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Sunday, 23 February 2014

Why The Arizona Gay Jim Crow Law Is A Good Thing

Hello dear readers,

I've been moved to come down from my Ivory Tower and comment on things happening In Real Life, to whit, the passage of a law in Arizona that legalises descrimination against gay people, on religious grounds.  Every business in the state can now, legally, refuse to deal with a gay person, just because they are gay.

Any business.  Water, power, gas, housing, grocery stores, fast-food restaurants.  Presumably even those homeless people who wash your windows at traffic stops in exchange for a handful of nickels can refuse to do so if  your car is painted pink, or something.  It's been compared, with some justification, to the laws that enshrined legal segregation on a State level, and made black people second class citizens, in the wake of the American Civil War - those are the Jim Crow laws, so if you hear people talking about that, that's what that means.

Anyway, so yeah.  It is now legal to refuse service to gay people for a private company, just as it was legal to refuse service to a black person as a private company during segregation.  The political power of state's rights in action.

I think this is good news.

Really, really good news.  As in, the best news I've heard all day.  When I heard that similar legislation was defeated in Kansas just a few days ago, I was all like, dammit.  Wish that had passed.  And now it has passed in Arizona, and I'm like - good.

This is why.

The Civil Rights movement of the 60's was stalling, hard, and mainly because the white authorities weren't stupid - they weren't going to beat black people up on camera, and so they just calmly waited it out.

Then King took things to Birmingham, Alabama, which was run by Eugene 'Bull' Connor.  Connor hated black people, like most of the Southern establishment, but unlike many others in the Southern establishment, was not a man of restraint.  King organised thousands upon thousands of black people to march, so many that the jails were all filled up in the first hour - the police couldn't arrest them, there was nowhere to put them.

Then they kept coming, kept marching, kept blocking the roadways - all for one goal.  To make Connor tip his hand.  That's a quote from MLK to his key deputy at the time - "'you've got to find the means to create a crisis, to make Bull Connor tip his hand."  

Make him loose the dogs, make him order the police to beat the protesters.  And he did, and the photos of it went out, and all of a sudden people were confronted with the true horror of Southern Racism.  And even those with passive racist leanings didn't have the stomach for that.  And the country just rejected it as monstrosity.  This 'hidden side' to the Civil Rights movement was brilliantly detailed in Malcolm Gladwell's latest, David And Goliath, which is well worth checking out.

Anyway, point is this.

The point at which a bigoted establishment tips it's hand on a massive, public stage, is the entire thing that non-violent resistance aims for.  Without it, it cannot win.

Think for one second what this looks like to anyone who isn't a card-carrying member of the gay-hate brigade.  Even many Christians oppose this vehemently, which splits the 'Christian bloc' clean down the middle.  The hard core is left, but much reduced.

This is one of those moments where the zen truth that failure is success and success is failure just shines like the sun.

This looks like the total success of Christian bigotry.  Look at us, we have succeeded in bringing in genuine laws enshrining discrimination.  Look how strong we are.

But it's not strength, and it's not success.  I think this is that 'Alabama moment' for gay people in the US.

This will rip the right apart.  This will rip apart the liberal and conservative wings of American Christianity.  This will mobilise allies for gay rights that we don't even know exist right now.  But more than anything, more than all this, it will crystallise the issue in the minds of the apathetic, and like rats, they will flee the sinking ship of homophobic bigotry.

Bigotry can only exist in the shadows.  That's because in the shadows people can pretend it's moral, pretty, decent.  In the light of day, when you actually see this thing up close, dear Christ, it's an ugly motherfucker.  And ugly motherfuckers get dumped.

I think the gay rights movement just won.


  1. Interesting points. A key difference is people can shame their sexuality and hide it whereas it is a lot more difficult to hide that you're black. That could have a big outcome one the affect of this law.

  2. Well, sure - but then it could go either way. It's easier to keep a group demonised if they look different. The fact that gay people come from the majority population can't hurt in breaking down barriers, emphasising the injustice of any specific enforcement of this act, just as the visible difference with people of colour makes any injustice against them immediately easy to get a clear fix on.

    It cuts both ways, basically. That's not to say it isn't an issue, it changes the contour of things - but not the structure of the wider strategic engagement.

    It sounds strange to talk about this in strategic terms, but - and I really don't want to cause offence to anyone, there are some astoundingly gifted, passionate and intelligent people working in the LGBT movement - but I do feel that it is lacking a deeper strategic vision.

    I remember getting into MLK's work more when I had the fortune to contact someone who was involved in it, and I don't know - I felt that when I gushed about how awesome I thought MLK was there was this distance that opened up between us, just briefly.

    I couldn't work out what it was, but it was like when a person's being too polite to disabuse you of some childish idea you have - like when someone mentions they're a creationist at a family gathering. You don't want to be rude, so you just steer the subject elsewhere, and that got me thinking. What am I missing? What are we all missing about King?

    Thing is, of course, it wasn't just King - but it was a kind of inner council of people all around him that were able to channel the movement with a clear strategic vision. And have no doubt - if they hadn't have done that, those few people, it is genuinely credible that the Civil Rights Movement would have failed.

    Not guaranteed, but credible.

    There's this myth of King and Gandhi, a myth of the magic, moral power of non-violence. And that, I think, is what the Occupy movement was all about - no clear agenda, no clear strategy, just generalised non-violence. Results were, shall we say, less than promising.

    The LGBT movement has three major things going for it. One - a vast network of connected, engaged activists to whom LGBT right is THE Civil Rights issue of our time. Two - heavy backing from high-profile, wealthy, well connected and talented people. Three (and this is the MOST important) a brilliantly chosen battlefield, in gay marriage.

    I really cannot overstate how excellent and effective that choice of battle is. It is the crack where the crowbar fits perfectly, I could write a whole chunk about specifically why it is that's such a killer, killer issue to pick, but you'll probably know it already.

    But there is no King, no Gandhi. These men were not saints. They were not visionaries. They were not geniuses. All that is just packaging we've stuck around them. Far more than any of that, they were savvy. Savvy operators who provided the one thing that non-violence needs. Strategy. And it needs strategy, it needs it like we need oxygen.

    To bring the forces of bigotry to a point of absolute exposure.



  3. King once berated a photographer for putting down his camera to intervene in the police beating of a young black man. That black man could have died if the photographer didn't do what he did. King didn't care.

    The picture is more important than the life.

    That is ruthlessness, the ruthlessness of a general who knows that he musts send men to die in order to win.

    There are a lot of tactics. Good ones. But to quote Sun Tzu, tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

    Someway, somehow, they have to be made to tip their hand. This law was blocked by the governor of Arizona after a concerted campaign by the LGBT lobby. I think that was a mistake. Or rather (and do forgive my rampant quoting) it was the LGBT lobby *interrupting* their enemy when their enemy was making a mistake - a critical mistake that could have conceivably shattered the entire anti-gay movement.

    Not necessarily - but conceivably? When specific businesses start saying 'no' to gay people, and gay people can just go to those businesses and be turned away, again and again, in front of cameras?

    Then get some showmanship in, and get a bunch of gay black people? Just to hammer home the resonance?

    Can you see? The missed opportunity of this legislation to put a bullet through the skull of the anti gay movement? You could leverage it to strip every whisper of moderate support for it. Every single whisper.

    And then what's left? Only the crazy, frothing mouthed mad people. And that's what happened with racism, and that's what we have left - the Klan.

    I don't know, maybe I'm wrong, but I think having some conversations about wider strategy would be... wise. Because nothing is guaranteed, and it is not written in the stars that equality will be granted.

    But it's not impossible – it's not even particularly hard. You've got the mass, you've got the will, you've got the funding, you've got vast swathes of support. And shit – LGBT may absolutely win out, and at the very least has permanently changed things for the better already, for millions of gay people, in real and serious ways.

    But I guess what I'm saying is that it needs that strategic view, to let some soldiers die to break the enemy's spine decisively, and forever. And that, I think, would be pretty cool.

    Just my two cents. Haha! Hope I haven't bored your hind teeth out. Thanks for responding. Much love.

  4. Very good points Ciaran. As sharp as Gungnir... as always.