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Fear and loafing

Fear and loafing

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Do you feel threatened? Immigrants do. In April and May, in the wake of a proposed federal law that would have turned many immigrants into criminals simply because of their status (sound familiar?), they took to the streets by the hundreds of thousands, demonstrating their solidarity, patriotism, and political power.

Wherever you may stand on the issue of illegal immigration, you have to give credit to the force of this uprising: Immigrants elevated their fight for civil rights to the top of the agenda on almost every newscast, news channel, and news Web site, and onto the front pages of probably every newspaper in the country. Wow.

When was the last time the struggle for LGBT equality achieved a similar feat? February 2004, when George W. Bush launched his reelection-via-homophobia campaign by backing the Federal Marriage Amendment? Probably not. The 2000 March on Washington? Maybe. The AIDS demos in the 1980s and '90s? Often amazingly effective, but typically localized. What about pride season, now under way? It certainly attracts millions of people to parades and festivals nationwide--albeit with mixed results on the local news.

Fact is, we have never had any single day to rival the visibility immigration activists earned on May 1. Some of those who marched on that day were LGBT, but their particular messages about asylum, binational same-sex couples, and the special concerns of queer immigrants were largely overshadowed in the media by a singular focus on the overall battle for amnesty and citizenship.

So what do immigrants have that we don't?

In a word: fear. They feel directly threatened, and they're willing to go AWOL at work and risk their livelihood to demand fair treatment.

Ditto the college-age antiwar activists of the 1960s. The universal draft was a threat to their very lives during the Vietnam conflict, and they didn't stop protesting until the troops came home. With the draft gone, the current antiwar movement is anemic by comparison.

Maybe gay folks and our allies simply aren't scared enough to inspire our own May Day. The FMA, now mistitled the Marriage Protection Amendment, which is scheduled for a U.S. Senate vote in early June, doesn't scare us because it isn't likely to pass--and anyway, not everyone wants to get married. Sodomy laws are gone (for now). Most employers don't care who's gay these days. Even gay parents have solid rights in many states. We're fine, really, thanks.

With no single, palpable threat to our comfortable lives, most of us don't think much about street protests. Or maybe we quietly harbor considerable fear but rest assured that we can "pass" and hope everything will be OK in the long run. We vote our wallets or our worries about national security and let gay rights fall where they may.

I write about LGBT passivity quite often (as you may have noticed), and I have no solution for it. Who does? Well, the far right, perhaps. Because they do feel threatened. They believe that the United States is a conservative Christian country that has simply lost its way, and those darn homosexuals are one of the reasons why. To them, we are a threat--and they give hundreds of millions of dollars to try to quash our equality.

The 2006 elections loom, with 2008 seemingly immediately after. If we're not yet afraid enough to follow immigration activists into the streets, perhaps we soon will be.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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