Friday, February 20, 2015

Some good old satire could put today's hot topics in proper perspective; Huckabee is Archie Bunker


If television executives ever decide to remake the wildly-successful 1970s-era All in the Family sitcom to address this century’s issues, I sure hope they will borrow some material from today’s 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls — especially former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

When I watched Huckabee’s recent interview on CNN about LGBT people and same-sex marriage, I felt like my TV and I had slipped back in time. His remarks comparing LGBT people living their lives to straight people cussing and drinking alcohol sounded just like something Archie Bunker might have said.

“People can be my friends who have lifestyles that are not necessarily my lifestyle,” Huckabee reasoned to CNN’s Dana Bash as he sidestepped a question about whether he believed people came by their sexual orientation through heredity or choice. “I don’t shut people out of my life because they have a different point of view.”

Gee thanks, Mike, I thought. That’s a relief. I’d hate to think I couldn’t hang out with a fun guy like you.

Usually, I would switch channels at that point, but I sensed more incredible observations yet to come from the Baptist-pastor-turned-politician. Sure enough, he went on in his ill-fated attempts to further enlighten the CNN host and her audience with his broad-mindedness.

“I don’t drink alcohol, but gosh, a lot of my friends — maybe most of them — do,” he said. “You know, I don’t use profanity, but believe me, I’ve got a lot of friends who do. Some people really like classical music and ballet and opera — it’s not my cup of tea.”

I suppose the reference to the high arts sort of tempered the comparison to foul-mouthed boozing, but it failed to make any more sense to me.

Again, it reminded me of Archie, the outspoken, conservative, backward Protestant bigot whose observations so stunned the other characters in the show they stared at in him silence. I envisioned his daughter, Gloria, and her husband, Michael, rolling their eyes, and his naïve wife, Edith, cocking her head in confusion as laughter echoed in the background.

The satirical scenes in All in the Family put issues like racial and religious bigotry, male chauvinism and anti-homosexual and -transgender bias in perspective for many Americans. Many people got it, and probably quite a few saw themselves in the depictions. I suspect the show led to a lot of re-evaluations of long-held beliefs.

The sitcom preceded the issue of same-sex marriage by three decades, but All in the Family did address interracial marriage. Through humor, the show illustrated the absurdity of skin color dictating whom people could marry. In one of the show’s episodes Archie and Edith discussed the “mixing” of races:

Archie: “This mixing the colors, before you know it, the world’s gonna be just one color.”
Edith: “Well, what’s wrong with that, Archie?”
Archie: “Can’t you use your head? How the hell are we gonna tell each other apart?”

The absurdity of Archie’s argument made an unspoken point: Why would anyone care about whom others marry?


It came as no surprise Huckabee held a hard line on same-sex marriage in the CNN interview, saying that the Bible forbids homosexuality. “This is not just a political issue,” he said. “It is a biblical issue. And as a biblical issue — unless I get a new version of the scriptures, it’s really not my place to say, OK, I’m just going to evolve.”

Most conservative Republicans would likely agree with Huckabee on this issue. But I could see the statement coming out of Archie’s mouth if rewritten to reflect how a blue-collar worker talks. Archie would think like Huckabee about the issue of same-sex marriage, the last big culture barrier of our time to overcome.

The good news is that times are changing, similarly to how it happened in the late 1960s and 1970s. In earlier days, white bigots used the Bible to justify discrimination against black people and others who didn’t look like them. Today, they’ve found new scapegoats, such as LGBT people and immigrants, to target.

More and more conservative straight people I know tell me they are tired of politicians who brandish the Bible at them and focus their attention on abortion and same-sex marriage. Instead, they’ve expressed concerns about issues such as the economy and the consequences of worldwide political unrest that also worry most LGBT people. None of the Republican candidates appear to be generating much interest among the conservative voters I know.

Ultra conservative politicians seem to be out of touch with the majority of Americans, and that is why the White House could be out of reach for Huckabee and others like him in 2016. Maybe the humor of a revamp of All in the Family might clue them into what does and does not really concern most Americans today, although for now I’d rather they stay in the dark — at least until after the 2016 election.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

LGBT rights movement reaches top speed in 21st Century



The U.S. Supreme Court’s announcement last week that it would decide if the Constitution guarantees the rights of same-sex couples to marry wherever they reside and whether states can refuse to recognize same-sex marriages sanctioned by other states left me marveling at the advancements of the gay rights movement in my adult life.

In 1977 I lived and worked for a time in New York City where I marched in my first gay rights parade at the age of 27. Up until that point I had not participated in any sort of activism even though I had made no secret of my sexual orientation in Dallas prior to joining a couple of friends in Manhattan in search of excitement. During those days I aspired only to go out every night and to enjoy every bit of entertainment I could squeeze out of the big city that never slept.

The three of us shared a three-room boxcar-style apartment, and I worked for a temporary agency that sent me on office assignments across the city when I wanted to work. I felt like I had struck gold when the agency sent me to a public relations agency that represented all of the Broadway theaters, and they gave me free tickets to shows. God I loved that dead end job, answering the phone, typing and assisting the employees of the theaters and the celebrities the agency represented. I kept that assignment as long as possible.

I lacked purpose in my life in those days, and my friends shared my lack of enthusiasm for pursuing a career. We all worked just enough to pay the rent and utilities and to eat and drink in the endless array of restaurants and bars in the city. Weekends we spent at the beach when the weather turned warm enough. Sometimes people we met in the bars invited us to their weekend homes on the New Jersey Shore and Fire Island. I couldn’t imagine life beyond 30, and I wanted to extend my search for adventure indefinitely.

When June rolled around that year we started noticing fliers posted in the bars about the upcoming gay rights parade, and we decided to join in the fun. I had watched a small parade in Downtown Dallas in 1972 with one of my New York roommates, but he and I had stayed on the sidewalk unmoved by the experience. That would change in New York.

On the Sunday morning of the parade my roommates and I made signs to carry in the parade. Mine said, “Gay freedom is my right.” I doubt that I even knew what I meant when I wrote those words. I’m positive same-sex marriage didn’t inspire me, and I doubt anyone else thought about it in 1977. We did fume about singer Anita Bryant’s anti-gay campaign in Florida to repeal an anti-discrimination ordinance in Dade County, Florida, that succeeded June 7, 1977. That became the rallying cry in gay rights parades across the country that summer. Everyone wanted protection from discrimination in jobs and housing and the abolishment of sodomy laws. Few people in my presence ever mentioned the Stonewall Riots, which are widely viewed today as the start of the modern day gay rights movement.

When my roommates and I arrived after a short subway ride for the start of the parade on Fifth Avenue, the sight stunned me. Many thousands of people lined up for the parade in New York, compared to less than a hundred people I saw in Dallas getting ready to march. It overwhelmed me, and I sensed something earthshaking would be happening.

The parade got underway late as people continued to arrive for the lineup. The numbers astonished me, and I said that I had no idea so many gay people lived in the whole world, let alone the New York City area. When the parade finally got underway it eventually stretched the entire length of Fifth Avenue, and I remember seeing people all along the route hanging out of windows and cheering. As we passed the Arthur Murray Dance Studio, gay instructors with their straight female clients yelled and waved. For the first time in my life I felt like I belonged, and it motivated me to take a stand. Before the summer ended, I decided to return to Texas so I could finally finish college.

Almost forty years later, those days in New York seem like a dream. My two roommates, who remained in New York and never knew LGBT activists would focus on marriage equality, no longer are living.

Had I remained in New York City, I probably would be dead today too. Instead, I returned to Dallas and I enrolled in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin as soon as I could. One of my first stories for the Daily Texan explored a deadly new disease striking gay men in San Francisco and New York City. From then on I came across stories about the LGBT community that needed to be told at every newspaper I worked. Sometimes I told the stories over the objections of others in the newsroom who failed to grasp the significance of the gay rights movement. At the same time I frequently attended the funerals of my friends, and I wrote their obituaries.

Over the years, I came to realize that every person who came out to a straight relative, friend or coworker contributed to the gay rights movement whether they ever marched in a parade or otherwise demonstrated for the cause. As former Dallas gay leader William Waybourn pointed out to me in a discussion in the early 1990s when he led a national organization in Washington D.C., “If every gay and lesbian person in the country came out today, the discrimination would end tomorrow.”

Eventually, I made my way to the Dallas Voice where I covered LGBT issues solely, but despite my specialization in LGBT issues and my association with local, state and national LGBT leaders the marriage equality story caught me off guard. I never dreamed same-sex marriage would receive so much support in state governments, the courts and the American public in general. It took so long to get the sodomy law overturned that I thought marriage equality would be many decades off, if ever in my lifetime.

I’m glad at the age of 65 I’ve lived to see the gay rights movement succeeding in ways that seemed impossible a little more than a decade ago, but it is a bittersweet moment. So many people who helped lay the foundation for the success of the gay rights movement will never get to enjoy it. I’d like to think that they somehow will know what they helped achieve. They no doubt would be as amazed as I am.