Gaydar, Straitdar, and Fighting the Right

Sally Ride

RIP Sally Ride, first known lesbian in space

Yesterday morning, I opened my email to learn that Sally Ride, the first U.S. woman to fly in space (1983, aboard the Challenger), had died of pancreatic cancer at age 61. Like most people, I also learned from her obituary that Ride, who inspired me as a teenager to consider a career as a physicist and astronaut, was survived by Tam O’Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years. Sally Ride, it turns out, was gay.

Later, while Alex napped, I read online about Sally Ride’s life since leaving NASA, and about her partner, Tam, a fellow one-time professor who helped create Sally Ride Science (www.sallyridescience.com), a company that holds science festivals for middle-school students with the aim of interesting girls in future scientific careers. As I finished one of the articles, I made the mistake of reading a few of the comments at the bottom of the page.

I know, I should never read online article comments. It only infuriates me, and half the time the comments are made by middle school kids trying to get a reaction—amazing how talented some pre-teens are at that sort of manipulation. But my eye just sort of drifted, and at first I was pleasantly surprised as, for the most part, the comments were respectful of both women. The first one that struck me negatively was in the vein of, “What a great American role model. Why does her sexuality have to come into it?”

Um, duh, because she just died, and if she were straight, any news coverage would reference her grieving husband who had stayed by her side throughout her battle with cancer, too. Besides, as another commenter pointed out, Tam will be denied any federal benefits that the straight spouse of a former U.S. astronaut would normally earn: Social Security payments, a government pension, and everything else the U.S. government gives to the straight spouses of former government employees, including official recognition.

The next less-than-notable comment was also predictable: “Finally, a great gay American who didn’t feel the need to flaunt her homosexuality.”

Whenever I read or hear comments like this from straight people—the combination of the verb “to flaunt” with the noun “homosexuality” is usually a pretty accurate indicator of heterosexuality—I can’t help but roll my eyes. Puh-lease. Join the twenty-first century sometime, will you? Gays “flaunt” being gay the same way African-Americans “flaunted” their race during the Black Civil Rights movement—in order to call attention to the multitude of ways we are still attacked and denigrated by our government and fellow citizens, and to refuse the invisibility to which some people would like to relegate us. Again, duh.

But the comment that really caught my attention was made in response to another comment. The first writer took a swipe at the predominantly Republican Religious Right’s demonization of LGBT people, a bit off-topic but not unfounded, in my opinion. However, another commenter disagreed: “Why the need to attack the Religious Right? I am a member of that group, and as a political conservative, I believe the government should stay out of our citizens’ private lives. And if the Democrats really cared about gay issues, Obama would have passed pro-gay rights legislation between 2008-10, when Democrats controlled everything. P.S.: Just who was President when DOMA was signed into law?”

<Sigh.> Okay, let’s take a moment to parse this statement and all of its unspoken assumptions and assertions, one unreasonable line at a time:

1. “Obama and Congress could have fixed DOMA if they wanted.”

Perhaps—assuming the President and every member of Congress was willing to test the veracity of the urban legend that states that if a political leader helps out the gays, he or she will not be re-elected because the nation’s infuriated homophobes will rise up, en masse, and vote them out. That assertion also conveniently overlooks the reality that Obama and Congress were dealing with during 2008-10—i.e., the economic disaster left in the wake of George W. Bush and his all-Republican Congress. I’m pretty sure that urban legend would have come to pass had Congress and Obama taken the time to attempt a recall on DOMA, which is already headed to the Supreme Court for its unconstitutional comeuppance (fingers crossed), rather than spending time and effort on trying to dig the country out of economic ruin.

2. “Clinton was President when DOMA was signed into law; therefore Clinton and all Democrats are to blame for DOMA.”

Are you a moron, or do you just play one online? The Republican-controlled House and Senate drew up DOMA and held it over the President’s head; Clinton’s main failing was his inability to come up with a politically expedient method of resistance, a failure for which, along with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, he has expressed his regret on many occasions. As he remarked in 2009, “We were attempting at the time, in a very reactionary Congress, to head off an attempt to send a [federal] constitutional amendment banning gay marriage to the states.” DOMA was the unfortunate compromise.

3. “I am a member of the Religious Right, and I think the government should stay out of people’s bedrooms. Therefore it is unfair to accuse the Religious Right of any prurient interest in the lives of gay people.”

Oh yeah? Well, I am an American lesbian who is not a practicing Christian, so it is clearly safe to assume that American gays do not practice Christianity. In fact, to state otherwise is to insult gay people everywhere…. Yeah, I didn’t think so.

The thing is, it’s a fact that the Christian Right doesn’t like gay people, especially those of us who flau—I mean, demand equal treatment and recognition of our relationships and families. For anyone who thinks I’m wrong and the numbskull commenter above is right (no pun intended), there is, fortunately, a respected think tank that has my back. Political Research Associates (PRA), a progressive organization that keeps a close eye on the political machinations of the Christian Right, recently issued a report that states, “[C]onservative Christians are still the mainstay of the anti-LGBT movement.” So, dumb Internet commenter, that’s why liberals tend to vilify the Religious Right—because y’all tend to act rather villainous, turns out.

Massachusetts-based PRA says they focus their watchdog efforts on the Christian Right for the following reasons: “While attacks on civil liberties can come from any direction, the political and Christian Right use skillful marketing that exploits the public’s desire for quick solutions and capitalizes on today’s hectic information flow. With clever slogans that oversimplify complex public policy issues, the Right routinely scapegoats others in pursuit of their agenda.” In fact, PRA’s most recent research report  finds that homophobia remains an incredibly successful tool in mobilizing political support for right-wing causes that may or may not have anything to do with actual gay people.

This report, “Resisting the Rainbow: Right-Wing Responses to LGBT Gains,” is one of only a few of its kind since the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF)released its “Fight the Right Action Kit” in 1993. PRA’s report offers current context, case studies, profiles, and analysis of the arguments of the anti-LGBT Right. It also provides recommendations to those interested in combating the Right’s anti-gay efforts.

Some Key Findings of PRA’s “Resisting the Rainbow” Research Report

  • Bad news for fans of the separation of church and state: “The Christian Right, thriving in 2011, is pulling the Republican Party further to the Right. Central to this effort is a dangerous mainstreaming of Dominionist thinking, which supports ‘reclaiming’ the United States as a Christian nation, governed by Christian law. A strong anti-LGBT stance is an important element of this push.”
  • Rallying the masses: “Despite the Right’s failure to prevent major LGBT political wins, the use of homophobia as a political tool remains one of the most successful strategies for mobilizing and increasing right-wing political power.”
  • If it ain’t broke: “The Right has developed a limited, but repeatedly used, set of homophobic arguments. Many homophobic frames get recycled, especially if they were successful in the past.”
  • Changing landscape: “The Right’s anti-LGBT frames and strategies are increasingly complex, sophisticated, and successful.”
  • Refuse to lose: “Despite clear indications they are losing the war on LGBT rights, the Christian Right core of the anti-LGBT movement will not soon abandon its opposition.”

So if we queer folks are winning the battle, then why worry about the Christian Right’s anti-LGBT efforts? Here’s one reason: On Saturday night, an out lesbian in Lincoln, Nebraska, had her house broken into by three male attackers who carved homophobic slurs into her skin and set her house on fire. She managed to escape with her life, and the local police and FBI are now investigating the incident as a hate crime. In addition to carvings, the perpetrators reportedly spray-painted threatening anti-gay messages on her basement walls, including “Stay away from children.” Authorities believe the attackers targeted their victim because she recently started volunteering with children at a local non-profit; her assailants apparently didn’t approve of a lesbian working with children.

Here’s another: At almost the same time, across the country in Washington D.C., out gay couple Michael Hall and Michael Roike were ambushed by a gang of men as they walked home on Saturday night. Hall’s cheekbone was shattered, and surgeons had to implant a metal plate to repair his face. Roike was also beaten, but his injuries were far less severe. Both men believe the attack was motivated by homophobia.

Hate speech leads to hate crimes. And unfortunately, the Christian Right has put a lot of energy into hating gay people—take Curtis Knapp, the Kansas-based pastor who believes the U.S. government should put gay people to death. Or evangelist Bryan Fischer in North Carolina, who claims that adoption by same-sex parents is a form of child abuse. Or Pastor Charles Worley, also from the Tar Heel state, who thinks we queers should be put into a giant pen surrounded by an electric fence, and left to die out naturally given that, according to Mr. Worley, we can’t reproduce.

Huh. I know lots of lesbians and gay men (not to mention a certain adorable toddler) who would and do disprove that ridiculous claim. Sally Ride, scientist extraordinaire and first known lesbian in space, might even have rolled her eyes at such unsound reasoning. Because of course, being queer doesn’t automatically make you reproductively challenged. It simply makes reproduction more of a challenge. But more on that topic in coming weeks.

In the meantime, in an article published today on Buzzfeed, I learned that “Bear,” Sally’s sister, identifies as gay, too. (Come on—a woman named “Bear” set off your gaydar too, didn’t it?) When asked about the people who oppose legal recognition of same-sex relationships, Bear Ride reportedly replied, “Who cares about them, really? There are those who are stubbornly ignorant, and if they want to continue in that, God bless them, but probably best not to talk to my family.”

RIP Sally Ride, and deepest condolences to Tam O’Shaughnessy, her longtime companion. May peace find you both, and may you one day meet again.

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About Kate Christie

I'm a lesbian fiction author currently residing in the Pacific Northwest. To read excerpts and more of my novels, visit www.katejchristie.com.
This entry was posted in DOMA, LGBT rights, Women's rights and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Gaydar, Straitdar, and Fighting the Right

  1. Kate Christie I knew I friended you for reasons other than you’re a great writer of lesbian romance novels! You out did yourself with this blog. Thank you!!!

  2. PAMELA GOLD says:

    Really enjoyed reading this Blog Kate.
    As a lesbian,physicist,optometrist,christian,mother of three sons I guess you can imagine that there have been times when I have been on the wrong end of Homophobia!
    How ever there are a lot of groups out there especially in the LGBT Christian world that stand up for our rights.I belong and involved in the leadership of some of them.
    Keep up the good work !
    Pam ..from the UK

  3. Liz says:

    Love this post. Thanks for putting to words my opinions.

  4. Dillon Watson says:

    Could not agree more about the danger of the so called Christian Right. Won’t all those folks get a shock when they go knocking on heaven’s door. Thanks for your thoughtful essay.

  5. Richard says:

    Thank you for your excellent, reasoned and rational – I would expect nothing less – reflection. As a clergy person who firmly believes that our creator God loves ALL persons, I find one of the 60s anthems so appropriate…”when will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?”

    • Nice to hear from you! The anthem you quote is very fitting. I admit I don’t know the tune, but I’ll look for it on YouTube. I know, showing my age. Another song comes to mind as well: “All [we] need is love, love is all [we] need.” Because, well, it is. Hope all’s well in NC, and be sure to let us know next time you’re out on the West Coast!

  6. Pam Sloss says:

    Love this post. You always do a wonderful job of giving insightful thoughts and facts. You are my lesbian historian. Thank you.

  7. Lynette Mae says:

    Hi Kate. Thanks for this well reasoned post. The extremists in the religious right continue to operate with seeming impunity, spewing hate and demonizing lesbians and gays to serve their hateful agenda. As I mentioned in my tribute to Sally Ride, it is my hope that calling to attention a stellar life such as hers might at least force a pause in their non-stop drive. Exposing them for the hateful bigots that they are is the only way forward. Take care.

    • Hi Lynette Mae. Thanks for reading the blog. It sounds as if Sally Ride’s passing had us pondering similar thoughts; I’ll have to check out your post when I get a chance. And I agree–exposing the Right’s hypocrisy and anti-Christian tendencies is an important, necessary method of resisting their attacks on our community!

  8. Jenny says:

    Loved the blog and the history lesson,thanks. My wife and I also live in the Northwest with our three toddlers so it’s refreshing to hear your voice so close to home, and which also happens to mirror our own. Keep it coming!

    • Nice to hear from a fellow Northwest resident, not to mention a fellow writer! Thanks for the note, and good luck with your current writing project(s).

      • Jenny says:

        Thanks, Kate! I wish the day job didn’t get in the way of the writing but I’m plugging along. How did you know I was writing something? 🙂

      • I know the feeling about the day job… I saw your post on one of the lesfic lists recently about writing fan fiction (I think?) and a novel, and guessed you saw the link to my blog from that same list. Good luck–keep plugging away! My early hero, Ray Bradbury (RIP), said he always tried for 1,000 words a day. Going over was okay, but the aim was at least that many. When I’m in a good writing swing, I aim for the same. Always a good day when I manage more. Happy reading and writing!

      • Jenny says:

        Gotcha and thanks for the words of encouragement. For as large as it appears to be, the Internet is a small little cyberworld 🙂 Also, thanks again for the thoughtful blogs. I enjoy reading them. Stay cool in this crazy heat! Jenny.

  9. romerlyn says:

    Fascinating to learn about Sally Ride. Really good bloggery on the wider subject too, for which, Ta! (as we say in Wales)! Combination of solid facts & controlled anger – ideal combination. Anger is not always irrational.

    Irrationality is a magnificent sword, ignorance a wonderful shield & intolerance a brilliant spear – but only if you’re fighting a mediaeval religious war & have no respect for the welfare of humanity.
    All the resurgent religious sects (apologies to your progressive religious contributors) are utterly reactionary. The fate of the poor old Church of England in Africa is instructive, suborned by reactionary homophobic US evangelicals. Elizabeth the First would be turning in her grave (“We must not open a window into men’s souls”).

    The US religious right is something else though with its resources & synergy with the Republicans. What a terrible swift nexus of racist, homophobic, chauvinistic sociophobes. Bet Lincoln wouldn’t have been in the GOP (even though he was a lawyer)? Please, please, please don’t elect Romney.
    PS
    Our Romney Marsh area of SE England is described thus:-
    “Romney Marsh is flat and low-lying, with parts below sea-level”. Appropriate or wot?

    • Funny that there’s a place in Wales called Romney Marsh with such an apt description… American fundies don’t have a corner on the bigot market, but they certainly are loud and proud about their hate. While I agree that religion can be–and too often historically has been–a vehicle to promulgate hatred and violence against anyone who disagrees, I do believe that there are many, many people out there trying to live by the true tenets of their chosen religion: love, tolerance, and peace. Unfortunately, evil seems to be more visible than good, for whatever reason. Which is why I tend to stay away from election news coverage–aaargh.

      Much better (IMO) to watch the Olympics and to be reminded of what the largest international sporting event celebrates: the desire “to build a peaceful and better world… with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.” Yay, Olympics!

      • romerlyn says:

        Yay, Olympics indeed (not to mention love, tolerance & peace from whoever they come)! Been following the Japanese Women’s Football Team (sorry Abby W) but the only game we were able to see live was the 0-0 draw against S.Africa in Cardiff, when it was in Japan’s interests NOT to win. Aaaargh! Nevertheless, women’s footie coming on in leaps & bounds. France’s development has been admirable. Will be full stadia (70,000+) for the Wembley SF & F.
        BTW: Romney Marsh in England!

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