Rebel Girl: Drawing the Line on Bigotry

Against the Current, No. 52, September/October 1994

Catherine Sameh

ON THE HEELS of Gay Pride celebrations across the country, the twenty-fifth anniversary of Stonewall, the Gay Games, and the lesbian slacker film, “Go Fish,” all the rage, one could say that queer culture and activism are alive and well.

At the same time, anti-gay organizing continues to sweep across the country, particularly in the western states. While organizers in Nevada, Washington, Montana, Arizona, Missouri and Maine failed to gather enough signatures for anti-gay ballot measures, it looks as if Oregon and Idaho will face statewide initiatives that, if they win, could seriously erode civil rights for lesbians and gay men.

Last February in Oregon, a Marion County Circuit Court judge ruled the Oregon Citizen Alliance’s initiative unconstitutional because it addresses more than one topic — child pornography and homosexuality. But the ruling is being appealed, and popular opinion is that some version of the original initiative will appear on the ballot this November.

In the years since Ballot Measure 9 was defeated in Oregon, the OCA has succeeded in passing a number of city and countywide initiatives — sons of 9 — that severely restrict queer rights. Currently five communities, mostly rural, are preparing to vote on OCA-sponsored initiatives, and already the OCA has filed two new initiatives for 1996.

While life for the majority of Oregonians continues to deteriorate, with crises in education, employment, social services and housing, the OCA skillfully employs a scapegoat strategy, targeting queers as the cause of everything from job loss to divorce to the rise in brutal sex crimes. OCA organizers know how precarious daily life is for so many people, and milk people’s fears and anxieties to the last drop.

The progressive movement, on the other hand, continues to be divided about how best to fight back. As campaign and election seasons near, the pressure grows to organize around the least common denominator set of demands. At Portland’s recent Pride celebration, a transgendered person had to fight to be included as a speaker in the rally, while groups like the Lesbian Avengers were denied speaking time outright.

It’s clear that as long as any sort of movement for queer liberation exists, the right will be there trying to squelch it. And while their tireless organizing is a result of our increasing visibility, we can’t afford to keep stop being visible. So while they fight to tear the ground from under us, we need to keep fighting for more services for queer youth, more protection for gays and lesbians on the job, more protection for lesbian and gay parents, and for much, much more of everything we have, and haven’t, won.

Lon Mahon, leader of OCA, said it best when he described the current battle around gay rights. “This isn’t a campaign, this is a barroom brawl. The last one left standing is the winner.” It’s time to start punching back. Hard.

ATC 52, September-October 1994