Are We Being Bullies? Debate Rages Over Boycotts
On Wednesday, Oct. 12, Scott Eckern, the long-time artistic director of Sacramento's oldest and most important theater group, resigned under pressure after it was revealed that he had donated to the Yes on 8 campaign.
On Tuesday, Nov. 25, Richard Raddon, the director of the Los Angeles Film Festival, decided to resign because of pressure from gay bloggers and others incensed over his donation to Yes on 8--this despite his popularity in Hollywood and what many said was a firm commitment to diversity.
These are only the best-known examples of people--all Mormons--who have been "outed' as supporting the successful campaign to pass an amendment to California's state constitution banning gay marriage.
The campaign to weed out anyone who remotely has any connection to, or makes money from, gay consumers has reached far down the food chain. Marjorie Chrisofferson manages El Coyote, a modest (some would use more perjorative terms) Mexican restaurant on the West Side of Los Angeles that is popular as a late-night rocker and gay hangout.
When it was found that she had donated to Yes on 8, there was a slew of angry bloggers and L.A. activists who called for a boycott of the restaurant. At a hastily called news conference, as reported by Queerty, the manager of El Coyote promised a generous donation to Lambda Legal and L.A.'s LGBT Center.
When Chrisoferson came forward, she was asked if she would donate to No on 8. When she said she could not and started to cry, the meeting generated into chaos. While Eckern and Raddon had donated four figures to the campaign, Chrisofferson's was less: She had given $100.
A Civil Rights Issue or a Free Speech One?
Such scenes are causing some hand-wringing among gay activists. The Los Angeles Times' Rachel Abramowitz and Tina Daunt wrote a story published on Nov. 23 that generated discussion. The two interviewed several well-known Hollywood gay creative types and others.
There was no consensus. Gregg Araki, one of the founders of "the new queer cinema," was unapologetic in his insistence that this was a fundamental battle of good and evil and that anyone on the wrong side should be fought by any means possible.
"The bottom line," he said of Raddon, "is if he contributed money to a hateful campaign against black people, or against Jewish people, or any other minority group, there would be much less excusing of him. The terrible irony is that he runs a film festival that is intended to promote tolerance and equality."
Bill Condon, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of "Dreamgirls" and a well-known gay activist, disagreed: ""If you're asking, 'Do we take discrimination against gays as seriously as bigotry against African Americans and Jews?' . . . the answer is, 'Of course we do.' But we also believe that some people, including Rich, saw Prop. 8 not as a civil rights issue but a religious one. That is their right. And it is not, in and of itself, proof of bigotry."
Condon may be accused of divided loyalties, since he is on the board of the governing body that oversees L.A.'s film festival. But Christine Vachon, a venerated figure in gay circles as the producer of movies like "Velvet Goldmine," "Happiness," "Boys Don't Cry," "Go Fish" and "I Shot Andy Warhol," said she "can't quite stomach the notion that you fire somebody because of what they believe. It doesn't feel right to me."
But Patrick Range McDonald, in a response in the alternative L.A. Weekly, painted this as a generational conflict. He makes fun of Condon's reference to the more vociferous gay activists as the "off-with-his-head" crowd, "as if," McDonald writes, "they're a pack of out-of-control crazies."
Gay Rights Goes from Top Down to Bottom Up
Even more than a generational shift, however, some see this as a fundamental shift in the way that the gay rights movement is evolving. The huge protests against the passage of Proposition 8 came about, not top-down, from gay organizations and leaders; but from the bottom up, through bloggers and social-networking sites.
Some see the Obama campaign and the entire evolution of the Democratic Party as a kind of template for this new activism. The "netroots" first flexed their muscle when they propelled an obscure Vermont governor into a serious contender for the presidency in 2004. Even though Howard Dean didn't become president, he did lead the party into the 2008 election.
Barack Obama proved that the Internet was a way to solicit donations, get volunteers, counteract rumors and generate excitement. Similarly, gay activists have used the Net to call for a series of boycotts and to put pressure businesses.
Next: Casting a Wide Net