Texas offers few incentives to return. Don’t get me wrong, there are good people there. Some close friends live in Texas. Indeed, I might have no choice but to return next year if I cannot secure another academic post.
The second news story that captured my attention last week, however, reminded me that Texas can be both vindictive and exploitative. You get two for the price of one.
The Associated Press posted a story last week about a new push by the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau to attract gay visitors. “Wow,” I thought, “Dallas sure has some chutzpah given the state’s unforgivable treatment of queers.” Don't worry, though, the creators of the campaign are clear that it will not actually bring about equality in Texas.
Last year, 76 percent of Texas voters approved an amendment that guaranteed heterosexuals’ special privileges to marry. Every corner of Texas jumped on the anti-gay bandwagon during that campaign. A month before the vote, the Ku Klux Klan rallied in favor of depriving queer folk of their rights in the allegedly “liberal” capital, Austin.
This past election day, Texan voters returned Rick Perry to the governor’s mansion for another four years. Perry had been vocally and vehemently anti-gay throughout his first term. He also stepped forward as the most influential supporter of the anti-gay amendment in 2005. When asked directly about the consequences that the amendment would have on real-life queer Texans, Perry responded, “Texans made a decision about marriage and if there's a state that has more lenient views than Texas, then maybe that's a better place for them to live.” Yep, in short, the Texas Governor told gay people to get out of the state.
Trust me, I personally took Perry’s statement to heart. You don’t have to tell me twice. I know when I am not wanted. That’s why I moved to Massachusetts, even if it is only for a year. Consider me a Perry Refugee. Let’s just hope that I am not repatriated.
So, you can imagine my surprise that the Dallas convention bureau would tell gay people that the city will “power up your pride like no other destination.” Really? No other destination? More than San Francisco? More than New York? More than Boston? More than Chicago? More than Santa Fe? Really?
Just what does Dallas have to infuse us queer folk with a new sense of empowerment? Well, I mean beyond its giant glass erection.
Apparently Dallas’ tourism board can cater to all the really best gay stereotypes. The queer section of the web-site promises “majestic architecture, hip fashion, culinary marvels and arts venues galore.” Ah, gee, no plugs for fabulous opportunities to style other people’s hair or arrange their flowers?
Texan-conservatives already voiced their disapproval of the Visitor’s Bureau. Cathie Adams, president of the right-wing Dallas-based Texas Eagle Forum, suggested that attracting queers to the city would scare the horses. "To promote same-sex activities that would be offensive to the majority of families is not profitable, economically or socially," she said. "If you are wanting families to move into the city of Dallas, are you going to show them such a promotion? I doubt it. Those families would go to Collin County."
How did the mastermind of the queer-focused travel campaign respond to such a critique? What marvelous insight did he have that would “power up” our queer pride in the face of Adams’ homophobia?
“It is unlikely that most people will ever view their targeted appeals,” he said, “unless they are members of the gay community.” No need to fret. Those good majority of homophobic Texan families won’t even notice the campaign. Doesn’t that make you feel good, queer folk? When did Dallas become that person who pretended to like us in adolescence, but really just mistreated us? “Oh, hey queers," Dallas tells us, “Don’t worry, we are so best friends! Totally, I mean it! Just, like, we are going to be ‘secret friends.’ We won’t tell anybody at school that we are friends. Also, if I run into you in public, I am gong to pretend like I don’t know you at all. It will be, like, a fun game that only the secret friends know that we are playing, because we are secret friends. [pause] Can I borrow ten bucks?”
Make no mistake, the director of the visitor’s bureau launched this campaign with nothing but dollar signs in his eyes. "It's not about being politically correct,” he said, “It's about being economically correct." He gloried in the fact that gay travelers spend an average of $100 more per day than hetero travelers. In other words, the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau is more than happy to give us whatever message we want to get our money. Fighting for our rights, though, or ensuring queers’ safety within the city or state just doesn’t pay. We are free to leave our cash on the counter, but not to be treated like full humans deserving of actual respect.
What leaves me even more frustrated is that at least one queer organization has fallen for this transparently self-serving pitch. The Washington-based Family Pride Coalition hosted their annual conference in Dallas within the past few months. Apparently they fell for a dazzling presentation by the visitor’s bureau. Yeah, that makes a great deal of sense. Need a place to focus on queer families? Let’s go to a state where three-quarters of the voters felt they should not exist at all. Yet, 250 queer folk (and presumably many with their families in tow) brought their cash to Dallas for this conference. That is the same as giving a school-yard bully a candy bar to show him that he is wrong for slugging you. This entry could have just as easily been titled, “What’s the Matter with Queer Rights Groups.”
Well over half of the U.S. states have passed hateful measures against queer folk. Yet, they rarely suffer any consequences for these actions. Indeed, we queer folk don’t even discuss the possibilities of economic boycotts or staged protests. Most of the major queer rights organizations are much too busy cultivating sympathy for Lance Bass’ recent hangnail.
In the meantime, Texas gets to have their pink Barbie cake and eat it too. Campaigns, like the Dallas effort, takes the language of queer rights and twists it to serve the status quo. The gay liberation movement demanded that we be treated as equals and recognized as equal citizens in our cities, states, and nations. Advertisers have decided that they can tell us that we are equal in jargon and make their sales pitch feel like we are striking a blow for sexual liberation by staying at the local Hilton. The state treats queers as a cross between Beelzebub and an ATM machine.
Many of us have limitations about how much we can move away from evil states like Texas. We, though, have total control over where we vacation. What would happen if every queer person decided that they will not give one extra dollar to any city or state that refused to guarantee queer equality? Campaigns that promise to “empower” us by giving us the chance to spend our money do nothing to advance our cause. Texas disfigures our real goals to make a buck while also keeping us in a subservient position to the majority.