Wednesday, February 22, 2006
At the risk of inviting hate mail, I need to talk about the over-representation of “queer conservatives” in the media. I just gotta. My nerves grow raw at the dominance that this small group has on the representation of queers in the mainstream news.
Let me start with my usual list of preemptive disclaimers: Of course, I recognize the political diversity of the queer community and love all my queer brothers and sisters. True, I will never quite understand why someone who likes same-sex-sex would align with conservative political causes; however, it’s their personal choice and I respect that. Nor do I think that one has to be lefty to be truly queer or some such nonsense. So, let’s be cool with each other.
All that said, queer conservatives are not the majority of queer folk in the United States. The Log Cabin Republicans (LCR) can hardly claim to represent the larger body of GLBT voters. According to the 2004 Associated Press exit polling, 78 percent of self-identified gay voters opted for Kerry compared with only 21 percent who voted for Bush (the remainder voted for a third-party alternative).
Yet, the media seems to increasingly treat queer conservatives as our newly anointed leaders. A recent story in USA Today (No, I don’t normally read that trash), for instance, reported on the move by 16 states to ban gays and lesbians from adopting children. The story had the expected sound-bites from the usual suspects of Anti-Choice, Anti-Women, Anti-Minority, Anti-Gay groups. Who, though, did the reporter ask for a “gay” perspective? Patrick Guerriero of the Log Cabin Republicans. Mr. Guerriero offered the astoundingly insightful comment that banning gay adoption was “the next step by conservatives.” At no point did USA Today quote lefty activists nor did Guerriero’s own ideas about the gay-adoption ban get voiced (and I am assuming Guerriero thinks queer parents would be just fine).
LCR’s aren’t the folk who historically achieved the few rights that GLBT people have today. Somehow, though, the lefty queer political leaders have been sidelined by the queer conservatives in the national media. So, why do these queer conservatives get so much attention?
At first, I thought the media’s interests in queer conservatives existed simply because they are a novelty. Because most queers don’t vote conservatively, the media initially presented them as an unusual element of our community. You know, kind of like the little rush of attention that heterosexual plushies got a year or so ago.
Now, though, the media increasingly depends on gay conservatives as the “voice” of the queer community. Yet, the media’s use (and misuse) of queer conservatives says little about the actual political diversity within the queer community at all.
In many ways, queer conservatives' political views are misunderstood and poorly reported in the mainstream press. Let me be clear: I think the LCRs are deeply problematic and I disagree with them on almost every issue; however, the media does not present queer conservatives truthfully. News outlets often forget that the LCR did not endorse a candidate for President during the 2004 election. Nor does the LCR blindly support (all) of the anti-gay crap that the mainstream Republicans are pushing.
Instead, the media depends on shorthand in their use of queer conservatives. Merely using the word “conservative” today implies a faith in the current administration, or so the media would have us believe. When they deploy queer conservatives, the media constructs an image of a disjointed and incoherent queer community. They ignore or minimize queer conservatives’ demands for equality or coherent political statements. Instead, they use queer conservatives to make our claims about a unified queer movement seem like a lie. “See?” the media implies, “Not all queer folk want equal rights and equal treatment. Look, here is an entire group who identifies with the interests of ‘conservatives.’ So, we shouldn’t believe those liberal queers who keep demanding stuff, like fair treatment and respect.”
It is the media, however, that fibs. We queer folk are bound together across racial, class, political, generational, and regional boundaries by our shared oppression and common experiences. With only a few extreme exceptions, conservative and liberal queer folk alike agree on the need for basic protection and equality in this nation.
The media creates a false dichotomy between two extreme caricatures of queer politics. We get two options: the wild, fantastical, leather-clad, lefty who smothers happily married heteros in their sleep verses the button-down (white) quasi-closeted asexual conservative who gives occasional beauty tips to his best gal-pals. The media has long presented the lefty queer community as a disorderly and bizarre carnival that threatens the peaceful harmony of the hetero world. We shouldn’t be surprised, therefore, that the news would give more favorable coverage to the minority conservatives who they imagine as more like “typical” Americans. Queer conservatives just don’t seem as scary because they don’t get presented as actually wanting anything but the status quo.
Neither of these visions represent the reality of our daily lives or our actual political options. Instead, they are convenient for news writers trying to dramatize or manufacture divisions between us. The nation, as a consequence, gets let off the hook on queer rights. After all, if queer folk can’t agree on what rights they want, why should the rest of the nation care? By exaggerating internal divisions between queer folk, the media erases or minimizes the real threats posed to us by conservative heterosexuals’ opposition and hostility. It is they, not our queer brothers and sisters, who threaten our rights and lives. We should not be misled.
If you consider yourself a queer conservative, start demanding that the media represent your actual beliefs more accurately. For those of us who are queer and lefty, let us remind the media that we are the majority of queer folk (Sorry, queer conservatives, it’s true. Accept it.).
As a community, let us also remember that the political divisions between us are resolvable. The middle ground for all of us queer folk is the desire to be treated with respect and given the chance to live our lives in the ways that make us happy.