When I read that a group of pro-life gays and lesbians succeeded in marching this year with the March for Life, the annual march in Washington, D.C. which protests the Supreme Court's Roe v Wade decision establishing abortion rights, I at first had mixed feelings.
I am resolutely pro-choice, and have been distressed at the more recent chipping away of abortion rights. And as a gay man, it's easy for me to see how the gay and lesbian rights movement and the pro-choice movement share similar values at their cores: Both are fighting for the freedom to control our own bodies. Some gay and lesbian organizations go even further, including abortion rights as part of their mission or platform.
Furthermore, many of those who are the core supporters of the pro-life movement are religious fundamentalists who are long-time enemies of gays and lesbians.
A group of pro-life gays and lesbians hit me as an oxymoron.
And yet, I found myself cheering as I read the account of how the determined members of the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians ( PLAGAL ) thwarted both the march organizers who tried to keep them out of the parade, and the police who had threatened to arrest them if they did march.
PLAGAL members were denied their request to participate as a group in the March for Life. March organizers informed the group that individuals were welcome to take part in the event, but that the group's blue and pink bannerspelling out the organization's gay and lesbian identitywas forbidden. Furthermore, Miss Nellie ( how's that for ironic ) Gray, the March for Life president, threatened members of PLAGAL with arrest if they defied the prohibition.
According to a press release from PLAGAL, the group's officers and some of its members assembled at the corner of 15th and Constitution Avenue at noon the day of the parade, with the intent of entering the parade from that point. PLAGAL members were approached by D.C. police, who said they had orders to prevent PLAGAL from marching with their banner.
After the officers demanded that PLAGAL remove their banner because it contained the words "Lesbian" and "Gay," PLAGAL former President Moses Remedios slapped a "censored" label over the pink triangle and crossed out the offending words. PLAGAL members report they then avoided the police barricade simply by moving the banner a block up the street. After entering the march, they stripped off the tape covering the words "gay" and "lesbian," but left the "censored" sticker on their banner as a sign of protest.
I couldn't help but be happy for them. The parallels to gays and lesbians fighting to walk openly in St. Patrick's Day parades kept hitting me over the head. In fact, it was the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Group, that march organizers cited as their authority to ban PLAGAL.
Sure, I detested their message, and the march they worked so hard to be a part of. But if gays and lesbians are going to absent from the March for Life, I want it to be because none of us choose to be there, not because we are not allowed to be there.
We in the gay and lesbian community should also learn a lesson from the deplorable tactics of the pro-life march organizers. If our own movement is going to fully mature, we must not foist any set of political, religious or personal beliefs on our members that they have to "adhere" to in order to win acceptance or support.
We're getting better at that. As a movement we have recently come to accept, even welcome and sometimes champion, gays in groups that seem to be an odd fit. One obvious example is the Log Cabin club, the organization of gay and lesbian Republicans. In the past decade, the gay and lesbian movement has generally come to accept that having gay people work in all sectors of the political arena helps our common cause.
But you don't have to search too hard to find a plethora of organizations that gays and lesbians are fighting to be members of despite the apparent ill fit. Dignity, the gay Catholic group, comes to mind. While many religious groups frown on gays and lesbians, the Catholic Church has worked against gays and lesbians from the highest levels. The pope even once told Catholics they had a duty to discriminate against gays and lesbians, to help protect families. And the Catholic Church has never been shy about venturing into politics, including its efforts in many cities to thwart pro-gay legislation. And yet, gay and lesbian Catholics continue to pray for recognition, and, as a community, we offer them support.
In the case of gays in the military, we have made an antithetical organization the poster-child of our struggle for equal rights. Personally, I do not know why any gay or lesbian person would want to enter the military. Yet, as a community, today we would never think of withdrawing support from that cause. ( Indeed, I would argue we have poured too much time and energy into that effort, but that's another column. )
There is essentially no difference between the struggle that PLAGAL members face and those that have been faced by gay Republicans, gay Catholics, and other such groups. They are all fighting battles on two fronts: On one hand, they face discrimination from institutions that abhor them for being gay and lesbian. And on the other hand, the gay and lesbian community rejects them for their political or personal beliefs.
It's time we in the gay and lesbian community stop applying a double standard. If we don't, how are we any different from the St. Patrick's Day organizers or anti-gay church leaders or the Department of Defense?
Mubarak Dahir receives e—mail at MubarakDah@aol.com