Being for LGBT Rights Doesn’t Make You a Liberal

GCHQ Celebrates LGBT

The British surveillance agency GCHQ (more or less their version of the NSA) showed its liberal colors by literally lighting its exterior with rainbow colored lights. Glenn Greenwald is not pleased, GCHQ’s Rainbow Lights: Exploiting Social Issues for Militarism and Imperialism. He related this to a very general tactic that we’ve seen for decades of wars being sold as liberal causes. But of course, all that is really going on is that liberal excuses are being offered for conservative and nationalistic policies. This is how you get people like Peter Beinart and Jonathan Chait to support a bloody good war: give them some (Any!) rationale for the war and they hop right on board.

I remember what is perhaps the best example of this. As we were set to go to war with Afghanistan, we were feed all this information about how terrible the Taliban were to women. This, of course, had the advantage of being true. But just like the old liberal cause for war — “Free people from oppressive regimes!” — this excuse had nothing to do with the reason that we were going to war. There are lots of regimes all over the world that treat women as bad or worse. But we weren’t invading them. (Also note: when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, it too brought equitable treatment of women — but that didn’t change our opinions of that war.)

I used to think about this a lot when I was a kid. We supposedly went to war in Vietnam to keep the country democratic and the people free. Yet we were just fine with Latin American despots like Augusto Pinochet. And as became very clear shortly after that time, democracy is not something we approve of if the people vote for governments we don’t like. You have to be pretty naive to think that we go to war for the benefit of the people we are bombing. It’s a pretty story, but it is almost never the case.

It should be seen as a good thing that now LGBT rights are mainstream enough that they are used by neocons to sell wars. But there is one thing that bothers me. Both LGBT and women’s rights are issues that are most effective to sell to the upper classes — Chris Hedges’ “liberal class.” The ultimate liberal cause would be the poor: that regime is harming the poor! But we don’t hear that. And I think we don’t hear that because no one cares what the working poor in this country think. For one thing, they are too busy surviving to pay much attention. The “liberal class” — like all classes — only care about themselves. The “liberal class” is filled with women and LGBT members. So let’s go to war anywhere because those kinds of people are being oppressed, am I right?!

This gets to one of the most depressing elements of politics in America. Over the last thirty years, “liberalism” has largely been cleaned of economics and foreign policy. The Democratic Party mostly stands for social issues. African Americans are largely as poor as they were fifty years ago, but at least they have the right to vote! Women may face systemic career discrimination, but at least they have the constitutional — but often not the practical — right to an abortion! LGBT members may not be able to afford a wedding, but they largely have the right to one![1] Modern liberalism sure is grand: if you are rich, it really does make you equal!

There seems to be a general political law here. If GCHQ or other odious government institutions are ostentatiously in support of certain kinds of rights, then those rights are no longer liberal. They are just mainstream. That’s especially true of LGBT rights. If you are against them, then you are a bigot. If you are for them, it doesn’t mean you a liberal — just that you are a human. Liberals need to be held to a higher standard than just figuring out an issue at the same time the average American does. (And yes: that was a reference to President Obama.)


[1] None of this is to say that any of these gains are unimportant. Most especially, the right to vote is very important. And African American show this by voting at high (for Americans) levels.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

6 thoughts on “Being for LGBT Rights Doesn’t Make You a Liberal

  1. Just saw a movie you might like: “Pride,” about a group of gay activists who formed a bond with Welsh coal miners in the 1980’s. The activists see the same cops, press and government beating on another group and raise money for the striking miners.

    It’s very predictable and sentimental, but there are worse things than sentiment in an appealing story like this one. The moral of the story is how every screwed group needs to stand together, even if their goals don’t specifically overlap. And the cast is terrific. The older actors are familiar talents like Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton, while the young actors are likable & distinctive — which rarely seems to be the case in American films (when everyone has to look equally gorgeous, they blend together.) Plus Moriarty’s in it!

    There’s a history of activism bonding across interest-group lines; it’s a bit lost now. It has happened before. The movie’s bookended by two old labor anthems which were set to anti-slavery tunes. (Plus a very pretty labor/women’s rights song in the middle I hadn’t heard before.) Nothing ever happens as nicely as it happens in the film, but a little idealism never hurts anyone.

    • Thanks for the recommendation. I requested it. I’ve long argued that the problem that the power elite have with unions has nothing to do with the amount of pay (well, little anyway). Rather, it is that worker solidarity frightens them. The truth is that if we all bind together, they have no power at all. This is why they have spent so much time and money figuring out how to divide and conquer. And they are really good at it. I weep every time I hear a non-union worker complaining about unions.

      • I got weepy at the pro-union, pro-cross-movement solidarity moments in the movie. As you’ll see in moments, it’s very slick, popular English-filmmaking stuff. “Harlan County” or “Life And Times Of Harvey Milk” this ain’t. This style of English moviemaking has its charms, though. You know you’ll never see something truly horrible on screen (when a character gets beaten all to hell, you see a few seconds of their being stalked by goons, not the beating itself.) And I genuinely thought the sentimental bits were earned, simplified as they are.

        I typed a bunch of other stuff about slick-versus-sloppy political movies (how sometimes each form can be good or bad) but I’ll save those for another day — I’m curious about your reaction to the film, if you have one.

        • I’m sure it will be very good. I’m a sucker for sentiment. And I will let you know.

          Harlan County, USA is one of the greatest documentaries ever. I know it. It is rare that a film opens my eyes to a new world.

          I was here (in the Bay Area) when Dan White murdered Milk and Moscone, but I didn’t really understand it until I saw The Times of Harvey Milk. And what I really didn’t understand way how historic Milk was. I was 14 years old, and I thought people were relatively okay with gay rights. But watching the film made me realize that it was exactly the same then as now; the only thing that has changed is the number of people who are like White. There aren’t nearly as many of them, but they control the Republican Party.

          • That’s pretty cool, you saw that documentary at 14! I don’t think I ever saw a documentary in my life until I was a senior in high school.

            I did see cheesy made-for-TV fictionalized movies. And those had a profound effect on me. One about the Nez Perce getting slaughtered while fleeing to Canada, one about Dr. King, both subjects I never knew about . . . of course, “The Day After,” which powerfully affected Reagan, 60+ years my senior, as to how nuclear wars might not be winnable. (But, you know, Reagan was a great thinker/leader.)

            And it no doubt helped how teachers I looked up to a lot as a kid recommended those cheesy made-for-TV fictions.

            • That’s funny! No, I didn’t see it at 14. I believe I saw it in 2008. I was 14 when Dan White murdered Milk and Moscone.

              I think docudramas can be highly effective. Although you are right that they are usually not very good.

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