Friday, September 23, 2005
TO READ THE letters and e-mails to this newspaper in response to a few opinion columns by Jeff Gannon, you would think he represents a grave threat to the achievement of equality for gay Americans.
In fact, many of his loudest critics represent a much more serious obstacle to the success of the gay rights movement.
Gannon, of course, made headlines earlier this year after a softball question he asked President Bush at a press briefing led members of the White House press corps to do some digging into his background. They discovered that Gannon’s legal name was Jim Guckert and the media outfit he represented, Talon News, was owned by a wealthy Bush backer and published reports severely slanted in the president’s favor.
Then things got really interesting, when liberal gay blogger John Aravosis got a tip that before entering journalism, Gannon had advertised online as a gay male escort. Gannon largely evaded questions about the claim, suggesting he merely owned the sites or provided web consultation services.
Gannon also avoided questions about his sexual orientation, leading this newspaper to report in February that he attended a gay sex party in Virginia. A week later, we apologized for the story, saying that while accurate, we had unnecessarily reported on private details of Gannon’s life that were not critical to the story.
Since then, Gannon has become a target celébre for liberal bloggers, one of a handful of shorthand symbols they use for all they see wrong with George W. Bush’s America.
So it came as a surprise to many readers when the same Jeff Gannon showed up on the opinion pages of this gay newspaper and its affiliated publications, arguing in his debut column that liberal gay bloggers were too far on the fringe of American politics, dragging down the rest of the gay rights movement with them.
THE OBJECTIONS TO Gannon’s column came pouring in, mostly encouraged by Aravosis and others who were the target of Gannon’s first column and have long been his chief critics. Some readers disagreed with the substance of Gannon’s views, but most unleashed more anger at the messenger than the message.
The flurry of e-mails called Gannon every name in the book along with a few brand new entries. Predictably, many of the attacks were colorful if obscene references to the gay escort site. Others took aim at this newspaper and its editors, questioning whether we had taken leave of our senses or were merely stooping our standards to garner attention.
One particularly angry reader asked rhetorically if he could expect to pick up the following week’s paper to read an opinion column by an “ex-gay” explaining the way out of homosexuality. “I wish!” was my reply.
The job of any good opinion section is to challenge readers, not just preach to the choir. For that reason, our Forum pages are open to anyone, gay and non-gay, whether or not they support the goals of the gay rights movement.
But Jeff Gannon doesn’t represent that sort of challenge. He doesn’t oppose gay equality. In fact, he confirmed just this week that he is bisexual. Even still, he is very clearly a conservative who supports the policies of the Bush administration, and that plus his headline-grabbing past has been more than enough to enrage some gay liberals.
LET’S SAY, FOR the sake of argument, that the role played by newspapers isn’t enough to justify publication of provocative views by someone as controversial as Jeff Gannon. Let’s say that this man, or his opinions, somehow deserve to be excluded from this “tolerance” about which we all preach so much.
Then remember this: We gay Americans do not have the luxury of intolerance. When it comes to minorities, we are remarkably minor. Kinsey was nice enough to propagate the 10 percent myth, but subsequent surveys place us at even smaller numbers, well under half that amount. And about one-quarter of us — of us! — voted for the election and the re-election of George W. Bush.
If we cannot tolerate the viewpoint of someone who tries to explain why one-quarter of us like and support the president, then how can we expect the 96 percent of Americans who are heterosexual to listen seriously to our demands for equality?
The growing polarization of American politics has taken root within gay America as well. The explosion of liberal gay bloggers, many of whom spend about as much time on the “gray” of most issues as Rush Limbaugh and his “dittoheads,” has only exacerbated the proud queer tradition of disdain for gay Republicans (“Nazi Jews”) and the caricature of conservative Christians (“religious right,” “religious political extremists”).
Whatever the public opinion surveys may say about the growing acceptance of gays, we have lost, and lost badly, every ballot measure to date on marriage, and the numbers haven’t improved since Alaska and Hawaii voted on the issue almost a decade ago.
Our activists groups have grown quite fond of talking about the “conversations” we need to have with straight America. Well half of that conversation involves listening, not talking. And if we won’t even listen to the heretical views of our own kind, then how can we be open to one of “them”?
CRITICS WILL UNDOUBTEDLY claim that the issue is Jeff Gannon and not his conservative views or his support for George W. Surely there are better gay conservative spokespersons, they will argue. Except “they,” to date, has not included a single gay conservative; only gay liberals have written in to demand more credible and upstanding right-wingers.
And what’s more, the vitriol that followed Gannon’s columns rings all too familiar to be just about him. In fact, almost a decade in gay media has taught me that Shakespeare had it wrong. Hell hath no fury like a gay liberal crossed.
When Cyd Zeigler, then a journalist with the New York Blade and now author of a blog called “The Dooryard,” dared to praise the legacy of Ronald Reagan, he incurred the same ugly vitriol.
So did Bruce Carroll, who now writes under the nom de blog Gay Patriot, when he argued in these pages that gay activists, not President Bush, started the gay marriage war, and they ought to have waited for more public support before pushing the envelope.
You don’t have to agree with Carroll or Zeigler or Gannon. I didn’t agree with any of them, on any of the subjects they wrote about for our publications. But that’s not the point.
If we can’t hear them out, and others like them, then we are woefully unprepared to make the case for our equality. For that reason, the intolerance of the loudest voices on the gay left is a greater threat to our movement than a few lonely voices on the gay right.