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We laugh to avoid screaming. Or maybe we try therapeutic tweeting.
There were no new media to distract us in 1989. Cartoonist Garry Trudeau did a series of Doonesbury strips in which the character Andy Lippincott is diagnosed with AIDS. Andy survives on morphine and dark humor. When his doctor tells him, “You know your jammies clash with your lesions, don’t you?” Andy replies, “So who are you, Ralph Lauren?” His friend Joanie Caucus asks, “Andy, how can you joke?” He replies, “How can you not?” I once watched a Gay Men’s Chorus member nicknamed Stella in the ICU at Washington Hospital Center telling an elaborate joke between puffs on his oxygen mask. Grace in the face of the abyss.
Another time, another war – or wars. Activist Pam Spaulding tweeted on Sunday, “World gathers at anti-gay #Putin’s #Sochi2014 #Olympics as Nigerian govt foments #LGBT genocide. NYT: http://goo.gl/pmdqbs #CheerstoSochi” During the Friday broadcast of the Winter Olympics opening ceremony, the Twitterverse flowed with snarky observations. When one giant snowflake failed to open into an Olympic ring, Broadway star Laura Benanti tweeted, “Leave off the last ring for homophobia.”
Scott Gorenstein tweeted a pic of police beating gay protesters and called it “a traditional Russian greeting.” John Swafford tweeted, “@CocaCola nothing says America the Beautiful like going to Russia paying for LGBT hunting and violence.” Charles Butler wrote, “When I design my anti-LGBT Olympics opening, I’m going to skip the dancing men in periwinkle tuxedos.” The Human Rights Campaign hung a large poster at its headquarters criticizing Putin, but then was slammed for serving Coke at its Sochi-related event. (Pity the caterer.)
The American right took no Olympics break. Austin Ruse of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute strongly defended Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” law, saying “there is no human right to tell the gay narrative to schoolchildren.” Peter LaBarbera of Americans For Truth About Homosexuality denounced Coca-Cola for including same-sex parents in its “America the Beautiful” Super Bowl ad; he missed the fact that the song’s author, Katherine Lee Bates, was lesbian. On National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, Feb. 7, Bryan Fischer of the Family Research Council said he opposes normalizing homosexual behavior “because I love black males.” Back slowly away.
LGBT voices held their own. On Feb. 4, a group of Ugandan exiles called the Kuchu Diaspora Alliance led a protest outside the Ugandan Embassy in Washington. Also present were representatives of the Unitarian Universalist Association, HRC Global Engagement, and D.C.’s Center Global. The Ugandans, led by Victor Mukasa, called out to the embassy staff, declaring their love for their country and decrying anti-gay persecution. I stood on the sidewalk holding a large rainbow flag, and several passing drivers honked their support. Mukasa’s passion was quite affecting.
On Feb. 6, President Obama made gay-inclusive remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast organized by the right-wing group The Family. David Bahati, who introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in the Ugandan Parliament, first proposed executing gays at The Family’s Uganda National Prayer Breakfast in 2008. If the president wants to attend an ecumenical prayer breakfast, can’t he find a sponsoring group that doesn’t export hatred? As I embraced my Ugandan friends after the embassy protest, I was glad at least that they could continue their efforts from the greater safety of Washington.
Days later, President Obama confirmed that he included gay Olympic delegation members to send a message, while Attorney General Holder told an HRC gala in New York about Justice Department efforts to protect LGBT families.
The madness never stops, but we can pull back from it on occasion to count our blessings. That is a luxury our brothers and sisters in Sochi and Lagos and Kampala might like to taste.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.