On Friday night I sat down with author, activist, and radio host Michelangelo Signorile for a Periscope session to talk about his new book, It’s Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, and Winning True Equality.
The book is uncannily-timed given the recent proliferation of “religious liberty” bills around the country; it’s a warning to those fighting for LGBT equality not to think the battle is over too early — not to succumb to “victory blindness” as Signorile aptly calls it.
The book is also a primer for activism in the next phase of the LGBT rights movement, in which advocates for equality, having secured a number of substantive wins, must face a wave of conservative backlash that is already beginning.
“You have to celebrate [these victories], there’s no question about it, Signorile tells me in our interview. “But, understand that there isn’t this magical moment when everything is finished and you go on with your life. When you’re a minority, a marginalized group, you’ve been dealt a certain deck and there’s always going to be people out to try and undermine you. You have to just keep paying attention…”
“I think [conservatives] will definitely retool, recalibrate,” he adds, “They move on to other states, they look for other avenues, they look for other people they can pose as victims, right? Any new way that they can sort of strip something away from us — conscience clauses allowing people to opt out of performing gay marriages, all that stuff is still going on and still on the table in a lot of states.”
Using “victory blindness” as a launch pad, Signorile’s incisive argument lays out the framework for taking on this backlash through self-defense and empowerment, revolutionizing education, and objecting to media that continually gives discredited conservative viewpoints authority where there is no legitimate debate to be had. It also provides advice for people who are out of the closet on how to remain empowered by not hiding who we are and resisting demands that we downplay our identities.
I strongly recommend this book.
Check out my talk with Signorile (and I apologize for its informality and my rather green on-camera skills – it was originally recorded on iPhone as a live streaming discussion on Periscope and has been edited to better fit this format).
Watch and read the transcript, AFTER THE JUMP…
AT: It’s Michelangelo Signorile.
AT: He’s the host of The Michelangelo Signorile Show on Sirius XM radio. He’s an editor-at-large at Huff Post Gay Voices, and he has written several different books … probably the most best selling would be Queer in America. He also is the author of a brand new book, and it is right here. It is called It’s Not Over, and I realize that all of you are seeing this backwards.
Signorile: Everything’s backwards.
AT: I don’t know. Everything’s backwards. [crosstalk 00:01:12] we have the camera turned around. I don’t know why.
Signorile: We don’t know why.
AT: You figure it out.
Signorile: Yeah. ItsNotOverTheBook.com. You can see it the right way.
Signorile: So, hi, Andy.
AT: Hi. actually read this book several weeks ago. Michelangelo and I are actually … he’s a really great friend of mine. We talked about a lot of this stuff that’s in the book. It could not come at a better time with everything that’s going on in the LGBT rights movement right now and all the opposition that we’re getting from conservatives. I think it’s a very, very, very important book for people to read, especially to understand how we got to this moment in time, and where we go from here. I would say that the book is kind of, a primer for the next generation of activists and activism that’s happening.
AT: Let’s talk about what happened this week in Indiana with the religious liberty bill that came up and the one in Arkansas and the twenty others that are in various states around the country. They didn’t just, sort of like, come out of nowhere.
Signorile: Well, what I talk about in the first chapter of It’s Not Over … the first chapter is titled Victory Blindness. It’s kind of like something that a lot of activists and a lot of allies of gay rights, a lot of progressives kind of succumb to and I think it happened in other movements, too. It happened in the women’s movement, it happened with African Americans where you think you’ve arrived, you think you’ve won everything. A lot of people were, sort of, thinking marriage equality was here. All these states were having marriage, the Supreme Court’s going to rule in our favor … and they were blind to the fact that the enemies of equality are organizing and they’re coming up with ways to thwart wins and, kind of like, diminish them.
They can’t totally block you because you’ve won certain things, but they can do things to make you diminished. Because I go to a lot of these right-wing conferences with my radio show … Conservative Political Action Conference, Values Voters Summit … I was seeing them recalibrating and rebranding the bigotry that they have and new ways to create a bubble for themselves not to deal with LGBT people. That’s where a lot of these religious liberty bills came out of was the’re planning ways to limit gay rights. What ways can they do to block this whole marriage thing.
AT: Why do you think they came up with that term and that idea to go after “religious freedom”?
Signorile: Because they’re looking for the things that can hit the public at large … that big middle that’s unsure, still, about a lot of stuff. Like, they know that Americans, by and large, believe in fairness and believe in equality, but they also know that Americans are uncomfortable about certain things. They know that most Americans don’t think you should discriminate against people based on race, but then they also know that, maybe, people are uncomfortable with Affirmative Action and they could, kind of, tap into that discomfort with that idea. I think they’re doing that now with gay people. They’re trying to tap into the discomfort that people might have with the idea of a baker having to bake a cake, even if they don’t really support somebody’s wedding.
Signorile: A lot of the polling shows that people are uncomfortable with that idea. We still have to, really, show why that is discrimination. They see religious liberty and religious freedom as something that Americans support, and a way that they can, kind of, sell this hate in another way.
AT: A few months ago when Brendan Eich had just been named the CEO of Mozilla … people uncovered a lot of his beliefs and his writings going way back and discovered that he was opposed to marriage equality and had all of his anti-gay views.
Signorile: He had given money to anti-gay candidates and money to Proposition 8 and other things.
AT:: When he was, sort of, forced out of his position, the right-wing tried to portray it as if there were these huge groups of gay activists that were coming after Brendan Eich.
AT: Some people who you might have thought would actually disagree with them, kind of stepped back … some gay and lesbian activists kind of stepped back and said, “We’re being too hard on this guy. We should give him a little bit of a break and be more magnanimous about it because we’ve won so many victories recently.”
Signorile: David Brooks in the New York Times wrote a column that said, “Gays are being too forceful with the Indiana situation. They should be magnanimous. Americans are changing, and they shouldn’t push too hard.” To me, that’s a real trap, that kind of thinking, because it allows the right to advance the backlash. That’s what happened during the Brendan Eich and Mozilla controversy. He stepped down because the culture of Silicon Valley, and the developers at Mozilla, and the people who worked for the company … they all support full civil rights. They were letting the company know they weren’t going to donate their time because a company like Mozilla … it’s really a foundation where developers are donating their time. They were like, “We don’t want to really be supporting this guy.” And yet, Andrew Sullivan whipped up this heated anger toward gay activists when no gay groups had said that he should step down. The right wing took Andrew Sullivan’s comments and used them against the gay movement saying, “Andrew Sullivan says gay groups are attacking him.”
What I saw was other activists also got very nervous about this. They got nervous about the idea of somebody losing their job because they gave money to Prop 8 and I think they were more so worried about the way it was playing out in the media. But it played out that way because we didn’t control the debate and show it for what it was … that it was a nice societal shift, that finally somebody was being held to the same standards of … somebody made anti-Semitic comments or if he made racist comments.
Instead, they got scared, and what we saw was our side was very disjointed and not unified while the right was organized and Newt Gingrich was calling it, “The New Fascism.” They were advancing that debate and making us look like we were the bullies, and that wasn’t true.
AT: We had just gone through a couple weeks of win after win after win after win in marriage equality. It felt like we were, sort of, getting so ahead of where we had been for so long, that people were a little afraid, I think, to ruin it.
Signorile: The word magnanimous kept coming up. One blogger, Jim Burroway, who I think does great work, said something like, “We’ve had a banner two years. Can’t we be more magnanimous?” Frank Bruni, the New York Times columnist who’s gay and does great stuff, he, too, said, “This makes the victors look bad.” And I think it was George Will who said, “We’re being sore losers.” There was that idea that we should be magnanimous and accept this bigotry because we’d won so much.
Signorile: I don’t think we were even near winning. That’s why I call it “victory blindness.”
AT: After this week and all of the Indiana coverage in the media over the religious liberty bill … do you think that the blinders to what the right-wing is trying to do with these bills has, sort of, been ripped off?
Signorile: I think so to a certain extent. I think more people get it now, but the unfortunate thing was that even a few weeks ago, Arkansas passed a horrendous law that stripped away all local ordinances within the state for anti-discrimination for LGBT people and nobody paid attention. Walmart didn’t say anything, the Human Rights Campaign didn’t say anything, nobody said anything.
It’s great that this debate played out now over the religious liberty bill, but in the end, we may have won a media debate, but we lost a lot in terms of actual rights … people lost protections. I hope we’ve learned how to organize better after this whole thing and stick together.
AT: I’ve seen a lot of the bills that have been on the table that are similar to the Indiana bill and the Arkansas bill just dying this week because of the attention that Indiana’s gotten. Do you foresee any kind of new strategy coming out of this for the right-wing?
Signorile: I think they will definitely retool, recalibrate. They move on to other states, they look for other avenues, they look for other people they can pose as victims, right? Any new way that they can sort of strip something away from us … conscience clauses allowing people to opt out of performing gay marriages, all that stuff is still going on and still on the table in a lot of states.
AT: Mm-hmm. So do you think it will get more granular in the way that they approach it? Like, they’ll try to pass a religious liberty bill but just in a certain area like … I don’t know … like education?
Signorile: Yeah. I think they also will look for opportunities when they can do it more under the radar because let’s not forget the whole larger history of this. This went on in Arizona last year at this time, and it, somehow, got above the radar. Then the media cycle goes on to other issues, and then all of a sudden, they passed one in Mississippi and nobody paid attention.
AT: Why do you think it is that all of a sudden one of these bills gets the spotlight and the others don’t?
Signorile: It’s so hard to know. Is it a particular company? Is it somebody speaking out? Is it a group? Is it that that week the media just didn’t have news? Is it one particular pundit or one particular interviewer latches on to it and the others want to compete? It’s so hard to know. They moved on to Mississippi, nobody paid attention, and then, just before this, they passed this Arkansas law and nobody paid attention.
Signorile: So, I’m thinking they’re going to try even the religious liberties bill in some other places and they will look for the opportunity, maybe, when the media is not paying attention and get it passed.
AT: Do you think if the Supreme Court does rule in our favor, that there’s going to be another wave of “victory blindness” that we have to watch out for?
AT: How do we avoid getting distracted by that?
Signorile: Well, that’s why I wrote this book. I talk about, in the book, kind of celebrating these victories … because you have to celebrate them, there’s no question about it. But, understanding that there isn’t, like, this magical moment when everything is finished and you go on with your life.
When you’re a minority, a marginalized group, you’ve been dealt a certain deck and there’s always going to be people out to try and undermine you. You have to just keep paying attention.
I think, once we have that knowledge, you start to look at it in a different way. We have to be thinking about the next generation and the fact that all these victories are great if you live in a certain place and you are an adult … but, in fact, the victories, themselves, are making young people … they watch TV, they see all of these people out of the closet … it’s making them come out of the closet at younger ages, but they’re growing up in religious-right households and they’re being thrown out of the house, or they’re being put into ex-gay therapy programs which are still legal in most states except for three jurisdictions now, and they’re still, horribly, taking their lives and being bullied in horrible ways.
So, in a way, our victories are actually bringing on more homophobia for young people.
AT: That’s what I love about your book is that it provides some solutions and some ways that people can really fight back against that homophobia in different areas of their lives.
AT: One of the other concepts that you talk about is this concept called “covering”. After we come out, we have to keep coming out every day for the rest of our lives.
AT: The concept of covering … maybe you can talk a little bit about what that is, but it’s sort of just remaining vigilant of that and making sure that we emphasize our differences rather than downplaying them.
Signorile: Yeah. There’s an impulse for all groups … minorities, African American, women, every racial minority and LGBT people … to, sort of, downplay … once you, sort of, reach a certain point and get a certain right, there’s an idea of, “Oh, I should downplay my difference to fit in and to show them that I’m fitting in.” That’s what [constitutional law scholar] Kenji Yoshino calls covering. The moment you start covering, you’re already seeding ground. He talks about a covering demand, that society kind of demands you to-
AT: What’s an example of somebody covering?
Signorile: A perfect example that I talk about in the book, is when people don’t show affection among each other as gay people. Michael Sam, he didn’t cover, right? He could have assimilated right in-
AT: He could’ve just … he chose to kiss his boyfriend.
Signorile: That showed what is the next frontier because it caused such an outrage and such uproar. That was getting beyond tolerance. Tolerance was covering. “We know you’re gay, just don’t touch each other. Just don’t kiss.” We see it throughout popular culture. Modern Family is covering even though they have-
AT: How are they covering?
Michelangelo: Even though they’re parents, they don’t have sex. They’re not affectionate. That show had a great episode where the straight parents were having sex in bed and the kids walked in on them. You’d never see that with the gay couple. We don’t see it at all in popular culture. All of that is covering. That’s our next frontier.
AT: Are there any shows out there now that are doing it right?
Signorile: Well, I think that How to Get Away With Murder is kind of really ground-breaking in that way. Shonda Rhimes and Peter Nowalk, who’s gay, who is the producer of that … they have one character in there who really likes having sex. He’s gay and he has a lot of sex, and he has had boyfriends.
AT: And it’s pretty graphic, too, in terms of what they have on the show.
Signorile: Yeah. To me, that, at least, kind of makes people see who we are … not just accepting people as gay, but accepting people in the full picture.
AT: Mm-hmm. But there are also other forms of covering like covering in the media, too. You talk a little bit about the speculation that various politicians are gay and if that’s right or wrong. A couple of the examples that you bring up are Aaron Shock and Shepard Smith from Fox News.
Signorile: Right. The glass closet. I talk about where I kind of expanded on Kenji Yoshino’s idea with covering is he talked about passing which is the closet, and then covering which is after people are out of the closet kind of downplaying being gay. I, sort of, put the glass closet at the hinge-point between the passing and the covering where people are sort of out, but they’re not really out … where everybody knows they’re out in the media, everybody at work where they work knows they’re out. Robin Roberts at Good Morning America … everybody knew she was a lesbian, but we all had to wait until she put it on Facebook. That’s the glass closet.
AT: But the idea of being outraged at people asking valid questions about a politician who’s voted against gay rights …
Signorile: Yeah, to me it becomes an issue of, okay, people are going to be in the glass closet, then we should have a right to talk about it and speculate, but more so, a duty when it’s really relevant like a politician who’s voting anti-gay, the media has a duty to look at that. When Aaron Shock’s office was decorated very elaborately, some sort of alarm bell went off about that visual cue that he was, maybe, spending his money in a way that was abusing taxpayer dollars. That should be the same thing. If he’s voting anti-gay, but then keeping constant rumors and constant indications that he’s gay, it should be the same thing. They should be investigating it.
AT: Yeah. There’s another section of the book about some interesting polling data about how ingrained homophobia is, too.
Signorile: Yeah. There’s some research in the book from people who study implicit association tests and Harvard University and the University of North Carolina have this enormous database of millions of people who have taken these implicit association tests. They look at race, gender, sexual orientation … kind of testing people’s implicit bias. What they found for a number of years with race was, and I think we all probably know this, people will say one thing, and then they still harbor racist attitudes.
Signorile: But now they’re finding it with sexual orientation in a big way as well. Part of that is progress. It means that explicitly, people don’t want to say anymore, like Governor Pence in Indiana, “We don’t discriminate. I don’t discriminate.” People don’t want to say anymore that they are opposed to homosexuality. That’s a good thing, but, again, this is where victory blindness comes in. We fool ourselves when we see these polls that say seventy percent of Americans believe gays should have rights, or a majority believe gays should have marriage.
Signorile: When they look at the implicit bias test, they see that when they compare that to the polling, it’s very, very small change. It’s not nearly as much as implicit bias. These tests are done, just as we were talking about the whole issue of intimacy, by showing people images of gay people being intimate and rating how quickly they respond to various cues.
AT: This book has so many great ideas and concepts in it. It could not come at a better moment. I could keep on talking for a long time because we’ve only just dug into a little bit of it.
Michelangelo: If you can look at it backwards …
Andrew: Look at the title backwards. It’s Not Over. ItsNotOverTheBook.com is the website and it’s also available at all of your online bookstores. It’s an amazing book.
Signorile: Thank you.
AT: Give us some hearts if you want to read it, and we’ll be hearing a lot more about this book, I think, in the next week. It comes out on April 7th? Correct?
Signorile: April 7th, but people can look online now and order it, or go to a bookstore … it’s probably in the stores. I just want to say that Andy … we’re really great friends, but we also chat online about all this stuff all the time and so much of what’s in this book, he and I have chatted about over the past two years. So much of his work and the work he does on Towleroad is in this book, and I thank him for that as well.
AT: You know, it’s always a pleasure to talk to you about any of that. Well, thank you guys all for tuning in. We really appreciate it and I hope to do some more of these. It was really fun.
Signorile: This was fun. A new thing, a fun experiment. It worked, I think.
AT: Yeah. All right. Well, everybody have a great Friday night and we will see you on the web.