The Rebel Girl: Love & Hate in Time of War

— Catherine Sameh

OREGON IS IN the national spotlight these days for right-wing activity, thanks to the Oregon Citizens Alliance. These are the proud sponsors of Measure 9, which would amend the Oregon constitution, taking rights away from homosexuals.

Measure 9 has the following requirements: The state cannot "recognize" phrases such as sexual orientation; state and local governments cannot "promote, encourage or facilitate" homosexuality; public schools, colleges and universities must teach that homosexuality is "abnormal, wrong, unnatural and perverse" and should be "discouraged and avoided."

It would have tremendous consequences for government programs and facilities, schools and universities, not to mention the obvious terror it would instill in gay men and lesbians--closeted or not.

While a recent poll shows that a majority of Oregonians are against Measure 9, there is still substantial support for it, particularly in rural parts of Oregon. And the fact remains that there are many people who haven't decided which way they will vote.

This "ambivalent middle" is living proof that fear and ignorance of homosexuality still run deep through the heart of our society. The right knows this and is quite effective at tapping this wellspring and putting forth a vision of order and security that rests on "morality, family values and community."

The Politics of Manipulation

Measure 9 represents perfectly the way in which the right has manipulated people's anxieties about changing social and economic structures that often leave people short on resources, alienated and vulnerable. They claim that lesbians and gay men, like women, the poor and people of color, want more than their fair share the infamous "special rights."

While the economy unravels and public institutions continue to disintegrate, the right scapegoats homosexuals, accusing them of "preying" on innocent, i.e. straight, people's lives.

The right's increased anti-gay activity is, in part, testimony to the success of the movement for gay and lesbian liberation in making gay men, lesbians and bisexuals visible and fighting compulsory heterosexuality. The right longs for the time when these groups were much more widely afraid and closeted, and when social and familial structures weren't in rapid flux.

There is a frightening discrepancy between the abstract values groups like OCA espouse and what, in fact, they organize against. They are against parental leave, affirmative action, welfare rights, funding social services and public education, domestic partnership insurance coverage and abortion rights--things which people need in order to participate fully in the world.

Instead, the right would like women to stay at home and take care of children in the confines of traditional family settings, without help from government services. They talk about securing communities, but don't tolerate the diversity of communities and families that are created through mutual respect and autonomy, which are proving successful. They prefer women bound to men, through subordination in the guise of security.

Whether or not Measure 9 passes, a climate of terror has already been created for gays and lesbians in Oregon. This is, in part, the actual goal of groups like OCA, who are becoming a model for right-wing groups around the country.

Fortunately, left and progressive groups in Oregon have come together, with a refreshing lack of infighting and sectarianism, in opposition to Measure 9. An impressive crowd of 10,000 rallied in Portland October 4 at the last big event before the election.

But rallies aren't enough. We on the left must continue to unite, and build a broad and inclusive movement that takes on the right at every corner with a compelling agenda which reaches those undecided about homosexuality.

November-December 1992, ATC 41