It's a big week in the fight for “marriage equality”, which is what most gay activists want us to call gay marriage. Today the Supreme Court heard arguments for and against Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that struck down the state's law to allow Ellen DeGeneres and Portia De Rossi the right to marry each other, just as Britney Spears got hitched to some guy in a drunken haze one night so many years ago. Tomorrow the court will hear arguments about the constitutionality of the Defence of Marriage Act, the 1996 federal law signed by Bill Clinton that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. Right now, gay activism needs all the help it can get. But do you know what’s not helping? Changing your Facebook profile picture to a silly red-and-pink equal sign.
In more sad news for gay Americans waiting to have all the rights that go along with marriage and not just the ridiculously ornate parties and rituals, it looks like the court won't issue a sweeping ruling to allow gay marriage in all 50 states. That means gay men and lesbians who call this country home will continue to be second-class citizens. Sorry to break it to everyone, but changing your little avatar isn't doing anything to change that.
Yes, the show of support is heartwarming. It's nice to see so many people who want their gay friends to be spoiled brides just like all their straight friends, but you're not doing anything. This is just another form of passive activism that isn't advancing the cause. Do you know what would be helpful? Actually picking up a sign, heading down to the Supreme Court and joining the throngs of protesters. Do you know what would be useful? Instead of just downloading an image and clicking a few buttons, going to the website of a gay rights organisation (or any gay organisation for that matter) and giving them some money so they can fight for gay civil rights on your behalf. Do you know what would really matter? If you had done this back when Prop 8 was being voted on and had actively lobbied everyone you know in California to vote the right way so this thing didn't have to go to the Supreme Court in the first place.
Basically, it’s the equivalent of wearing green on St Patrick's Day (which is only useful in identifying which drunks to avoid on the sidewalk). And this is not the right time or place for the show of support. There are only nine people, the Supreme Court Justices, who matter today or tomorrow, and their lifetime appointments mean that they’re above being prejudiced by the masses. They're probably not even allowed on Facebook. Why don't you hold your burst of activity for something that really matters, when the public actually has some say in what happens?
Now you're just sitting there at your desk thinking that something you did on social media is freeing the oppressed. It might, in some small way, but if you really want to make progress, you have to work hard. If visibility is what you're aiming for, why not write a letter (hell, even an email) to your senator and let him or her know that you want marriage rights for everyone. Why don't you call up your conservative grandmother or that girl you went to high school with who only posts Bible quotes on her timeline or anyone who would deny gay people their rights and tell them, personally, what you think about that. You know, do some actual work – something hard and annoying and perhaps intensely uncomfortable.
The worst thing is that all the red and pink is making everyone on my Facebook feed completely indistinguishable from the rest. I know some might think this is a good thing – that all those equal signs create an indivisible mass of support behind this issue. But what it’s really doing is turning gays into a completely innocuous monolith, which is something the gay civil rights movement has been trying to do since the fight for gay marriage began. It is trying to make us into a nameless, faceless Borg-thing that is simple and clean and lovely enough to be deigned worthy of its rights.
No one is going to give you anything for nothing, and all the Facebook statuses in the world won’t change that. We have to go out and take it. We have to be individuals with names and voices and faces and tell the people out there in the world, outside our circles of friends, how important it is to treat gay people like humans and not silly little hairdressers who can give you a killer makeover on reality TV.
Naturally the gays are starting to get creative with the formula – I've seen Paula Deen riding atop two sticks of pink butter and gay couples putting the red equal sign over their wedding picture. There is even one with Divine from Pink Flamingos pointing a gun out of the screen with the pink and red in the background. While it’s an affecting image (and wonderfully more militant than the normal, vanilla gay rights-activism symbols), I can't help but think how much John Waters would hate this whole thing: everyone trying to be the same, trying to be just like our straight brothers and sisters. The queer has been demolished, our edges completely sanded away in a plea for acceptance we haven't even been granted.
Frank Kameny, photo via
This also reminds me of Frank Kameny, the late, great gay activist who initiated the first protests at the White House back in the 60s. He insisted that everyone who marched be dressed in their nicest suits so that they all looked the same, like respectable members of the community and not the degenerates everyone thought they were. Kameny and his radical activists were arrested for their beliefs. Simply showing their faces at the protest made them vulnerable to violence, being fired from their jobs, or, God forbid, arrested for sodomy. What they were doing was highly dangerous. What all the lemmings with the Facebook activism avatar are doing is easier than wearing a Livestrong bracelet or all those stupid NOH8 portraits with tape over the subjects’ mouths. At least you had to pay for the bracelet! At least there was some money going to help someone.
But no, all we can be bothered to do now is change our profile for a few days as if, like everyone in the theatre clapping to revive Tinker Bell, it's going to do some good. It's not. The only way to create change is by being like Kameny and putting something on the line. Let's all protest so hard we get arrested and then post our mug shots on our walls. That's the kind of disturbance that will get us some real results.
Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianJMoylan
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