I’ve had just about enough of the term “elite gays”

I’ve written a good deal lately about the growing problem of bias in the gay community.  And I’m not talking about white gays who don’t like black gays, I’m talking about this interesting notion that somehow white gay men – and more generally “gay elites” – are somehow responsible for all of our community’s woes.

The most recent example – but by no means the only example – crept up in this blog post yesterday, that lambasted  the supposed “gay elites” at the ACLU and Lambda Legal (which is basically the gay ACLU) for advising against a lawsuit against legislation, and a state constitutional am amendment, banning gay marriage in Virginia.  Here’s what the post said:

It seems that some of what many of us living in “red states” view as the self-anointed “gay elite” are displeased that the plaintiffs proceeded to file their lawsuit rather than wait for permission, if you will, from Lambda Legal, the ACLU and others. These the “gay elites” primarily sit safely in gay friendly jurisdictions like New York and Washington, D.C., and lecture those faced with no rights or legal protections, give them a pat on the head and then tell Virginians and others “be patient, we know best.”

One must not forget that when the Hollingsworth v. Perry suit was filed, these same elites argued against the case being brought. Ted Olsen and David Boies proved them wrong.

Photo by ©John Aravosis.

Photo by ©John Aravosis.

It’s a familiar problem.  And as the post notes, we went through the same disagreement over the Prop 8 case, that the national gay legal groups and experts advised against filing.  In the end, the Prop 8 suit ended fine – we didn’t exactly “win,” but the entire challenge against the federal court decision striking down Prop 8 was thrown out, with the practical effect that gay marriage was re-legalized in California.

So in the end, the Prop 8 case worked out fine.  That doesn’t mean, however, that the lawyers at the ACLU and Lambda Legal, who have devoted their lives to fighting for our civil rights, are somehow evil, nefarious gays who are so spoiled on living in the “big city” – whatever that means, by the way, we get far more of our worst members of Congress from red-state backwaters than we do the big city, if we’re going to start counting – that somehow they’re no longer interested in fighting for our civil rights. I find that kind of depiction insulting and disrespectful.

I know this is difficult for some to understand – usually people who have not devoted their lives to the civil rights battle – but fighting for civil rights on the left is not exactly a winning scheme for getting rich quick.

Take me, for example.  I’d have been far wealthier taking that job as a corporate privacy counsel, offering $150k a year, back in the early 2000s, or had taking another friend up on an offer to find me a job with the UN in Rome around the same time.  I didn’t take either because I liked what I was doing in Washington – one of the evil “elite” cities, we’re always told – even though I loathe Washington, DC itself.  In part because I’ve never felt safe there – the crime rate has always been high – and in part because it’s a small town at heart, and I like big cities.

The only reason I stayed in DC was because I liked my ability to be involved in gay rights advocacy, and ultimately the blog it led to, and didn’t want to give them and my advocacy up.  I did not stay in DC because I looked forward to being violently mugged (which happened), having a dead body dumped in my backyard (which happened), and having to wait until I was in my 40s to buy my first home (a one-bedroom apartment) because it took 15 years to pay off horrific law school loans, and DC property costs twice as much per square foot than my parents’ home in a very nice suburb of Chicago.

My point isn’t to argue “woe is me.” My point is that this ongoing trope about how “elite” Washington, DC is, and how “evil” all of us “spoiled” gay activists are in NYC and DC, is a crock.  I don’t know anyone who got rich being a gay activist – and when a lot of us got started it took some major balls to come out as gay to the world on network television (where most of us are not paid for our appearances, by the way – that’s another “big elite” myth) or in the New York Times.  And you’d better believe that the lawyers at the ACLU and Lambda Legal could earn a hell of a lot more money in DC, and especially NYC, by working for an actual “evil” law firm.

And none of that is to suggest that the lawyers at the ACLU, and the attorneys at Lambda Legal, don’t sometimes make a good-faith bad call.  We all do.  But to question their integrity by suggesting that they’re some kind of “big city blue state elite,” and that’s why they thought the Prop 8 decision was the wrong case at the wrong time, is obnoxious, naive, and rather bitchy to boot.  A lot of us could have been rich at this point, like a lot of our law school colleagues.  But we chose instead to advocate for our community because we cared more about our civil rights than we did about our wallets.  Giving up the opportunity for lucrative careers in order to help people is the opposite of “elite.”

I’m not asking for a medal.  I am asking for a little respect.  Feel free to disagree with someone.  But don’t suggest they’re sell-outs for giving up far more than you to advocate for all of our rights.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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