Outlawing Gays


In Florida, bigots use Operation Rescue-style tactics to blockade a gay and lesbian film festival. In Maine, a campaign to repeal an anti-discrimination law is followed by a one-third increase in violence against gays and lesbians. In Springfield, Oregon, voters pass an ordinance forbidding the city to advance gay rights. Some legal experts believe it could be used to bar gay books from the public library and prohibit gay rallies in the city parks.

In the past year, anti-gay political activists have launched highly sophisticated organizing campaigns, litigation efforts and ballot measures that would write anti-gay bias into law.

The best-known of these measures are the statewide initiatives in Colorado and Oregon. Colorado's would prevent the state and all its agencies and local jurisdictions, including the schools, from acting on any claim of discrimination by a lesbian or a gay man.

Oregon's goes even further: All jurisdictions "specifically including the State Department of Higher Education and the public schools, shall assist in setting a standard for Oregon's youth that recognizes homosexuality . . . as abnormal, wrong, unnatural and perverse and . . . to be discouraged and avoided." Most chilling, no public "properties and monies" could be used to "encourage or facilitate homosexuality," a provision activists fear could be used to deny licenses to gay bars or to ban lesbians and gays from public employment.

Similar measures are on the ballot in Tampa, Florida, and Portland, Maine. Last spring in Alabama, two anti-gay bills sponsored by the far-right Eagle Forum passed the legislature with strong bipartisan support. One of them prevents public colleges and schools from funding gay and lesbian student groups; the other puts the state on record as saying, "from a public health perspective . . . homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and . . . homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under the laws of this state."

In Mobile, Alabama, a public library that rented space to a gay and lesbian film festival was picketed by Christian Coalition members on the ground that the event advocated violation of the state's sodomy law.

The American Family Association supplemented its Operation Rescue-style tactics in Tallahassee, Florida, against a Gay Pride Month film festival with a legal challenge based on a claim that the films constituted pornography, a tactic the association is also using against a Tampa film festival slated for this month.

New York City has recently seen a mushrooming of anti-gay organizing. Mary Cummins, president of Community School Board 24 in Queens, sent a memo to parents urging them to attend a rally against the multicultural curriculum, which is positive toward gays, mandated by the Board of Education. "We will not accept two people of the same sex engaged in deviant sex practices as family," she wrote.

Last month a group called the Concerned Parents for Educational Accountability held a large demonstration at City Hall against the curriculum, holding signs with slogans such as "Teach Children to Read, Not to Artificially Breed." Five city school districts have refused to teach the curriculum.

Nationwide, most of the groups involved in organizing efforts are either chapters or affiliates of the Christian Coalition, Pat Robertson's $13 million tax-exempt, far-right lobby. President Bush addressed the group's confab in Virginia Beach last month; the coalition, an increasingly important player in GOP politics on the national, state and local levels, sent 300 delegates to the Republican convention.

The coalition's anti-gay rhetoric has been embraced by GOP leaders from Bob Dole to Mr. Bush himself, who has proclaimed that gay parents are "not normal." The Republican platform put the party on record opposing laws that "include sexual preference as a protected minority." The party has increasingly relied on the coalition's anti-gay appeals to get out the vote in local and national contests. The largest single contributor to the coalition is the National Republican Senatorial Committee; its $64,000 grant was described by coalition executive director Ralph Reed Jr. as "seed money."

At a workshop on "Battling Gay rights" at the Virginia Beach gathering, 11 states and localities were targeted for anti-gay referendums -- those already mentioned, as well as Ohio, California, Missouri, Washington and Madison, Wisconsin.

These bills and organizing campaigns have had a disquieting side effect: Violence and harassment of gay men and lesbians have increased in every one of these places. Attacks rose by 32 percent in Portland, Maine, 18 percent in Colorado and 10 percent in New York. After the passage of the Springfield, Oregon, ordinance, the entire state saw an increase in assaults, as well as break-ins at the offices of gay and lesbian organizations, death threats to people on their mailing lists and vandalism of cars and houses of those thought to be gay.

Lesbians and gay men across the country view this election as a matter of survival. Anti-gay forces have organized with greater sophistication than ever before, and their campaigns are sparking terror among gay people. Recent movement successes, like the passage of California's long-awaited gay-rights bill, are being used to exploit economic and racial resentments: Literature distributed by referendum organizers calls gays and lesbians "a rich class demanding 'special rights' at the expense of true minorities."

The Republican Party is beholden to these organizers. For all his imperfections, Bill Clinton is not.

Donna Minkowitz is a writer for The Village Voice. This article is reprinted from The Nation magazine.

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