In December of last year, Truth Wins Out — an advocacy organization dedicated to fighting anti-gay religious extremism, debunking the myth of "ex-gay" therapy and exposing its oft-hypocritical supporters — moved to Burlington from New York City. The nonprofit's founder, gay rights activist Wayne Besen, was taken by our quaint college town on the lake during a vacation and promptly ditched the city for our more peaceful environs.
New York's loss is our gain. Besen, 41, has been featured on numerous TV news shows including "NBC Nightly News," "The O'Reilly Factor," "The Rachel Maddow Show" and "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," and is known as one of the leading voices in the crusade against "pray away the gay" therapy. In honor of gay pride season, Seven Days asked Besen to give us his take on current issues affecting the LGBT community, including the passage of New York's marriage equality law and raving anti-gay nutball cum presidential candidate Michele Bachmann.
SEVEN DAYS: There have been some pretty big victories for the gay community in the past year — the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell; the Obama Administration's decision to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act; the New York marriage equality bill; and that crazy gay Tony Awards opening number, to name a few. How can gay rights advocates maintain this momentum?
WAYNE BESEN: It is an odd experience to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender in America today because there is an incoherent patchwork of laws that govern your life. Your legal status and that of your family is capricious, arbitrary, and subject to the whims of the majority. It is a perverse and precarious situation when your status as a family or even as an equal citizen can evaporate whenever you cross state lines or leave a friendly locale.
This reality has created a bizarre political reality where there are brutal, high stakes fights for equality at the local, state and national level — some of which are won and others lost. The best you can do is savor the victories and learn from the defeats and move on.
However invigorating or painful the outcome of each fight may be, the general trend weighs heavily in the favor of LGBT equality. Indeed, for the first time in history a Gallup poll showed that the number of Americans that support marriage equality crossed the 50 percent threshold (53%). These results were not an anomaly and have been confirmed by several credible, independent polls. The Gallup poll also found that support for marriage equality was most robust between the ages of 18-34, and significantly weaker among those 55 and older. It doesn't take a fortuneteller looking into a crystal ball to see that we are slowly but surely winning the fight for equality.
While we lag behind politically, I think culturally we have seen tremendous progress. I believe we reached a tipping point a little over a year ago. This positive development has been accelerated by Dan Savage’s “It Get’s Better” project, which gives real hope to LGBT youth stuck in abusive situations. This project, as well as the effective campaign for marriage equality in New York has also has created a safe platform for heterosexual allies — from politicians to pop stars to sports heroes — to vocally express their support. People are speaking up and calling anti-gay prejudice what it is — outright bigotry that must end.
The only way to reverse the current trend is for an extremist regime to win political power and leverage their might to turn back the clock. When I look at the current crop of Republican presidential candidates I get worried. When this is the best one of our two major political parties can do, we should all worry about the future of our nation.
SD: Now that New York has succumbed to the homosexual agenda and passed a marriage equality bill, the number of people living in states where gay people can get married has doubled. Most likely now all straight marriages in the Empire State will implode. What do you think is the next state to fall?
WB: I have some advice for anyone who believes their hetero marriage is negatively impacted by the loving union of their gay neighbors: Find a good shrink and get some help as quickly as possible.
Marriage equality is not new, nor experimental, and has had no negative impact on heterosexual families. The American people are wising up to the fraudulent gloom and doom rhetoric of anti-gay activists who lied by predicting the sky would fall and civilization would collapse if gay people were allowed to wed. Smart voters can see that the corn is still growing in Iowa. The cows are still mooing in Vermont. The mountains are still white in New Hampshire. The partisans are still causing gridlock in D.C. And, of course, Broadway plays are still thrilling audiences and Wall Street trading has continued in New York after Gov. Cuomo signed the marriage bill into law in the Empire State.
In terms of which states will enact marriage equality, I’m guessing it will be Maine or California through referendums or court battles. There may be an effort to repeal marriage equality in New Hampshire. I think our side should drive home the point that nothing has really changed in the state since marriage equality was enacted — and that the only people who have a stake in changing the law are a bunch of busybody outsiders trying to justify their bloated salaries by stirring up fear.
I am grateful that I live in Vermont, a state that treats all people as equal citizens. Yes, we have crazy people here too, but we generally don’t let them run the show. You can see that this is not the case in some places, like Minnesota, where unbalanced individuals with fringe ideologies, like Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty, have taken over the state. This has done great damage to Minnesota’s reputation and has made this one-time progressive haven somewhat of a national disgrace. The same can be said for Wisconsin under the leadership of Gov. Scott Walker.
I would strongly advise Vermont not to go in this destructive direction and hold true to its progressive values and live-and-let-live attitude. If Bachmann-type conservatism ever took root here it would ruin the state. There are already a lot of rural, hilly states devoid of culture, solid education, and forward thinking. Why would we elect to go in this unhealthy direction?
SD: So is New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo a hero? He seemed to be able to keep the Catholic church at bay long enough to get the marriage bill passed, plus he was able to strategically marshall critical Republican votes. What do you think is in it for him, besides the vote of every gay New Yorker?
WB: Gov. Andrew Cuomo is a genuine hero and a role model for other political leaders. Whether or not people agree with Gov. Cuomo, he proved himself to be a leader and people respect that quality in a politician. This show of moral clarity, resolve and political strength positions him to be a future presidential candidate. It was a politically astute move that will pay dividends if he runs for higher office. And by the time he would run — in four, eight, or twelve years — LGBT rights will be less of an issue and the vast majority of people will support his efforts if the current polling trend continues or accelerates.
SD: Can we please talk about Michele Bachmann? She's like the conductor of the crazy train, which seems like it's steaming full speed ahead toward Pennsylvania Avenue. How is it that the viciously anti-gay Bachmann is viewed as a legitimate contender?
WB: Extremists have hijacked the national Republican Party. It should terrify Americans that one of their two choices might be someone selected in a primary system dominated by special interests on the radical fringe. America suffered terribly under George W. Bush and has yet to recover from his anachronistic and imprudent policies. I fear that another four to eight years of backward decisions and regressive public policy might put this nation on the path to swift decline in which it might be extremely difficult to recover.
Michele Bachmann is a shill for big business interests like the billionaire Koch brothers. She is a fundamentalist religious fanatic whose insane views belong in a mental institution. If she is elected, or even becomes vice president, this nation is in big trouble. Someone like Bachmann should be laughed at and dismissed. A nation that looks to such fringe characters as serious players will not remain a superpower.
SD: What do you make of the story about how Bachmann was held captive in a bathroom by two lesbians during a constituent event? It's a pretty entertaining part of her personal narrative, if only because it illustrates her wackadoodleness.
WB: I think the story is indicative of an individual that is mentally unstable and unhinged. There can be no doubt that more wacky stories will come out as the race continues.
SD: You recently posted a video of Mr. Michele Bachmann, Dr. Marcus Bachmann, on your website talking about the threat of gay "barbarians" on the youth of America. Apparently, if homosexuals are allowed to act out their wanton thoughts and desires, the number of kids turning gay will skyrocket. Shouldn't we all just be praying for these pink savages?
WB: The Bachmanns promote the work of Janet Boynes, a former drug-dealing lesbian crack addict who turned to God and allegedly became straight. Boynes believes that if same-sex marriage is legalized, half of all married couples could eventually be gay. The Bachmanns endorsed her surreal book and they sell it in Marcus’ therapy office. Clearly, they must share many of her crackpot views.
I’m not religious. But if you are, please to pray before we all become pink savages!
SD: Apparently, Dr. Bachmann is a Christian counselor, whatever that is. Do you think he did ex-gay therapy on himself? And if so, how come it's not working, because he seems awfully fey to me?
WB: Given his behavior and beliefs, there is the possibility that he is a so-called “ex-gay” who underwent reparative therapy. To be blunt, Marcus appears gayer than Richard Simmons Rollerblading in pink hot pants. I don’t know if he is gay — but it is odd that the most anti-gay politician in America is married to an effeminate therapist who wants to heal gay people.
There are published studies that show the most homophobic men are the ones who are most turned on by gay porn. Perhaps, Michele Bachmann’s hysterical, hyperventilating reaction to LGBT people stems from the fact she desperately fears her husband may want to enter that arena.
SD: Bonus question(s) — What is the homosexual agenda? Who drafted it? Is it written down anywhere? And can I get a copy of it?
WB: Of course, Shakespeare wrote it. It’s quite a lovely document and I strongly suggest everyone read it. The last I heard, Shakespeare’s estate was negotiating with iTunes, so the document may be downloadable on the iPad by Spring 2012.