August 28, 2014 at 1:00 pm EDT | by Mark Lee
The fallacy of gay ‘plus-sign’ politics
gay politics, gay news, Washington Blade

Political activists need to win, not scold, support on non-gay issues.

I’ve grown a bit weary of being told to sit up straight and get my gay politics right.

Most people don’t much fancy being told what to do or think. Yet a tone of admonishment is the tenor and tactic that too many lesbian and gay political activists have increasingly utilized of late when attempting to command community conveyance of support on non-gay issues.

It belies a transparent “gay panic” prevalent in some activist circles – the belief that too many of us view political issues and electoral candidates from an “incorrect” viewpoint when not concerning matters of direct relevance or of common concern to gays and lesbians.

Hardly a week goes by absent a reproachable exhortation to adopt a political position or support a particular prescription in order to remedy a matter not directly related to being gay. The presumption that the latter should result in uniformity of opinion regarding the other is fraught with foolishness.

The plain-and-simple truth is it doesn’t.

What these single-minded activists don’t seem to comprehend is that regular folks, and real-world politics, don’t quite work that way. Any assortment of individuals, particularly when sexual orientation is the singular commonality, will have as broad a range of opinions as they themselves are diverse.

Political activists need to win, not scold, support on non-gay issues.

Rather than asserting that being gay should invoke a “plus sign” after one’s identity, it would be more accurate to invert one’s gay identity to a “follow-on” position. As in, “I’m a small business owner and I’m lesbian” or “I’m a feminist and I’m gay.” It would prove more illustrative of evolving self-perceptions in the emerging new world of assimilation in which we’ve begun to live.

Like it or not, we really aren’t different from everyone else. The circumstance of economic class, the particulars of professional engagement and the dominance of self-interest are more potentially predictive of personal politics.

In other words, our individual circumstances are more likely to shape our political positions than the fact that we are gay ever has in the past and almost certainly will not in the future. Stop berating us for it.

In a polarized political environment with high geographic mobility, Americans increasingly surround themselves in cocoons of similarity. When choosing a part of the country or even a neighborhood in which to live, shared lifestyles, party politics and common beliefs can be preeminent factors in determining where we land.

Sexual orientation is no more a predictor of political beliefs than the color of one’s eyes. Among us are free market moderates and big government liberals. In the expanse of our world, especially outside high-profile urban conclaves, are religious conservatives as well as central-planning socialists. Being gay doesn’t automatically proscribe political allegiances or alliances any more than a false expectation that women collectively support abortion rights. If anything, the prevalence of political independence and even laissez-faire libertarianism derived of a live-and-let-live attitude within our ranks is instructive.

We might, however, share similar outlooks on social issues to a greater degree than, say, economic issues. But so do some others. Our politics are no more or less complex.

But, hey, I get it. Those of us who came of age in a different and more difficult era in gay history learned much about the “otherness” of being an “outsider,” the alienation of being thought less of, the struggle to find a place to construct a life. For many, it informed our political perspectives and shaped our sense of camaraderie with others facing similar obstacles. At times along the way we even shared common enemies.

However, younger gays, in particular, increasingly don’t find those experiences familiar or have dissimilar ones. Blank stares are commonly the reaction to tales of a time and a life slowly fading into history.

There is no reason to be astonished by this diversity of opinion. It’s what our victories have sought to guarantee.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at

  • When I first became active in organized LGBT communities, I got the sense that I had freed myself from one straitjacket only to have people fit me for another. If I did not unquestioningly accept an entire worldview, the goodthinkful queers didn't bother to explain why the entire worldview held together logically; instead, they would call me anything from "not really gay" to "self-loathing." The idea of a "diverse" community with no viewpoint diversity allowed is a long-running punchline for a reason.

  • Why is "gay" being misused as an all inclusive label for the LGBT community. I am old enough and informed enough to remember when "gay" was a slur used against homosexual men and to remember when men took ownership of the label to render it harmless. Do people not know our past? I remember a time when lesbians took to the label gay because the heterosexual men hyper sexualized the word lesbian and women were embarrassed to identify by lesbian. Feminism allowed women the power to own lesbian for themselves. Using gay as all encompassing label disappears lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people. Identify yourself as you wish but when speaking of the community don't make three fourths of us invisible. It is LGBT for a reason!

  • Do we look like morons? The LGBT movement grew in strength by linking itself to other issues. We are not going to stop fighting for what is right because you want to make more money. Many LGBT people are poor, and fighting for our rights gives us a different perspective on the world.

    If we had a true democracy then perhaps we could just have a la carte political strategies but that is not how any actual government works. And there are good reasons why that would never work.

  • Taking a broader overview, most social justice/equality movements are now seeing value in working collaboratively to address issues where our communities are essentially outgunned, issues of class and race in addition to lgbt issues. "Gay+" seems like a coded way of saying that for some gays, those issues are a bridge too far. Diversity of opinion isn't surprising, and the young have always thought they had a better handle on things than their elders. Sometimes they're actually right, and sometimes they just haven't been reality tested by actual lived experiences. Time sorts that out. In the meantime, I found myself wondering specifically how the author felt himself victimized by other lgbts seeing value in working collectively on issues of class and race given the obvious problems (1%, Ferguson) and the fact that lgbt people are being affected by them. The + issues are central to a lot of people's lives, and not something manufactured to make individual gay guys feel they need to straighten up. Having said that, both sides of these issues need to let go of the expectation that if we disagree we are owed praise from those we disagree with, people are where they are at the time.

  • The cacophony of diverse LGBT voices is a triumph of the movement, as you note. But could you provide some examples and context for your critique? Who are the "many" activists you are talking about? If there are "many," could you perhaps name a couple, or maybe an organization? It's not about pointing fingers; it's about knowing exactly what you are talking about, in context. If "hardly a week goes by" without your hearing these unfair demands from so many activists, perhaps you can give us some specific examples, so we can see if they are indeed unfair? With all due respect, too often people write articles criticizing people without naming them, which makes it hard to assess the critique.

  • I think about the recent immigration reform debate and how some LGBT activists have called for support for immigration reform. Not because of some dogmatic duty to support all social justice issues but because immigration reform is something that effects many binational gay couples, especially those seeking refuge from violent homophobic nations. I feel like the author of this article is being short sighted and ignoring how these various issues often overlap with each other.

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