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Wayne Bessen

Losing the battle
If you are gay, now is the time to waltz into your walk-in closet and make a choice. You can dust off your boxing gloves and prepare to fight for your rights or you can stay silent and redecorate your closet because this is the lonely, miserable space you may inhabit in the near future. I’ve been fighting for equality since 1988 and this is the first time I believe we are going backwards and actually losing the battle.

The biggest mistake gay people and their allies tend to make is the naive assumption that there is a cosmic force of good moving Americans toward inevitable acceptance of homosexuality. But equality is a hopeful destination — not predestination — with history teaching us that the fist of fanaticism often stops the forces of freedom.

If the gay rights movement is crushed and active persecution of homosexuals dramatically escalates, we can look to April 2005 as the flashpoint that marked the beginning of the end.

Recently, two companies supportive of gay rights, Microsoft and Magellan Health Services, capitulated to demands by anti-gay agitators fearing they would unleash the wrath of “values voters.”

In a stunning reversal of historic support, Microsoft abandoned the gay community at a crucial moment — when the Washington State Senate debated a bill that would have prohibited discrimination in employment. The measure failed by one vote. Microsoft’s appeasement came after Dr. Ken Hutcherson, pastor of Antioch Bible Church, harassed the software company, threatening a boycott.

“I told them I was going to give them something to be afraid of Christians about,” Hutcherson told the New York Times.

Trying to soft peddle its micro-brained decision, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer made matters worse by explaining that he didn’t want to offend Christian conservative workers at the company.

“ What message does the company send to its employees who have strongly held beliefs on the opposite side of the issue?” Ballmer wrote in an email to 35,000 employees.

Well, Steve, Microsoft’s new message legitimizes the deplorable right-wing stance that firing homosexuals is a valid viewpoint if you mask such discrimination in the guise of religious belief.

Maybe it is time for the gay community to mount a massive protest outside Microsoft’s Redmond, Wash., headquarters. Gay rights groups perfected the art of rowdy street theatre. We should show the fundamentalists how it is really done and give Microsoft a reason to be afraid of homosexuals.

In an equally disturbing surrender to neo-puritan pressure groups, Magellan Health Services reinstated “reparative therapist” Warren Throckmorton to its National Professional Advisory Council. Throckmorton was initially booted from the company because of his work as an anti-gay therapist.

And, to add insult to injury, the new no-hope Pope believes homosexuality is an “intrinsic moral evil” and an “objective disorder.” Unfortunately, his archaic beliefs are being celebrated by many religious zealots in the U.S. looking to justify their mean-spirited bias.

On whole, the nation is becoming more accepting, but the whole nation isn’t calling the shots. Instead, a powerful clique of right-wing theocrats is attacking the very institutions that hold this nation together. Sen. Bill Frist spoke via satellite to a rally designed to end judicial independence, abolish the filibuster and breach the wall separating church and state.

It is important to note that victims of neo-puritanical supremacy are not limited to the gay community. At the Air Force Academy, 55 complaints of religious persecution have been filed in the past four years, with “Christian” cadets allegedly calling some of their Jewish counterparts “Christ killer” and “Filthy Jew.”

The treacherous tide has turned, and in our sink or swim moment we are drowning — along with other minorities — in the awesome conservative wave that has consumed this fearful nation. There is no lifeguard on the way to save us. Our only life preserver is our own courageous action and it is inexplicably in short supply — like rafts on the Titanic.

We are getting shafted because we have become polite to a fault and passive to the point of pathetic. On Capitol Hill we are no longer outsiders, but outcasts. In ACT-UP founder Larry Kramer’s new book, “The Tragedy of Today’s Gays,” he writes, “I hope we all realize that as of Nov. 2, 2004, gay rights in our country are officially dead and from here on we are going to be led even closer to the guillotine.”

It is easy for critics to dismiss Kramer as a Cassandra, or even crazy, because he is so often screaming and ranting. But maybe it is the rest of the gay community that is nuts for not yelling louder and fighting harder as we get steamrolled by a right-wing juggernaut that relentlessly works to strip us of our legal rights and our basic humanity.


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