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Five Minutes of Geography …

by Mark Gabrish Conlan/Zenger's Newsmagazine (mgconlan [at]
The late Lenny Bruce once joked that the radical Right's fears about — shock! — sex education in the public schools were unfounded because schoolkids weren't going to come home and tell their parents, "Today at school we learned five minutes of geography and ten minutes of cocksucking." The modern-day radical Right's campaign to get rid of SB 48, a bill recently passed by the California legislature to require middle and high schools to teach the role and contributions of Queer Americans (along with Pacific Islanders and people with disabilities), is driven by a similar paranoia and a disbelief that there even are such things as Queer people — and so far the Queer community's response to the attack on SB 48 is all too faithfully copied from the losing campaign against Proposition 8: a "coalition" made up mostly of straight people and a whiny argument about how we supposedly need "role models" to keep from drinking, drugging or suiciding.
Five Minutes of Geography …


Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

It really is about “the children.” That’s the first thing that crossed my mind when I heard the news that, out of all the Queer-friendly bills the California state legislature has passed and governors of both major parties (Democrats more than Republicans) have signed, the one the radical “Christian” Right has targeted is SB 48. In case you didn’t hear of it, SB 48 was steered through the legislative process by openly Gay State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and requires that students in California’s public middle and high schools be taught “the role and contributions” of Pacific Islanders, persons with disabilities and — here’s the kicker — “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Americans.”

Just as the radical Right was successful in using the initiative, a hundred-year-old (in California) procedure to allow citizens to make their own laws, bypassing the state legislature, in reversing the California Supreme Court’s decision upholding marriage equality, so now they’re planning to use the referendum — a lesser-known method of getting rid of a law that’s already passed — to repeal SB 48. If they get enough signatures, which is almost certain because they can probably reach the threshold just by circulating the petitions at mega-churches and other places of radical-Right “Christian” worship, it’ll be on the ballot in June 2012. Apparently the hope of the organizers is that this will be a heavily Republican election, since the Republicans will have a contested Presidential primary and the Democrats won’t — though recent experience indicates that by next June the primaries and caucuses in other states will probably have determined the Republican nominee already, so the organizers of the SB 48 repeal won’t get the electoral skew they’re hoping for.

That’s about all the good news there is on this one, however. We can expect “Son of Prop. 8,” another ugly radical-Right campaign highlighting all the negative stereotypes of Queer people — including, above all, the idea that we seek to “recruit” impressionable children and “force” our “lifestyle” on them. “Costly new education materials will be required to assist in the indoctrination of California children,” warned Tony Perkins of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council in an online video message aimed at California “pastors” (and the fact that the radical Right calls its ministers that — a term that literally means the ministers are shepherds and the “flocks” that go to their churches are sheep needing to be led — is itself a frightening window into how these people view the world).

“Should we divert precious classroom time and resources from science and math, reading and writing, to promote the political agenda of a few?” Perkins asks rhetorically. (This objection might make a bit more sense were the radical Right not so unremittingly hostile to the overwhelming consensus of scientists on issues like evolution and human-caused climate change. One shudders to think what sort of “science” they think the schools should be teaching.) “Can we really afford to have the social studies and history textbooks rewritten to accommodate this propaganda? Do you think that it’s right to force teachers and administrators to violate their consciences by advocating for behavior they find morally objectionable? Do you think impressionable children as young as five ought to be indoctrinated with these lifestyles?” The last is an outright lie, as the bill only applies to middle schools and high schools, but one thing about both the secular and “Christian” arms of the radical Right is they’ve never let themselves be hobbled by an overly reverent attitude towards truth.

The radical Right’s crusade against homosexuality is incomprehensible unless you realize that they really don’t think there is any such thing as a Queer person. To the radical Right, there are no homosexuals, only homosexual acts, which people engage in either because they’re so rebellious they deliberately want to go against God or because they’ve been “traumatized” by some horrible past experience. Their attitude towards homosexuality comes largely from the idea that it is “against nature” — that God created sex only for married heterosexuals to use to make babies, and any other sort of sex is wrong. Abortion and birth control are wrong because they prevent the people involved from making babies, oral and anal sex are wrong because they can’t possibly make babies, and homosexuality is wrong because two men, or two women, having sex can’t possibly make babies.

And what is our community doing in response to the radical Right’s threat? If the presentation Roland Palencia, executive director of the Queer lobbying organization Equality California, gave to the San Diego Democratic Club August 25 is any indication, they’re going to make all the same mistakes they made in the No on 8 campaign. First of all, expecting Equality California to run a successful electoral campaign is like expecting the greatest auto mechanic in the world to perform your open-heart surgery. The skills involved in lobbying a legislature — especially a basically friendly blue-state legislature — are as different from those involved in running a ballot measure campaign as the skills of an auto mechanic are from a heart surgeon.

What’s more, if Palencia’s presentation is to be believed, Equality California has learned absolutely nothing from the brilliant triumph of their Proposition 8 campaign, in which they helped turn a 15-point lead in the early polls to a five-point defeat on Election Day. Asked how his group plans to fight the SB 48 repeal, Palencia said, “We’ve formed a coalition,” and he hastened to add that the overwhelming majority of the coalition’s members will be straight people. In other words, even though he wasn’t running Equality California when the Prop. 8 debacle occurred, Palencia is faithfully duplicating the biggest mistake of that campaign: he’s shunting off us Queer people, forcing us into the closet in the struggle for our own civil rights.

What makes it even crazier is that, judging from his statements to the San Diego Democratic Club, Palencia knows full well what the opposition campaign is likely to be: “It’s that we’re hunters, we have a ‘homosexual agenda’ and we want to make everyone Gay and teach people about sex.” Indeed, the whole controversy reminds me of the late Lenny Bruce’s routine in the early 1960’s, when the radical Right was in a tizzy about — horrors! — sex education in the public schools, and Bruce joked, “It’s not like your child is going to come home and tell you, ‘In school today we learned five minutes of geography and ten minutes of cocksucking.’”

We know what the opposition is going to say because they’ve been saying it every time they’ve gone before an electorate and asked them to restrict our rights. We saw it as early as 1977, when Anita Bryant’s successful campaign to repeal the Miami-Dade County Queer civil rights ordinance was called “Save the Children.” We’ve seen it in every ballot campaign on same-sex marriage, which has been voted down in every state that had the chance to weigh in on it — including Iowa, where, barred from their state constitution from doing a Prop. 8, the radical Right motivated voters to do the next worst thing: remove from the state supreme court three of the justices that had supported marriage equality.

And what makes our community’s record in initiative and referendum campaigns so dismal is that, even knowing in advance what the other side’s strategy was going to be, we have utterly failed to come up with a working counter-strategy. The argument Equality California plans to make to keep SB 48, as Palencia explained it to the San Diego Democratic Club — basically a gigantic whine about how not teaching the role and contributions of Queer people creates “a hostile environment in school” and leads young Queer people to drug and alcohol abuse and suicide — will come off as a rancid plea for special treatment that’s going to make voters think, “Balls to that. If they’re really as good as the rest of us, they’ll tough it out and take it.”

How about doing something different for a change? I thought that the No on 8 campaign should have put a human face on the issue — put happy, loving Gay and Lesbian couples on the air to talk about how their relationships worked, and show (not tell!) California voters that we’re the same as everyone else and we fall in love, form relationships and stay together (or not) for the same reasons straight people do. Likewise, I think this time around we should make the essence of the SB 48 campaign to teach the voters of California the same lessons the bill would mandate be taught to students. Pick out Queer, disabled and Pacific Islander people who have made major contributions to American and Californian history and culture, give voters 30-second capsule biographies of them, and say, “That’s what’s going to be taught in schools if you vote Yes on … ” Keep the profiles equally balanced so we highlight, without having to underline the point, how the radical Right is willing to throw Pacific Islanders and people with disabilities under the train in their demented jihad against Queers.
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