Radio journalist and activist Michelangelo Signorile has a new book out in which he argues that the current celebratory mood among many LGBT organizations and citizens is actually brewing a dangerous complacency. It’s Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, and Winning True Equality makes a case that the true backlash against LGBT rights is only now getting underway, and settling for same-sex marriage is wholly inadequate. He will further expound upon his arguments on Thursday, April 16 at Books Inc. in the Castro.
It’s definitely a combative, polemical work, meant to stir people to action. Although the conclusions he draws occasionally contradict one another, and Signorile does not shy from dubious armchair psychology when questioning why progressive LGBT allies sometimes come to different conclusions on an issue than he does, the book’s thesis is a sound one. True equality means more than the sight of two women marrying in a deep-red state like Utah, and if recent events in Indiana are any indication, pernicious ideas about so-called religious freedom won’t die quietly, not even if the Supreme Court establishes same-sex marriage nationwide.
[jump] Speaking by phone with SF Weekly, Signorile said that the timing of Indiana’s state-sponsored discrimination was oddly perfect.
“It kind of got people woken up to the idea that I’m putting forth,” he said. “The book was ready to use at that point, and really kind of hitting home at a time when people might get it. I was really worried, especially at the end of last year, of people saying ‘Oh, is he crazy?’ But now I think people get it.”
The chapter likeliest to stir controversy involves Signorile’s disparagement of the idea that, as public opinion sways ever more strongly towards the progressive side of LGBT issues, activist organizations should be “magnanimous” toward the defeated right-wing. He cites the example of Brandon Eich, who resigned as CEO of Mozilla in 2014 after a series of donations to far-right campaigns and politicians came to light, and the hand-wringing of some prominent LGBT writers over the possibility of “bad optics.”
“The backlash means that you have to choose to be confrontational,” Signorile said. Homophobia “should be the same as every other form of bigotry. We don’t accept when someone is racist or who has supported racist [ideas] in a position of power. People stand up against anyone who’s anti-Semitic, so LGBT groups should do the same thing when it comes to homophobia.”
It is a persuasive argument, but fails to consider the fact that Eich was one of seven million Californians to vote for Prop 8. In all likelihood, many of them have since had changes of heart, and many more are stonily unrepentant, but nobody is demanding that they all lose their jobs for their misdeed. Suddenly, a sweeping dismissal of magnanimity as naïve or self-defeating sounds less like an honest reckoning and more like Sensei John Kreese of the Cobra Kai dojo insisting to Mr. Miyagi that “Mercy is for the weak. We do not train to be merciful here.”
Even when it comes time to analyze the budding backlash against LGBT rights, Signorile occasionally undermines his case. Amid ominous chapters about how gay people should never underestimate the right’s enduring homophobia, he writes about how stridently antigay panel discussions at CPAC, the annual right-wing confab, are no longer drawing crowds: “Most of the audience was over fifty, while much of CPAC’s much younger membership — the majority of the attendees — was out in the hallway, not interested.” Even at CPAC, “homophobia has literally been driven underground.”
Signorile is at his most compelling when skewering the media’s reluctance to out closeted politicians who hold antigay positions, and when presenting his vision for true equality. When prompted on the latter, he told SF Weekly that he imagines a society where growing up in the closet is no longer an option, where children are taught about people in history who are gay, and nobody enters “the public sphere thinking they’re straight until something tells them otherwise.”
“It’s the same with gender identity,” Signorile added. “If you’re a boy or a girl, you wear certain colors, you play certain sports.”
That scope of change would be utterly fundamental, but it’s a world worth fighting for. However imperfectly, It’s Not Over lays out some viable blueprints for getting there.
Michelangelo Signorile, Thursday, April 16, 7:30 p.m., at Books Inc., 2275 Market.