Any day 20% of the population has a basic right affirmed — otherwise known as a “freedom” by our conservative friends — is good day. So it’s easy to appreciate the enthusiasm and celebration taking place over a law putting to rest decades of legal prejudice against gay people in Minnesota.
But I have to confess to a certain emotional detachment. While this may be another symptom my chronic, morbid, sociopathic tendencies, (I should probably drink more to modulate them), an easier explanation is that as a straight male I’ve never had a direct personal investment in the gay rights campaign.
As a squishy liberal it’s not like I had to be educated in the fundamental injustice at play in the treatment of gays. But since it wasn’t me, it was simple enough to consign gay prejudice to the sloshing bin of intractable cultural malignancies doing their rotting work on the American promise. The same applied, I guess, to the civil rights movement of the Sixties, when all I could do as a kid was watch from a small Minnesota town. (The highest pitch of anti-Semitism was before my time.)
Voting for progressive politicians, doling out a pittance of cash to various causes and making explicit my distaste for bigoted comments is fine … as far as it goes. But there was a resignation factor at play here as well.
What’s interesting this time around is both the speed with which the gay rights campaign surged from minority-to-majority support and the events that catalyzed it.
I do hope at some point, celebrants in St. Paul or in bars around the state hoist a glass to Archbishop John Nienstedt, his retrograde wing of the Catholic church, various other ersatz “Christian” religious organizations and of course the usual clutch of conservative policymakers who feed off the ignorance and superstitions of the ill-informed. The blowback against that crowd was vital and fierce. A lot of people, myself included, had an “enough all fucking-ready” moment over the past 18 months.
In my humble opinion the over-reach of cultural dead-enders like Nienstedt and his fellow travelers was the accelerant that jump-started this final campaign. In particular, Nienstedt’s notorious $400,000 anti-gay DVD mailing, (financed by persons still unknown), was a bell-ringer for people like me. The appalling hypocrisy of that move — from an organization nearly bankrupted by the cover-up of criminal sexual activities of its closeted clergy — plus the tenor of fear in their canonical warnings, was like someone telling me, “these guys are sweating.”
The time had come to put down a sick beast.
Pre-dating that though was a long campaign of the most effective messaging imaginable in a pop culture-saturated society. And by this I mean to compliment Hollywood and the entertainment industry for its genuinely positive contribution to advancing the cause of gay citizens — much as it had done for blacks in the era of Sidney Poitier, and Jews with “Gentlemen’s Agreement”. (There are of course abundant ironies in Hollywood’s long resistance to pushing the question of discrimination against Jews).
Hollywood has plenty to answer for with its persistent, numbing reliance on sadistic violence to sell tickets and goose ratings. You don’t have to listen to more than one “gun rights debate” to appreciate the effect a century of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Sly Stallone, Bruce Willis, “Lethal Weapon” and all the other vigilante/revenge fantasies have had on the culturally isolated and simple-minded. Every other gun-clutcher parrots Hollywood-like verbiage about “them” coming through the windows and how manly heroism requires their twitchy “good guy” trigger on a loaded .44.
But with everything from Liberace to “Will & Grace” to Frank Ocean, the entertainment industry has painted sympathetic portraits of gays as co-workers, friends, neighbors and engaging personalities. When sociologists study how this “victory” happened, they’ll credit the impact pop culture had on the young and urban and how acceptance among that group worked its way up the age ladder, marginalizing the most resistant along the way.
On my personal list of “shit I want fixed”, Wall Street’s on-going buy-off of government and our lunatic levels of gun ownership and violence ranked a bit ahead of gay rights. But with experience you learn to take progress where it comes and be happy with it.
But as messaging/cultural education goes, the process that achieved this win in gay rights can be replicated. Apply the techniques of the most popular, broadly accepted, role-model creating medium ever invented — entertainment — and watch the proportionate collapse of the ill-informed and bigoted.