Fear and loafing

Fear and loafing

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.

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