Wednesday, January 6, 2010

'Beyond Queer: Challenging Gay Left Orthodoxy'

This book review appeared in TWN, a Miami newsweekly, in July 1996:
Putting Political Stereotypes to the Test
Richard E. Sincere, Jr.


Beyond Queer: Challenging Gay Left Orthodoxy, edited by Bruce Bawer. The Free Press, 1996. $24.50, 325 pages.

Stereotypes are pervasive in American political culture. When we stereotype people, we make it easy to draw conclusions about them. An economist might argue that stereotypes reduce intellectual transaction costs. Unfortunately, stereotypes are often inaccurate -- as a result, they obstruct clear thinking and make useful dialogue fuzzy.

For instance, a common stereotype is that African-Americans are all liberals who always vote Democratic. Then what explains Representatives Gary Franks (R-Conn.) and J.C. Watts (R-Okla.), two members of Congress who are both black and conservative? Other counterexamples abound, from conservative economists Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who has been denounced as an "Uncle Tom" for his audacity to think independently.

Take another example: All rich people are conservative Republicans. That may come as a surprise to Senators Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Jay Rockefeller (D- W.Va.), two of the wealthiest members of Congress -- and two of the Senate's most liberal members.

Any of us can offer similar stereotypes: All Jews are liberal. All Hollywood celebrities are Democrats. All computer programmers are Libertarians. The list is endless, it seems.

One stereotype that endures largely because those who are stereotyped nurture the image is this one: All gays and lesbians are liberal Democrats. Certainly, if one listens only to the self-appointed leaders of national gay rights groups (such as the Human Rights Campaign or the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force), it would be hard to disagree with that assessment. Yet the facts prove otherwise.

The gay and lesbian community is actually far more diverse in its political and economic philosophy. Though they are not as richly endowed financially, groups such as the Log Cabin Republicans (LCR) and Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty (GLIL) offer themselves as alternatives to the left-liberal agenda pursued by the "big" gay rights groups. And individuals who belong to no organized groups at all are as likely to vote Republican as Democratic -- in fact, polls after the 1994 congressional elections showed that more than a third of self-identified gay voters cast their ballots for Republican candidates. This is news from a group assumed to be in the Democrats' left pocket.

Now along come author Bruce Bawer and companions, who make a serious intellectual effort to challenge "gay left orthodoxy." In Beyond Queer: Challenging Gay Left Orthodoxy (The Free Press, $24.50, 325 pages) Bawer has assembled 40 essays by a wide variety of writers, all of whom question the received wisdom that being gay and being liberal are always and everywhere linked.

The essays are drawn from a number of different sources, from the Washington Post to Reasonmagazine to The New Republic to Chicago's Windy City Times. The writers are gay and straight, male and female, Christian and Jewish, liberal and conservative. All convey the message, as one activist recently put it, that just being gay doesn't mean one must oppose "welfare reform, a flat tax, and smaller government."

These essays are particularly pointed in light of the recent debate on the legalization of same-sex marriage. This debate, while not launched by the gay rights movement, has thrust gay and lesbian activists and intellectuals into a brighter spotlight than they have seen in a long time. Even the controversy on gays in the military did not have such a sharp edge.

It is to Bawer's credit that, in putting together this anthology long before the marriage debate became so public, he included trenchant essays on the topic by Andrew Sullivan, former Bush White House official James Pinkerton, and Jonathan Rauch. Their contributions bring intellectual rigor to a debate that has been characterized, frankly, by hyberbole and emotion rather than reason and common sense. (One social conservative told a rally in Iowa that legalizing gay marriage would mean "the end of civilization as we know it" -- hardly a claim supportable by either evidence or logic.)

When Americans have real, compelling problems facing them -- such as jobs for the rising generation, keeping Social Security solvent, and preventing the further decay of our inner cities -- the freedom of gay men and lesbians to marry is surely near the bottom of the list of legitimate worries. It is hard to understand why conservatives have made it such a key issue in this election year -- except that, as a scare tactic, it's a terrific fund-raising device.

At the same time, the gay and lesbian leadership elite make common cause with radical feminists, pro-Castro Marxists, and fringe elements from every discredited left-wing cause. They try to dismiss gay libertarians and conservatives as unimportant -- yet as Beyond Queer shows, it is hard to dismiss clear thinking and genuine social concerns emanating from gay people who are not "of the left." Bawer and his colleagues have done a great service by dispelling the stereotypes that have infected our political discourse.

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Richard Sincere is secretary of Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty (GLIL) and author of The Politics of Sentiment.

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