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Entertainment Matters More Than You Think

Entertainment Matters More Than You Think


Recently, I read rants on Facebook in response to an entertainment-related article posted by an Advocate editor. Several people expressed their opinion that all entertainment content should be relegated to sister publication Out and that The Advocate used to be a "good" magazine that covered politics.

But politics is not just about what people are doing in Washington. It's about the people, the population, and the society that population creates. The Advocate is not called The Extreme Political Activist.

I've interviewed a number of people, ranging from obvious gay advocates like Kathy Griffin to celebrities who may not be as well known to the LGBT community, including one of the original members of Destiny's Child, LeToya Luckett. Let me tell you a quick story about this interview.

One of my coworkers is an African-American woman with whom I have a unique relationship. In fact, early on she revealed to me that I am the first white friend she has ever had. We've enjoyed many candid--and no doubt politically incorrect--conversations. Some have been challenging, but all have been worthwhile. And one day this woman--whose perspectives on many things are vastly different than my own--asked me if I had recently talked to any famous people. I told her yes, actually: a singer named LeToya Luckett.

"You interviewed LeToya!!!" was her reply, exclamation points included. It was quickly followed with "Wait--was that for the gay thing? Why would you interview her for that?"

"To promote her music," I answered. "And to let gay people--as well as her fans--know that she supports gay rights. She even basically said she supports gay marriage."

My friend kind of winced. But after reading the article she told me it was really good--a lot more interesting than she had expected. She even shared it with several people.

I have absolutely no doubt that this coworker, my friend, is coming around to accepting gay people -- at least as actual human beings. Maybe she'll just get a little closer to her gay cousin, or maybe she'll tell her friends and family, and others in her community, that gay people really aren't that strange after all. Whatever it is, it's progress. And it's due -- at least in part -- to LeToya Luckett.

I work in Washington, D.C., and not long ago, I got into a debate with another coworker -- this time a young gay man who came to the organization fresh from a job on Capitol Hill. An immigrant from the left coast, he arrived in D.C. hoping to change things for the better, he said. And also because it's amazingly cool to walk around in the halls of the U.S. Congress among the politicians who make things happen in this country.

But let's face it: The politicians sharing those cold marble halls are motivated by getting elected to office. And supporting LGBT civil rights is not the fast track to popularity in most areas of the country.

President Obama made a lot of bold promises to LGBT Americans, and at the end of 2010, he made good on his promise to repeal "don't ask, don't tell," boldly stating that the repeal "will strengthen our national security and uphold the ideals that our fighting men and women risk their lives to defend." The year before, he signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which covers LGBT individuals.

But despite these accomplishments, Obama seems unwilling to budge on the issue of marriage equality. He remains an advocate for separate-but-equal civil unions for same-sex partners, but not the right to use the word "marriage."

As James Kirchick said in his 2010 Advocate cover story, "Gays vs. Democratic Party": "They're fond of your checkbooks -- and deaf to your demands for equal rights. What will it take for the Democratic Party to step up?"

What it will take is not bigger checks written to candidates or political action groups; it simply requires time and the continued trajectory of popular culture -- including the entertainment-related areas that Facebook posters were opining had absolutely no place in The Advocate.

People say that TV, movies, and music are a reflection of the times. Federal politics aren't. They're at least ten--and probably fifteen to twenty--years behind. When it comes to LGBT issues, many right-wing politicians are in Three's Company mode (think 1977-1984): They acknowledge that gay people exist in the world, and while some can stomach living near us--possibly even in the same apartment building as us--an open discussion isn't an option. Moderates on the right and left alike are in Will & Grace mode (think 1998-2006): They take the approach that gay people are more or less harmless, and maybe even valuable for entertainment. Sort of like pets. We have sex and stuff, but not actual relationships. At least not those on par with the straight sector. We might be thrown a bone with legal civil unions, but even our great champion--the first African-American president--says he "struggles" with the idea of gay marriage.

Meanwhile, there's a growing Glee generation of young people (think 2009 to the present) who largely think the notion of sexual identity is no big deal. It's the popular culture environment--not legislation--that's driving that change of perspective. And it's that change of perspective that will drive future legislation.

In the meantime, critics of The Advocate should think about the term "advocacy" and consider who's really on our side and putting their livelihoods on the line for us.

From what I've seen, too many of the professional LGBT activists and lobbyists in the District are like the gun and pharmaceutical lobbyists--they're motivated as much by ego and the opportunity to walk the grand halls of Congress as they are by actually enforcing change. They say "we want this," and, like neutered dogs begging for food at the dinner table, they wag their tails and lick faces when they're fed scraps.

Meanwhile, people like Kathy Griffin and Lady Gaga, regardless of how you feel about their value as entertainers, are dedicated, consistent, and loyal advocates. They use outrageous means to garner attention and demand that public consciousness, private policies, and legislation change to recognize our humanity.

So, those who think entertainment has no place in the pages of an advocacy magazine should ask themselves: Who are my real advocates? Who's putting his or her name on the line for my rights? And is the only role of an advocacy-oriented publication to attack those who aren't doing enough? Or should it also shine a light on those whose words of support and examples of tolerance are reaching millions of fans who might otherwise be perfectly content with the status quo?

Laws and policies, when enforced, can protect us. But in the immediate term, changing minds will change legislation--and not the other way around.
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David Michael Conner