too, no?

And at a time when AIDS rates are on the rise, when more youths are getting it, more gay men, when a continent is dying, AIDS organizations and all of their hardworking volunteers and employees have a lot more to worry about than a cartoon. I’d like to believe most see it for what it is—bad taste—and move on. That means us too.

Then there’s Roberts, the next member of the Supreme Court (well, barring any NAMBLA memberships that come to light). On the day the national gay groups hit the news with their opposition to Roberts—August 26, 2005—at Google News there were 22 headlines from major newspapers across the country that bombarded the reader with sentiments such as “Gay Advocacy Groups Oppose Roberts’ Nomination to High Court” and “Gay Rights Groups Call Roberts a ‘Mortal Danger.’ ”

I’m glad four of the largest gay sociopolitical organizations got together and talked it all out. I’m proud of the Human Rights Campaign; National Gay and Lesbian Task Force; National Center for Lesbian Rights; and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays for stepping up to the plate to lodge their complaint.

Now, please, sit down and refocus.

You’ve got bigger fish to fry and don’t need to be upsetting moderate Republicans who you’re going to need later on to effect some real change. Wait, make that that we are going to need. Remember, you’re allegedly speaking for us, and in this case I think you’re wasting your breath and spending some political capital you should be saving.

You see, Roberts is a slam dunk. He’s got the votes. He’s the perfect Stealth Manchurian Candidate. He’s relatively attractive, a family guy. Particularly the Bush family. He helped out Jeb in 2000 with some tough decision-making, he was a lawyer in the Administration of Bush 41—and, hey, he even denied giving Michael Jackson presidential recognition. He has a short time on the bench, and so no real paper trail; he wears his religion openly, but claims to have it in check. He’s perfect. And frightening. And confirmed.

This is what happens when America falls asleep, lets an obvious one-term president become a two-term liar, and sits idly by while the lunatics that took over the asylum, or in this case, the executive and the legislative branches, try to take over the judicial one as well.

The gay groups’ opposition is, first of all, predictable, and when a movement or a culture becomes predictable, it’s often the kiss of death. We know where Fred Phelps is on gay rights and Pat Robertson is on assassination—and they’re one-dimensional laughingstocks. We risk becoming the same, one-dimensional, if we don’t start playing the game better and stop playing right into their hands.

While resources, i.e. money, are spent opposing Roberts, wars are being waged in state legislatures across the land. Right here in California there’s a battle going on to preserve existing domestic partnerships, a serious battle indeed. There are battles being fought all over the country. The national gay groups can’t do anything about Judge Roberts, but they can do something about some of these other issues.

Also, there’s a lot to be said for friends. As a talk-show host, I can’t just appeal to the liberals and to gays and lesbians. I have to appeal to all if I want them to believe that what I’m saying comes from a search for truth and for what is best for everyone concerned, not just from those with agendas. I want them to know I’m smart enough to pick my battles, since I know my time and capital are limited. When we, meaning our groups, denounce a man whom we know is going to be confirmed, all we do is show those who may join us one day in a fight for civil equality and less government intervention in our lives that we care more about objecting to things we cannot change than we do about using our time and money to find common ground and change the things we can.

In other words, we piss off moderates who we’ll need later when measures that could truly change our worlds come down to one or two votes. Let’s remember, this last week was the anniversary of women getting the right to vote. That passed, I do believe, by one vote. We need every vote we can get, and we need to start playing hardball when we’ll win and holding back when it’s a useless fight.

And by the way, from all indications, it would appear that Roberts is against institutionalized homophobia. His record has some blemishes the religious right detest, like his pro bono work in a case that ended favorably for gays. Women who want an abortion may have more to worry about than we do.

No one is saying not to have an opinion, not to render one when asked. But to band together, do a media campaign, get the gears of political spin rolling, mobilize the masses—well, let’s save that for the real battles ahead, including electing a president who would never nominate someone like Roberts in the first place.

The Family Guy episode was bad taste and bad TV; opposition to Judge Roberts is bad politics.

But they’re the least of our worries.

Having gone through major deaths in my life the past four years, I realize one must let go of what one cannot change. Let this go, and let’s continue the battle for equality on state levels first. Let’s strengthen our community as a voting bloc and make progress through elections—midterms and presidential. Because I’d rather have someone bounce around singing about AIDS than somebody cutting off funding for its treatment and diagnosis. I’d rather have a president who cares about the integrity of the court instead of one merely interested in controlling it.

We can’t be beaten up on this one. We need to pick our battles carefully, because, rest assured, they’re out there.