Out Against the Right: An Organizing Handbook for Queer Activists and Grassroots Organizers
For lesbian activists and grassroots organizers fighting the Christian Right.

Visibility Issues #3: Backlash--Who's Responsible?

History, not to mention our own life experiences, proves that the theory that violence and increased levels of hatred are the results of pride and visibility is absolutely wrong. It is what the right-wing says to justify their behavior against us, and to keep us from coming out. Yet segments of our own communities as well as some well-meaning straight supporters still invoke such theories in an attempting to block direct action activists. No matter who uses the argument, it is all about blaming the victim.

The right-wing usually campaigns against us when we are gaining political ground. So in some ways, we can see their attacks against us as evidence that we are doing something right: we are posing a threat to their homophobic values and actions. Whenever we directly confront their homophobic legislation or actions, they attack again. However, we also know that they attack us when we have done absolutely nothing -- just because of who we are.

When you are being guilt-tripped or told that you will be responsible for any backlash (or, as we discussed earlier, blamed if an anti-lesbian, anti-gay initiative passes), keep in mind that you are not responsible for the homophobia in the world. There is nothing that lesbians and gay people have done to justify the violence and discrimination we are faced with. We do not have to walk, talk, or act in a particular way in order to be guaranteed the same rights as other people in this country and world. On the contrary, the basic premise of civil rights is that we are entitled to them on the basis of our group membership and do not have to earn them by individual good behavior.

It is hard to keep this in mind, especially when the blaming comes from other lesbians and gay men. There are a variety of reasons why other lesbians and gay men, as individuals or groups, blame direct action activists for homophobic backlash. Some truly believe that their way is the only way. They have a right to believe that, but they do not have the right to tell us what to think or how to behave. Others are political opportunists who gain stature for themselves by claiming to be the "leaders" of the lesbian and gay community. By claiming leadership they imply that they have control over us. But when we do something unruly which may put them on the spot, they lose stature. It becomes obvious that they are not leaders, and they do not control us. And, when some of our straight "supporters" say that shameless visibility will ruin the movement, we have to suspect homophobia, since even the most well-intentioned straight folks have been well trained to be homophobic in this society. Attempts of lesbian and gay organizers to assert power over other organizers in the midst of a right-wing onslaught can be extremely debilitating, politically and emotionally. When they're telling you your shamelessness will damage the movement, it's even harder to swallow.

Some concerns of your allies may be less motivated by expressions of power. For example, other people might tell you not to do an action because it will bring about the wrath of the right-wing or because you will lose straight supporters; they may even say publicly that you are responsible for some violence against a lesbian or gay man because you did a particular action. They might tell you not to do some action because they are negotiating behind the scenes and you will "ruin everything." When lesbians and gay men in your communities say these thing to you, it is a fine idea to think about the particular instance. You may be wrong about your target or tactics for that particular action; on the other hand, re-affirming your decision by consciously thinking it through again can be clarifying. You might even decide to change your plans. However, usually you are not on the wrong track. It is simply that this is not the way your critics are going about their work and they don't want another voice or perspective to be heard. Don't be guilt-tripped into believing that they know how to achieve our goals and you don't. Always remind yourselves that lesbians and gay men are not responsible for the homophobia in the world or for any particular homophobic assault or action.
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