That won't fly in Farmingdale

Not so long ago, I questioned how effective a woman famous for wearing a dress made of meat would be as an advocate for overturning Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Sad to say, Sens. Snowe and Collins were apparently unmoved by Lady Gaga's exhortations, and failed to vote for cloture on the measure to repeal the policy.

Maine, LGBT equality and imperfect spokespeople are back on my mind this morning. From the not-entirely-flattering profile of vocal DADT critic Lt. Dan Choi in the Village Voice comes this quote:
He butts heads with activists on the most local of levels. When organizers in Maine didn't want him going door-to-door on behalf of gay marriage because they'd "done a poll, and Mainers only trust eighth-generation Mainers," Choi says, he thought, "That's a very subtle way of saying 'No Asians.' "
Well, no. That's actually a very straightforward way of saying "Mainers only trust other Mainers." While being Asian isn't necessarily a plus in that regard, Lt. Choi's flaws as a spokesperson for marriage equality have far less to do with his race than with his behavior as a firebrand-waving outsider.

I worked very hard on the marriage equality referendum, and I got to see the campaign from the inside. Many people did a lot of hard, hard work, and I think we lost mainly because the people of Maine just didn't favor equality. (Whether or not a civil rights issue should be the subject of a referendum is a different question.) However, as I understand it, the main push of the campaign was to get like-minded voters to the polls, and not to change people's minds. Clearly, that strategy didn't work.

And that's where my trouble with Lt. Choi comes in. From the Ambinder post linking to the profile comes this:
He's everyone's favorite gay-discharged Army soldier; he met his current boyfriend at a bathhouse; he's for sexual liberation, too; unabashed and in your face.
Let me be clear -- I could not possibly care less about how Lt. Choi conducts his private life. I don't care who he sleeps with, or how he met them. What I do care about is when self-appointed spokespeople for causes I strongly support behave in a manner that alienates other potential supporters.

I have nothing but admiration for Lt. Choi's zeal, nor would I ever question his service in the Army. In many ways, he's a great advocate for the cause. But it seriously undermines the fight for equality when he pushes himself into the limelight (which, frankly, I suspect has become an end unto itself) and then conforms to the hyper-sexual stereotypes about gay men. If you're going to become a lightning rod, do us all a favor and cancel your "Grindr" account.

I may not be an eighth-generation Mainer, but I lived in a part of the state expected to vote for marriage equality that didn't. And I am firm in my belief that the people who voted marriage equality down won't change their minds if we claim to live lives just like theirs and then very publicly live lives that confirm their worst suspicions.

Since I'm on this tear, and am criticizing someone I mostly still support, I'll just go whole-hog and defend Carl Paladino. Paladino is a lunatic, and has no business getting within a country mile of the New York governor's mansion. I have no doubt that his real feelings are probably closer to those of the ultra-orthodox rabbis whose support he was seeking than New York politics will allow. But I can't totally disagree with this:
He hammered Cuomo for bringing his teenage daughters to a gay pride parade earlier this year.

"Is that normal?" he asked on ABC's "Good Morning America." "I don't think it's proper for them to go there.

"Any father who would take his children to such things is not really thinking of the fatherly perspective and is more interested in politics."

His pearl-clutching is a bit much, in that I think teenagers can probably handle most of what a gay pride parade can dish out. That being said, let's all just be honest. I have now marched (fully-clothed, for the record) in the New York gay pride parade twice and the Boston parade twice, and anyone who disputes the presence of family-inappropriate behavior is being disingenuous. There is no shortage of scantily-clad men and women (some in retina-searing garb [or lack thereof] that makes me cringe), interspersed with progressive religious groups and civic organizations, etc etc etc. Plenty of people take the opportunity to let their freakiest flags fly. While it may offend our liberal piety to say so, much of it is really not appropriate for children.

We need to be honest with ourselves and figure out what our goals are. Some of those goals are likely to conflict. We may simultaneously want to be liberated from sexual confines placed upon us by religious or societal pressures and to be treated like normal members of society. But if we want to reach those goals and change people's minds, we can't just label them all as homophobes if they want us to put some pants on.

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