People of Color were 20th Century’s Conscience–will LGBTs be Conscience of 21st?



Massive global interest in the passing and memorializing of Nelson Mandela illustrated again that people of color were humanity’s conscience during the twentieth century. My question is, will LGBT people be the conscience of the twenty-first century?

If the systematic oppression, torture and denial of the basic human rights of a minority class sets the stage for that group to draw humanity’s collective conscious to acts of inhumanity against it, certainly there has been plenty of stage setting for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people around the world to become the voice of civilization’s conscience for the next hundred years.

Not only has the stage been set for LGBTs to raise our voices against, and point our fingers courageously at our oppressors, we have begun to inspire allies to do likewise. We have not only raised voices. We, along with a growing legion of straight allies, have begun raising the curtains of oppression to expose petty homophobes and transphobic dictators in countries around the globe.

From Russia’s hypersensitive bully president Vladimir Putin, to Iran’s disgraced election thief and former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, homophobic leaders are being called out more frequently than ever before. In fact, both Putin and Ahmadinejad have had sublimely and embarrassingly hilarious media moments regarding the absurd levels of their homophobia.

Ahmadinejad’s big gay blooper came in 2007 when, as the guest of Columbia University, he was the target of a barrage of mocking laughter from an audience of students responding to the Iranian president’s silly assertion that his country had no homosexuality to speak of.

His plainly visible reaction to the students’ guffaws was sheer embarrassment—the embarrassment of a person unaccustomed to candid reactions. Anyone who caught the initial expression on Ahmadinejad’s face when he realized he was being laughed at recognized it for what it was.

He knew he was full of bunk; he could see the audience knew he was full of it. In a flash, the ruthless dictator became the emperor who had no clothes.

Of course, the Russian president’s second reign—and I use the word “reign” deliberately—has been a dark ages for LGBT human rights in his country. The worst of the regime’s crimes against gay Russians is, of course, his government’s so-called “anti-homosexual-propaganda” law, which makes almost all mention of gays criminal. The funny part comes in the form of a painting.

Infamously, Putin ordered the seizure of a farcical oil-on-canvas depiction of him with former president and current prime minister, Dimitry Medvedev. The two politicians are portrayed as women wearing slips and getting ready for an important event of some sort; both are facing a mirror, with Putin combing Medvedev’s hair. It seems Russia’s tough, former KGB guy is a little sensitive about the way he is painted.

These are examples of the kinds of rulers and the mindsets against which we LGBTs must continue to raise our voices in order to be the collective conscience of this century. But that’s the easy part. There are other voices.

There’s that duck guy.

Star of the reality show “Duck Dynasty,” Phil Robertson, the father of the family who owns one of America’s most successful duck call making businesses, says LGBT people are sinners because we are LGBT. A&E Networks has suspended him from “Duck Dynasty,” a reality show portraying the family’s daily lives, because of his statement in an interview with GQ magazine in which he compared homosexuality with bestiality.

In some ways, the Phil Roberstsons of the world pose a more challenging problem than leaders like Putin and Ahmadinejad. They are emblematic of the folks who, because they don’t have a public platform from which to espouse ignorance and hate, go under the media’s radar as they spout their noxious bigotry.

Although it seems that everyone and her brother has a reality show nowadays, the fact is most people impact society through word-of-mouth. In the long run, that is a far more powerful method for transmitting homophobia, and it is one that has more staying power.

The average individual hater or fool who says things like “your very nature is sinful” doesn’t merit a mass response to call him out for his homophobia. He lacks exposure to societal risk in many, if not most, quarters of the world for making life hellacious for the gay people around him. The average homophobe can safely remain openly homophobic, while his unchecked bullying keeps lesbian, gay, bi and transgender youth and adults in his orbit unsafe and/or closeted.

But by keeping the pressure on day after day, year after year, decade after decade, people of color and civil rights activists around the globe have succeeded in making racism universally shameful. LGBTs can do the same in regard to homophobia and transphobia. Civil Rights leaders who inspire people the way Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and President Nelson Mandela inspired people are great catalysts for positive change, but they are extremely rare. Rarer still are the alignments of time, place and circumstance that allow such leaders to manifest their full potential to affect change.

Slain LGBT civil rights leader, Harvey Milk was a man ahead of his time—a prematurely arrived hero out to deliver his people to a promised land not yet founded.

That is not to say we haven’t had myriad other heroic leaders of LGBT equality who have picked up the mantle after Milk’s assassination in 1978. But no one has conjured the same magic, nor stoked the promise of true freedom and equality for LGBT people that Milk did.

Harvey Milk was our King, our Mandela, but he came too soon. Maybe the fates will see fit to recognize the earliness of his arrival and departure, and grant us another like him one day.

Until then, it is up to each and every lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender person who can do so to muster the courage to contribute to the individual voices of conscience of the twenty-first century, whenever and wherever we witness homophobia in action. 

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