This is a reprint of a piece by Don Kilhefner Ph.D. Pioneering gay activist and shaman. Originally published in Frontiers magazine LA.
In the wake of the CA Supreme Court decision to uphold Proposition 8, it seems like a good time to revisit it:
The victory of Proposition 8 represents a defeat of major proportions for the Los Angeles gay community and, at the same time, a major defeat for gay assimilation ideology. Trust me, those who pay attention to where the power is, have already written off the gay community as a paper tiger. Just look at the breakaway province of the American Episcopal Church—the American Anglican Church—if you want an example of the strength of the anti-gay liberation feelings in this country at this time.
Mormon money did not win the Prop 8 battle. Gay political lethargy did. In addition, those organizing the battle for the gay community—No on 8—simply did poorly in almost every regard. You have heard most of the criticism of No on 8 already from the internet, Los Angeles Times, L.A. Weekly, and word of mouth. Faggot tongues have been wagging. No on 8 ran a campaign that did not lead but reacted, it was top down and had little grass roots support, there was no strategy for engaging the Afro-American and Latino communities, and at almost every level I was underwhelmed with the preparation. I was offended by their decision not to ever mention the “G-A-Y” word because it might offend someone somewhere.
Most importantly, however, gay men simply did not get activated or engaged. It was almost as if Prop 8 was not a priority or they had more important things to do. Unfortunately, there is no independent gay political presence in the gay community today. The Stonewall Democratic Club and the Log Cabin Club function largely as bagmen for the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively. They have become the cash cow of two political parties neither one of which really wants us otherwise. There is no community-based gay political presence now operating that we can count on or get involved with on a continuous basis. There is little lobbying of the Los Angeles City Council or Board of Supervisors on a gay-centered political and social agenda locally.
There is a desperate need for a grassroots gay political organization that is proactive not reactive (with a netroots component).
It saddens me tremendously today when energized young Gay men want to know where they can go to become actively and constructively involved politically in the community. For the first time since the 1980’s I have no place toward which to point them. It tears me apart when intelligent young gay men tell me they have to “dumb it down” to be part of the gay community.
There is no coalition building with other minority communities by the gay community today. One of the strengths of the gay community from 1969-1985 is that
we built coalitions with others—Latinos, Afro-Americans, the anti-war and civil rights
movements, and so forth. Gay people vocally supported issues of importance to other communities and, in return, we received support for gay issues. For example, in 1973 the fledgling Gay and Lesbian Center took a leadership role in the creation of the Southern California Free Clinic Council in which there were representatives from all free clinics—ours included—serving a wide-range and diverse client populations. As a result of our active participation as the gay community, when we needed help with our agenda—like letters of support for our funding proposals or bodies at a rally—a wide-range of support was always ready and willing to help us and vice versa. And there are scores of other examples. Unfortunately, such intercommunity cooperation has disappeared by the gay community. We stand pretty much alone and isolated from other communities as the Prop 8 defeat demonstrated. Barach Obama is pushing coalition-building as a primary methodology of his administration. If we do likewise, it would help to revitalize the local gay community—a community in crisis.
The gay community in the last 20 years is the only place I see people demonstrate after they have lost, not before they engage, a fight or an election. It is amazing and stupid. In a letter to the editor of the Los Angeles Times,(11/7/08) Ari Solomon said it best:
To the thousands of you at the rally Wednesday night [at the Mormon Temple] to protest Proposition 8, thank you for coming. But where were you when we needed you? On Sunday, [before the election] my husband and I attended what was suppose to be a “No on 8” rally in West Hollywood. The turnout was about 300-400 people. As we walked back from the rally, we saw what seemed like thousands more of you drinking. You couldn’t be bothered to take a couple of hours to demonstrate for your civil rights.
I’ve heard it all: “Isn’t giving money enough?” “I don’t have the time.” “Don’t worry, the thing will never pass.” Well guess what: Proposition 8 did pass. And now you decide to rally? Perhaps next time you won’t wait until your civil rights are taken away to get out there and fight.
A major part of any new political push by the gay community has to have the rebuilding of the gay community as a primary agenda item. One of the major ways we were able to succeed in the 1969-1985 era was by having a politically aware, creatively alive, and spiritually awake community behind us. We had momentum. We knew what we wanted. We demanded our share. Take a look at the current film Milk and you will get a glimpse of what is missing from our community today. And it can, indeed must, be reignited if we are move the gay community forward with the much-hoped-for Obama revolution.
The computer can be an important organizing tool, particularly in mobilizing people. However, there is a need for face-to-face organizing as well where we organize
around what we are for, not what we are against. I call to young gay men to begin organizing anew with a progressive agenda grounded on what went before you, but focusing on the future and how you must do things differently. To those young gay men of purpose and intensity who will be creating a new political consciousness in the community: watch out for the Big Bad Wolves of the current crop of community leaders. They will take your ideas and work, claiming credit for it as we have seen in the past several weeks. As my artist friend Frank Rodriguez observed in the wake of the defeat of Prop 8: “All the older corporate activists are trying to take credit for the groundswell of young gays grassroots efforts.” Watch out young gay men; there are gay and lesbian political vultures out there.
Beloved brothers: these are very difficult times for the gay community. We have a community in crisis. Your assistance is desperately needed. My generation has stepped up to the plate and done its part. Now it is time for your generation to
get involved and create a legacy of constructive political engagement. Otherwise we won’t survive.
Don Kilhefner, Ph.D. played a pioneering role in the creation of the Gay Liberation movement. He is also co-founder of Los Angeles’ Gay and Lesbian Center, Van Ness Recovery House, and many other seminal organizations in the gay community, including (with Harry Hay) the Radical Faeries, an international gay spirituality and consciousness movement. He is a Jungian psychologist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org