Michelangelo Signorile knows confrontation. He’s great at it. A lot of people are alive today because he is great at it. A lot more are likely to have better lives in the future because he keeps doing it.
You remember Signorile, the AIDS-activist-turned-journalist who in 1988 was handcuffed and dragged out of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in New York, after he leapt onto a marble platform and shouted down then-Cardinal (later Pope) Joseph Ratzinger, saying, “He’s no man of God. He is the devil.”
Twenty-seven years later, he’s still shouting—weekdays on his SiriusXM Radio show, and now with his new book, It’s Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia and Winning True Equality.
Signorile has a message for the LGBT community: Stay confrontational; there is a backlash coming that will threaten the hard-fought gains made in recent years.
He’s coined the phrase “victory blindness” for the title of his first chapter, where he warns that despite enormously positive gains in the areas of military service and marriage equality, homophobia rages on in America.
Signorile reminds us that: sports stars are practically rewarded after spouting hate; TV sitcoms still make gay and transgender people into insulting punchlines; the media respects and airs bigoted views of the “other side”; and businesses now brazenly flaunt no-gays-allowed policies while workers fear coming out on the job more than ever.
He notes that federal civil rights protections seem further away than before, and that the LGBT community is not well-served by a gay establishment that apologizes for and lauds political leaders rather than demanding action from them.
“Maybe it’s time to wake up from the bedtime story and get a new dream,” he writes.
Next Monday and Tuesday, Signorile will broadcast his show from Austin beginning at 2 p.m. CDT (The program airs on SiriusXM Progress channel 127.) He also will speak about his book at 7 p.m. Monday at BookPeople. He discussed the decision to come to Texas during the final weeks of the legislative session during an interview with the Observer.
“Texas is a perfect example of why it is not over,” Signorile said. “In Texas and all across the country we have the enemies of equality still organizing.”
Earlier this year, a female couple found a brief loophole in state law and married in Austin. Texas is one of only 14 states that does not allow same-sex marriage, and more than 20 anti-LGBT bills have been filed during the 84th legislative session. Among them is a measure by Rep. Cecil Bell (R-Magnolia) designed to nullify in Texas any U.S. Supreme Court ruling that would force the state to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. A ruling from the court is expected this summer.
“Texas is a sovereign state and our citizens have the right to define marriage,” Bell wrote in a news release. “We as Texans voted in 2005 to define marriage as being solely between a man and a woman. In Texas marriage is sacred and traditional families are recognized as the fabric of our society.”
Signorile said he wrote his book because he started seeing a disconnect in the way the LGBT community is celebrating its successes and what is happening in many parts of the country. “People were saying it is inevitable that we are about to have full civil rights,” he said. “Yet, on the ground, people were still being fired, turned away from shops, experience gay bashing. Kids were still taking their lives.”
Signorile takes issue with people who are urging the LGBT community to take the high road now that history seems to be on their side, at least with marriage equality and the right to serve openly in the military.
“I started seeing people saying that we should be magnanimous toward these poor people who are losing,” he said. “They are saying we should show we are not poor winners instead of being confrontational, which is what we should continue to be. I started seeing people say we need to be nice.”
Signorile’s work has always straddled the line between public affairs journalism and what many consider political activism. During the late 1980s, he was chair of the media committee for the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power (ACT UP) in New York. In that role, he organized and staged high-profile protests of the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institute of Health and New York City Hall, claiming government inaction was responsible for massive deaths in the LGBT community.
“When AIDS first happened, to a lot of us it was something easy for us to ignore,” he said. “ACT UP clearly invigorated the movement and showed us why we needed to be confrontational and that we needed to never allow this to happen again.
“It was massive death caused by homophobia and negligence. We thought we had won then. We thought that after Stonewall we thought we would come out and had gotten a few ordinances here and there and could dance all night on the dance floor and we thought we won something, and AIDS woke us up.
“Act UP epitomizes that we should be confrontational and say, ‘Never again.’”
Signorile’s book is peppered with stories of individual bravery, people who fought enormous adversity and won—powerless people reclaiming their power, like a bullied kid learning self-defense.
Another example is Pamela Raintree, a transgender woman in Shreveport, La., who went to a local town meeting last year to challenge city councilman Ron Webb, who was trying to repeal an LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance that had passed three months earlier.
Raintree collects rocks, and she brought one with her. When her time came to address the council she stood in front of Webb and lifted the stone high in the air. “Leviticus 20:13 states, ‘If a man lie also with mankind as he lieth with a woman, they shall surely put him to death.’ I brought the first stone, Mr. Webb in case your Bible talk isn’t just a smokescreen for personal prejudices.”
She told Signorile in an interview for the book that she saw him cast his eyes down and that she could see his facial expression: “Oh, this one is over.”
“Raintree is a hero,” Signorile writes. “We can be heroes by speaking out, using traditional protests—marching and putting our bodies on the line—as well as online organizing and creative actions like Raintree’s. Each instance of just being our fullest selves, resisting the victory narrative and not covering moves the needle.”