Bestselling author Michelangelo Signorile joins Steven Petrow to discuss his new book "It's Not Over" and take your questions

Apr 20, 2015

Columnist Steven Petrow took questions about LGBT and straight etiquette and various other topics. His answers may appear in an upcoming column.

I'm pleased to welcome Michelangelo Signorile to today's live chat. He's the best-selling author of Queer in America and hosts The Michelangelo Signorile Show on Sirius XM Progress and is editor at large of the Huffington Post's Gay Voices section. He's here today to talk about his latest book, It's Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, & Winning True Equality. Mike's married and lives in New York City. Welcome, Mike. I'm especially glad to have you as my guest after all the times I've been a guest of yours.

We're having some tech difficulties. So, please stand by. Thanks.

Thank you for having me and glad we got over our technical difficulties! Now on to reviewing and answering your first question.

As you know, the victories for LGBT rights have been significant in the past decade: Don't ask, don't tell was repealed. Thirty-eight states now have marriage equality for same-sex couples. Laverne Cox graced the cover of TIME magazine as the first trans person to hold that honor. Even last week Apple's openly gay CEO Tim Cook was named to TIME's list of the 100 Most Influential. And I could go on. But your new book isn't about how far we've come or self-congratulatory in any way. In fact, you write that it's "a dangerous moment" and that we (LGBT and straight people who support equality) risk falling prey to "victory blindness." So, why dangerous and what do you mean by that?

I think it's always important to celebrate victories, and we need those moments to savor the success and refuel. But what I was seeing was, in some people, and some leaders, a sort of euphoria that seemed to blind them to the intense bigotry out there and the work ahead. And let me say victory blindness is something we all succumb to, and probably have at different times -- it's easy to. We are a people who have been invisible and demonized for decades, centuries, only to find our voice and then be hit with a horrible epidemic that killed many and indifference and hate was the response of many. Then, what seems like quite suddenly --but actually because of our activism and intensity -- we got these amazing wins. And I think for many that can be intoxicating, spellbinding. The bad part is that it not only creates apathy -- with some saying full civil rights is "inevitable" -- but makes people think we should be "magnanimous" and "gracious" to our enemies because are winning. Those are the words I began seeing. And i think that's dangerous, allowing the backlash by our enemies to have space to push forward.

You also write that "the truth is that we have not achieved victory; we are note even close." Does that mean you don't  acknowledge how much ground the LGBT rights movement has gained since 2004 when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage? Not to mention how much marriage laws can mean to individuals and couples and I don't mean just symbolically but in terms of rights, benefits, recognition, etc.?

Again --  amazing wins, an definitely have changed people's lives, and changed the culture. But people still being thrown out of shops, and their jobs and their homes in 29 states with no protections. There is no federal law protecting us against all this discrimination. And kids are still taking their lives -- it seems to be increasing even -- as they are bullied or rejected by parents. Violence, perhaps as a result of the visibility, is surging. And the media still has presents "both  sides" while popular culture sanitizes us. So, a long, long way to go.

Let's also look at what's happened in Indiana and Arkansas in recent weeks. Even before  Gov. Pence signed his state's "religious freedom" law, major corporations (Apple, Microsoft, etc.) and national organizations (the NCAA for one) raised a collective voice and pocketbook to say "no way." What's your take, especially when it comes to corporate America and its support of LGBT equality?

A couple of things: It was great to see big business support us in that way. And it all looked like a great win, with Pence backtracking. But it was actually a media win -- in the moment -- and not really a win on rights, not in the moment or the big picture. The bill in Indiana still goes further than the national RFRA, LGBT people statewide still have no rights in Indiana and Pence has no intention of pushing for any such bill. We see that, or Arizona -- where Jan Brewer vetoed a similar bill last year -- as "wins" while the anti-gay right sees it as trial balloons that didn't work. They rely on retooling -- and I discuss in the book how I go to their conferences and see this -- and on luck, hoping the media isn't watching. Weeks after Arizona, they passed a RFRA just as bad in Mississippi but no one paid attention -- except the Family Research Council which put out a release saying it was great. Three weeks before Arkansas and Indiana, Arkansas passed a much more draconian bill rescinding all existing ordinances and preventing others from passing that would ban anti-LGBT discrimination. Again, no attention to it and Walmart was silent until the end. So in the big picture the anti-gay forces did pretty well.

Talk to us a bit more about what you just wrote: "And the media still has presents "both  sides" while popular culture sanitizes us. So, a long, long way to go." Isn't it the job of the media to present both sides, which is to say to try to be objective (even though I think objectivity is an elusive goal with "fair" being a better target).

How is popular culture "sanitizing" the LGBT community?  Can you give us some examples?

It is their job to do that but sometimes the debate is over. We don't bring white supremacists on to debate racial issues any longer or the mere status of rights for African-Americans. We don't bring anti-Semites on TV as legitimate spokespeople. Television and print reporters still bring on people who put out horrendous falsehoods against gays -- like the Family Research Council, which has been deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. They bring on Peter Sprigg of that group, who has called for sodomy laws to be brought back and gays to be jailed. They don't, btw, tell us that about these people when they bring them on either. They are held up as legitimate spokespeople. 

On representations, Modern Family is a perfect example. Nice white guys who take care of a kid. No sexual chemistry between them, while the straight couple not only has sex, they on one episode was caught in bed doing it by the kids -- which was a funny episode, and one that pointed to the fact that parents have sex. (But, on television, not gay parents apparently).

When you write about the importance of being "confrontational in order to make great strides forward,"  are you suggesting confrontation to the exclusion of other ,say, legislative or more incremental approaches? And in this moment, how would you translate "confrontational" approaches into action?

If I may I wanted to get back, since it relate to the second part of my answer re: big business. It's  a good short term to strategy to have corporations fighting for us but it doesn't change minds and ultimately has the right claiming more so that they are victims and that gays are all powerful.

That gets to the answer in this question. We need to show, as I think African-Americans are showing time and again, and now with BlackLivesMatter, that we will put our bodies out there. We will confront the bigotry, we will stand up for our rights -- not just organizing on online campaign or getting a company to do something. Everything we've won from the very beginning was from that kind of grass roots organizing. And even recent wins -- President Obama is great now, but he began his presidency defending DOMA in court and not moving on "don't ask, don't tell" repeal. It took relentless pressure -- and a march on Washington, and people chaining themselves to the White House fence, and interrupting his speeches to help move him forward.

Mike, I want to play a name game with you. I'm going to give you the names of those in the political arena and ask you to free associate and tell us what you think of them (I'm purposely using gender-neutral language). Although I don't have a buzzer, pretend I do and you will have 10 seconds:
Aaron Schock (former U.S. congressman)

Slick, cunning, and easily played the media and knew what they wouldn't report, but also sloppy in the end.

Hillary Clinton (presidential candidate)

Ambitious, smart, and someone who will have to be pushed to champion a full civil rights bill, with no religious exemption now, before any endorsement is given.

Dan Savage (It Gets Better)

Talented, and with a gift to get enormous attention around issues, while not afraid to admit when he's jumped the gun or was wrong. 

Frank Bruni (openly gay New York Times columnist)

Interesting writer on many issues, including gay issues, but who fell for the victory narrative -- succumbing victory blindness -- like Dan Savage, back he he said that we shouldn't have heralded the anti-gay Mozilla chief Brendan Eich's resignation because it didn't reflect well on the "victors" as if victory of our movement was assured.

Jeb Bush (presidential candidate) Very shrewd, though rusty, and determined to try to placate the right through code words like "religious liberty" while seeming to at least moderately respect gay people, even if he doesn't support their rights, which makes him dangerous.

President Obama

A man who believes in true equality, though thought he could somehow bring his enemies over to his side -- and finally realized they won't do that -- and, because he as integrity, was moved to do the right thing, what he truly believed, when activists made the case.

Ted Cruz (presidential candidate)

Someone who is determined to court anti-gay forces and the far right, whether he believes it or not, but who thankfully is so unlikeable that he won't get very far. 

Here's the last one, Mike:

Steven Petrow (Wash Post columnist)

The best etiquette columnist in the world! And someone who is thoughtful and committed to equality. 

Let's switch gears here. You discuss the notion of "covering" a great deal in It's Not Over.

Can you explain that to our listeners and the type of impact it has.

"Covering" is actually the title of NYU law professor Kenji Yoshino's brilliant 2006 book, which I think in many ways was ahead of it's time -- it's as if he foresaw where we'd be now. He uses to term to apply to all marginalized groups, and minorities. When they get to a certain point, attain a level of rights, there's an impulse, a tendency to downplay difference, just try to fit in, be a "team player" -- to cover. He explains how it is sometimes a good strategy and can help get some rights, but it has its limits. I think we've reached that limit on LGBT rights. For gays, covering happens after we come out -- we downplay difference, as we discussed with Modern Family. But it sells us to straights on their terms, in a palatable way, and doesn't get at deep-seated homophobia and challenge it. Michael Sam could have covered -- he is conventionally masculine -- but by kissing his boyfriend on national TV he decided not to. It challenged deep-seated homophobia and the reaction certainly showed that -- and why we need to do it more to desensitize straight people same-sex intimacy.

This is for Michelangelo... What do you think is the biggest challenge facing LGBT in America in the coming months/years?

I believe the challenge will be our enemies morphing and shape-shifting -- now they are posing as victims -- and us not paying attention or our allies falling for it. The long-term goal is revolutionizing education, and I talk a lot about that in the book, so we teach about LGBT people, inhibit homophobia and hopefully keep young people from being forced into the closet so they don't have to actually come out.

First of all, Mike, I want to thank you for taking the time to join me and our listeners today, especially as I know you're on book tour. Second, I hope folks will pick up "It's Not Over," which is crucial reading for anyone who is LGBT or a straight ally. Continued success and safe travels.

And that's our live chat for today. I'll be back in two weeks on the regular day and time: Tuesday May 5th at 1 pm ET.


In This Chat
Steven Petrow
Steven Petrow is a respected journalist and the go-to source for modern manners. Petrow writes the "Civilities" column for The Washington Post as well as "Manners Hero" for Parade and "Medical Manners" for Everyday Health.
petrow guest
MICHELANGELO SIGNORILE is the bestselling author of Queer in America. He is the host of the Sirius XM radio show "The Michelangelo Signorile Show" and an editor-at-large of Huffington Post Gay Voices. An award-winning journalist, Signorile has written for dozens of magazines and newspapers, including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, New York Magazine, Salon and The Village Voice.
Recent Chats
  • Next: