Are the good people at GLAAD suffering from amnesia?
First, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation honored lifelong closet case Anderson Cooper with its Vito Russo Award last month. Then came word that former President Bill Clinton will be honored with the Advocate for Change Award.
Russo was a pioneering LGBT activist and author who wrote “The Celluloid Closet.” Cooper became infamous in the gay community after Out magazine published a 2008 cover story featuring his image along with Jodie Foster’s above the headline “The Glass Closet, Why the Stars Won’t Come Out and Play.”
Cooper finally came out publicly last year in a blog post and is immediately honored by GLAAD for doing what exactly? Is GLAAD so desperate to sell tickets to its awards shows that it must genuflect at the feet of anyone with a modicum of fame? This star-fuckery does a disservice to the movement and overlooks the hard work and visibility of more deserving honorees.
As transparent as the Cooper award was for its pandering, the Clinton award is even more disappointing. Clinton gave us “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He signed the Defense of Marriage Act and later bragged about it in 1996 campaign ads. Former HRC President Elizabeth Birch recently revealed that during that time, Clinton White House officials threatened to re-air the offensive ads if she took credit for their being yanked amid a firestorm of protest. More recently, Clinton reportedly advised John Kerry to support state constitutional amendments barring marriage equality during the 2004 presidential campaign. He only recently changed his position; his wife only endorsed marriage last month.
With such a stellar record of support, it’s time for a GLAAD award! I’m sure the wealthy Los Angeles gays will shell out plenty of cash for tickets to the award show later this month. (Individual tickets start at $500; a platinum table will set you back $25,000.) For some inexplicable reason, the gays are drawn to the Clintons like moths to the flame.
While GLAAD is busy dispensing awards to the unworthy, others who are actually making a difference go unrecognized.
Take Ken Mehlman, for example, who ran the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign and cynically unleashed a barrage of state constitutional amendments attacking our relationships. He has since repudiated his dirty deeds and worked behind the scenes to do his penance. He has raised money for the New York and Maryland marriage efforts, among other contributions. Where is the award for Mehlman? He has certainly done more to advance gay rights than Cooper.
And what about Sen. Rob Portman, who bravely endorsed marriage equality last month, becoming the first Republican senator to do so? He was pilloried by progressive bloggers because he attributed his evolution on the issue to having a gay son. The Wonkette blog went so far as to suggest we buy him a cake to celebrate with “Fuck that guy” written in icing.
But just days later when Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, announced her newfound marriage support and attributed it in part to having gay staff and friends, the progressive bloggers erupted in predictable praise.
This misguided strategy of turning LGBT rights into a partisan issue and the LGBT movement into a wing of the Democratic Party is as much a mistake today as it was 20 years ago.
Of course, we should welcome converts like Cooper and Clinton to the cause, but we mustn’t rewrite history in the process. And if our national advocacy groups are going to honor public figures like Cooper and Clinton who have such complicated records on LGBT issues, then shouldn’t they reach across the aisle and honor some Republicans, too?
Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.