Adrift Without A Rudder
While the Religious Right continually warns its followers about the growing “gay agenda,” I must admit that I wish such a thing actually did exist. But I see no definitive evidence. As best I can tell, the idea of “the gay agenda” is rooted in terminology concocted by the Religious Right to frighten its membership.
A quick peek inside Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary Tenth Edition, which claims to be “the voice of authority,” reveals the following definitions of the word agenda: 1) a list or outline of things to be considered or done; 2) an underlying often ideological plan or program. I think the parts of these definitions that do not in any way apply to the fight for equal rights under the law for the GLBT community are the words “plan” and “program.” People, we can’t even get significant media coverage of a large march on Washington on a beautiful Sunday afternoon! How dangerous are we really? Hide the kids, Ma, the gays are hidin’ out in Washington. Is this any way to run an “agenda”?
What is it that we are missing? Why do we fail where others, such as the ridiculous “Tea Party” people succeed? It comes down to a single word: leadership. Turn on the news on any station any day and notice what you will see: people. People getting airtime to tell their stories and push — yes, push — their points of view and, yes, agendas. Leaders of the religious right are often on some news program, not to mention CBN, pushing their agenda against us. Where are our people? Where is our publicity department? They remain invisible, and our efforts at attaining full equality under the laws of this nation go unnoticed.
Because I joined the broadcast of the Equality March late, I do not know the name of the woman who introduced Julian Bond so I cannot name her, but she addressed a question that I have heard voiced lately in the GLBT community. “Where is our Martin Luther King, Jr.?” Her answer was: “We do not need our own Martin Luther King, Jr. We have Martin Luther King, Jr., himself to lead our movement.” While I respect her sentiment and hold Dr. King in the highest esteem, I do not agree with her assessment of our situation. We do need our own Martin Luther King, Jr. A movement needs charismatic leadership to succeed. It needs leadership that it can identify with and emulate.
Over 40 years have passed since the tragic murder of Dr. King in Memphis in 1968. That means that the young people of our community who are 40 or below have no memory of him and his great works. To contextualize that for those of us in the baby boom generation, didn’t World War II, “the black and white war,” seem like ancient history to us in our youth, when in fact it happened in the decade before our births? Be honest! Its heroes and villains were mere black and white celluloid characters competing with our own wild and colorful world of leisure.
While crafting our movement, it is important to take lessons from the great civil rights activists that came before us, not only Martin Luther King, Jr., but Mahatma Ghandi. But we must not lose sight of the fact that each of these individuals were flesh and blood leaders. They galvanized their followers with their presence and captured the attention of the world to promote their causes through their charismatic personalities and courage. Had it not been for Ghandi, India might still be part of the British Empire, and had it not been for Martin Luther King, Jr., standing in front of the Lincoln Monument clearly articulating the plight of African Americans in our nation, the civil rights movement in this country may never have gotten off the ground.
Like it or not, the news media is driven by personalities and people of interest. Hearkening back to a fallen leader in the overall civil rights movement is a good thing to do, but it is not good television. And if you’re not good television, you will not be on television. For now our real agenda should be to find that leader that we can all rally around and show up for. It’s vital to our movement.
Without a leader, Congressman Barney Franks’ withering diss of Sunday’s march on Washington will be correct. And we all now know Congressman Franks is not our leader. He actually seems disinterested in our cause. I guess the good Congressman has got his. “God bless the child who’s got his own.” Right, Congressman?
As for the rest of us, where do we find this leader? It is very difficult. One of my friends pointed to Harvey Milk, but Milk is a martyr to the cause thus making him unavailable. We do not have a great many politicians to choose from. Most politicians are hounded from office once they are exposed as members of the GLBT community.
Annise Parker of Houston has been suggested by some of my local friends. She is an openly lesbian woman running for mayor of Houston this year. And while I feel that her election as mayor of Houston would be a major milestone for the gay community here, it hardly propels her to a position of national prominence.
And I have a certain aversion, given the events since I last voted, to following politicians when it comes to matters of sincere and extreme importance to me. I would much prefer someone from within the gay rights movement. They must be there, just like Barrack Obama was there before anybody knew about him. Alas, I have no names to put forth and ask my readers who know such things to please make nominations. It is a discussion that is long overdue.
Back to the idea of “The Gay Agenda.” I remember when I took the reigns of the Texas Court Reporters Association some years ago and our executive director handed me a printed agenda before my first board meeting and informed me it was my job to keep the meeting focused on the agenda. At first it frightened me. I didn’t quite know how to “keep” everybody focused on the agenda. Although I had been a board member and lower officer in the years leading up to that day, I had never thought about that part of the president’s duties.
But after pushing my fears away, I realized that the agenda was very empowering. It gave me the ability to pull a relatively large group of intelligent and opinionated people back onto topic when they wanted to tell their stories of “Do you know what my judge said to me?” And it worked. But it only worked because I quickly learned how to use it. That’s what leaders do. They focus their followers on the important items of the agenda so that goals can be accomplished.
So is there really a gay agenda? I guess in some ways you could say there is. But on the other hand, the agenda as of today has no singular focus because it has no single person to keep it pointed in a particular direction. I think all of us in the GLBT community can agree that we would like to have equal rights under law, but that concept means different things to different people. And it is those differences that our opponents use to thwart us in our efforts.
What we need right now is a leader who can articulate our goals and organize our efforts at achieving them, a charismatic leader who can capture the attention of the news media, particularly TV, and thus the American People. I fear that, until that happens, we will continue to be ignored and swept aside no matter how many people descend on Washington or any other city.
So where are you? Where is that person who is willing and able to be the rudder of our ship which is adrift in a sea of indifference? One of my friends says that one person cannot make a difference, but here is where you do look to Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Ghandi and say, “Oh, yes, one person can make a difference!”
This is Jack. I am who I am. And I invoke the words we pledged everyday from elementary school on: WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL!