Speaking of Women's Rights: It’s Safe To Come Out Now: On gay rights, political cover, and doing the right thing.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

It’s Safe To Come Out Now:
On gay rights, political cover, and doing the right thing.


By Laurie Carlsson

The gay rights movement has experienced some great strides over the last year. President Obama’s endorsement followed by historic support in his inaugural address, the first successful defeat of a state Defense of Marriage Act, and of course our grand celebration of marriage equality in three states last November.  We’re constantly hearing of wins across the globe, big and small: Advocates in the NFL, a supportive Mexican Supreme Court, and conservatives – one by one – coming down on the side of equality. As a recent Salon article put forth, gay rights is “a movement whose time has come.” 

It seems we’ve reached a bit of a tipping point: It’s now more politically convenient to be for gay rights than against them.

Which brings a whole new element to this issue that I hadn’t considered before. How do I feel about those who have put off publically supporting the cause until now, when it’s safe to be seen toeing the gay rights line?

In 2006 comic book behemoth DC Comics hired writer J.H. Williams to take over its popular Batwoman series.  Williams proposed a story arc that included a depiction of Kate Kane, Batwoman’s pedestrian alter ego, as a “lesbian socialite.” After a media firestorm around the announcement of the storyline, the series faced a sequence of delays, with the launch finally taking place in September of 2011.  Coincidence? Or fear of repercussions in a time – just six years ago – when “gay stuff” was a whole lot more contentious.

Then there’s the case of Unveiled magazine. Last month, a wedding photographer presented them with a photo from a same-sex wedding, hoping to use it as an advertisement in the publication. They responded by asking the potential advertiser if she would be amenable to submitting a “less controversial” picture. Instead, the photographer turned to the internet and publicized the heck out of the magazine’s decision not to print the ad. The photographer’s blog post was met by an incredible outpouring of support, and eventually an apology from the owners of Unveiled, which I will paraphrase here:

‘We’re not the bigots here; it’s everyone else!’ And we’re sorry, but we thought it was possible that people might be mad at us.’

I believe that they’re sorry. But it’s also hard to believe that the apology wasn’t issued because the publication realized it had misjudged its demographic, and that it was in their best interest to print the ad after all. They followed the crowd, once it was clear that the path was safe.

When Legal Voice filed a lawsuit against King County, on behalf of 4 same-sex couples who had been denied a marriage license in 2004, it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t popular. It didn’t win them lots of friends, nor make them heroes. Doing the right thing, which can often be very different from the politically convenient thing – might lose money for your business, or make people angry. But someone has to pave the way for those who will join the cause later.

As Philanthropy Northwest pointed out recently, in this tough economy nonprofit organizations are losing the element of strategic planning, often operating from a “hand-to-mouth” mentality. Changing laws takes years, sometimes decades of hard work, to say nothing of changing hearts and minds. Legal Voice did a great deal of strategic work around marriage equality. Now they’re moving forward and organizing around other progressive policies that keep families strong, like paid family leave, and preserving parental rights for those who are incarcerated.

As you’re thinking about your giving budget this year, consider this: What kind of change do you want to invest in? It might not be the “movement whose time has come.”  But take the chance to be on the ground floor of social change. Give to Legal Voice* and other organizations that are at the helm of the bandwagon. Climb aboard because it’s the right thing to do, political cover or not.

Laurie Carlsson is a former Legal Voice staffer. She led the Family Outreach effort for the Approve R74 campaign, works at the University of Washington School of Law and currently sits on the QLaw Foundation Board.

*This blog post NOT paid for by the Legal Voice Fundraising Department.