Ever since Proposition 8 passed Nov. 4, enshrining heterosexual-only marriage in the California Constitution, demonstrators from Sacramento to San Diego have staged daily marches and protests to express their anger and disappointment that homosexuals will continue to be treated as second-class citizens. It's a stirring movement, reminiscent of past civil rights struggles, but it raises a troubling question: Where were these marchers before the election?
Gay people generally aren't the placard-waving, bomb-throwing, chaps-wearing, communion-wafer-stomping radicals we're made out to be by the Bills O'Reilly and Donohue. Most gays and lesbians are content to be left to alone; many gays and lesbians go out of their way to ignore political threats and political activism and political activists. Only when gays and lesbians are attacked—only after the fact—do gays and lesbians take to the streets. Remember: the Stonewall Riots were are a response to a particularly brutal and cruelly-timed (we'd just buried Judy!) police raid on a gay bar in New York City; ACT-UP and Queer Nation were a response not to the AIDS virus, but to a murderous indifference on the parts of the political and medical establishment that amounted to an attack.
Most gay people grow up desperately trying to pass, to blend in; most of us flee to cities where we can live our lives in relative peace and security. We don't go looking for fights. And most gay people walk around without realizing that they've internalized the dynamics of high school hells some of us barely survived: it's better to pass, to stay out of sight, to avoid making waves, lest you attract negative attention, lest you get bashed.
But once you get bashed, once someone else throws the first punch, then you fight back—what other choice do you have?
Gays and lesbians were active in the fight against Prop 8—thousands of us. But the great gay masses marching in the streets over the last week didn't perceive Prop 8 as an attack until after it was approved. Which was idiotic not just in hindsight but in foresight—lots of gay people were screaming bloody murder about Prop 8, and pouring money into the campaign, before the damn thing passed. So now we're in the streets—now when some would argue that it's too late. But as with past attacks that galvanized the gay community—Anita Bryant, Harvey Milk's murder, the AIDS epidemic, Don't Ask/Don't Tell, Matthew Shepard's murder—the energy will be harnessed, new leaders will emerge, and we will emerge stronger.