Sunday, October 22, 2006

Come out gay Republicans!

Jasper Johns, Flag. 1954–55,  Encaustic, oil, and collage on fabric mounted
on plywood. The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Andrew, honey, Get a Grip
The conservative gay writer Andrew Sullivan has gotten his panties tied in knot about the Left outing gay Republicans. Get a grip, hon, there’s plenty of blame for both Left and Right. “The List” of gay staffers on Capitol Hill got into the hands of some right wing fundies. That’s all we know.

I have found myself tracking “The List” story with a lot of intensity. As an old-line activist, I hoped that mainstream America had moved beyond gay cleansing and blackmail. I don’t feel any need to protect anyone’s closet or out anyone, but the threat of a Pink Purge and its reaction tell me that the closet remains as lethal as ever.

I have some personal history with the suffering that is the source of the closet: abuse at the hands of our own families, bullying at school, settling for second rank jobs after better than average College careers. Many gay men of my generation share some of this history with me and know that these wounds do not magically disappear in the halls of Congress.

I also know something about gay staffers on the Hill. I was a personal friend of Rick Pucar who worked for Phil Burton, Nancy Pelosi’s predecessor as the ‘Congressperson’ from the District that includes San Francisco. I still see his surviving partner, Mike Haush, who worked for both Barbara Boxer when she was in the House and John Burton, Phil’s brother. They joked that they fell in love and got married in the halls of Congress. Oh, if only that had been possible.

Through them and other political friends, I’ve known about the informal network of gay staffers for years. It used to exist in rolodexes but has now migrated into email address books which are much easier to publish widely.

The period that I’m talking about begins with the appearance of HIV in our community.

The strain of funding research and treatment for the “gay cancer” produced stresses among the Hill gays equal to or greater than the fallout from Mark Foley's sick behavior.
The membership of Lesbian and Gay Congressional Staff Association is a matter of public record though not, as far as I know, widely published. Until only a few weeks ago, if a staffer chose to remain in the closet, he or she could. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was the unwritten rule, but it was never a secret society, a kind of Opus Dei with a gay agenda.

The network of lesbian and gay staffers worked like any other networkfull of communication, cooperation, gossip, bitchiness, even a bit of back stabbing with a particular flair. Of course, most of their bosses knew about their sexual orientation. Most Dem’s, especially from the Left Coast, were out, but, for the most part, they respected the privacy of any closeted Republican colleagues. They even helped and encouraged one another.

I’ve never seen “The List.” It hasn’t been published in the Times, but it’s become a new weapon in the hands of Family Research Council (what a lovely name for bigots). What happened? My suspicion is that at some point pre-Mark Foley, support within the GBLT network became covering. If the spirit of bi-partisanship is dead among the bosses, should we expect a higher standard from their staff? As with any human network fighting for survival, sometimes the old strategy doesn’t work very well, but hell, it is the only thing on hand, so let’s crank her up and see if we can get her to work this time.

And this is in my view is the real kicker: there is a new generation, gay and straight, ready to move beyond the old post-Stonewall arguments about being gay. They are ready get to work on what really matters now. Perkins, director of the FRC, and his operatives’ behavior is reprehensible and unethicalit is black mailbut worse, it is a distraction from the Iraq War, the treason of the sitting President and his crony administration, global warming, the looting of our national resources by the super wealthy, the auctioning off of publicly owned air waves and the consequent stifling of free speech.

Before any of these efforts get full gay participation, and the contribution of our talents, there might have to be a final "Come to Jesus" reckoning--gay staffers, from either party, who turned over “The List” to the likes of Perkins, ought to have their DuPont Circle town houses turned into Betty Ford clinics for recovering Bible thumpers, and then be forced to sit through every meeting.

The best article that I have found on "The List" is, of course, in the Washington Blade, available online.