Thursday, September 08, 2005

Gender Gap Exists Between Gay, Lesbian Activists

(Link) Shocking study shows that "boy issues" and "grrl issues" are quite different. And backs up the necessity for this site's existence.

1 comment:

LNewsEditor said...

JIC Post:

SAN FRANCISCO -- Although they campaign arm-in-arm for gay rights, lesbians and gay men don't always march in step. With bemusement and at times frustration, they acknowledge a lingering gender gap in how they live, socialize and perceive each other.

The two groups each grapple with real differences, and with stereotypes of themselves and the other sex: that gay men are the party-goers, flashy and promiscuous; that lesbians are the relatively dull homebodies -- "soccer moms," in the words of one activist.

In San Francisco and New York, nightclubs in the main gay districts tend to be virtually all-male, while many lesbians have settled in quieter, less expensive neighborhoods. Some lesbians question whether gay men, whom they supported fervently during the peak of the AIDS crisis, are reciprocating now with appropriate empathy for lesbian health problems.

"It never ceases to amaze me how much sexism there is among gay men, given that they're the main victims of sexism," said Kate Kendell, executive director of the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights.

National gay rights leaders -- men and women -- say the gender gap has narrowed dramatically from the 1960s and '70s, when lesbian feminists openly rebelled at what they considered to be patronizing male domination of the movement. Now, political solidarity is strong, but other differences remain.

In Chicago, for example, a gay men's group at the Broadway United Methodist Church recently invited two lesbians to one of its weekly meetings to discuss gender issues. The men and women each brought along a list of stereotypes they subscribed to -- for example, that lesbians craved to be phys-ed coaches, and gay men to be interior decorators -- and found the discussion refreshing.

"It felt so novel and unique," said Cathy Knight, one of the participants. "It's stuff you'd think we could talk about, but we don't."

The group leader, librarian Arlie Sims, said he gained insight about how lesbians view gay men. "It's not hard to see the ways in which being a white male carries with it privilege -- even if you're a gay white male," he said. "There's a sense that everything is about the boys."

Knight suggested that even if some stereotypes are accurate, they shouldn't serve to divide a community that needs unity.

"More lesbians are coupled, homebodies, they don't go to bars as much, and men are more sexually active," she said. "My response is, 'So what?' If that's what they choose, it doesn't have anything to do with having less moral values. It's about expressing yourself."

Evidence suggests that lesbians are indeed more drawn to monogamy than gay men -- two-thirds of the same-sex couples who have married in Massachusetts or entered civil unions in Vermont are women. But prominent lesbians balk at using such statistics to question the multi-partner dating preferences of many gay men.

"I don't have any judgment about how they order their lives," Kendell said. "Lifestyle choices that are damaging and self-destructive -- that's the problem, not gay men having more partners."

While gay men, as a group, have a higher incidence of drug abuse and sexually transmitted disease, activist Cheryl Jacques said lesbians shouldn't generalize or view the men as impeding political progress.

"I've met too many monogamous male couples and promiscuous, drug-using women I wouldn't want around my children," she said.

Jacques -- former president of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest national gay-rights group -- said she has met numerous activists who distrust the other gender.

"One of the best messages you can convey as a leader, is, 'Hey, the enemy is over there,"' Jacques said. "We are a family. We may have differences within our four walls. But we all share the enemy that wants to strip us of our common humanity."'

Never was the common bond more evident than in the worst of the AIDS crisis in 1980s, when lesbians doubled as caregivers and lobbyists on behalf of stricken gay men who were not getting all-out support from the political and health establishments.

"It was as if we were siblings, and you found out your brother is gravely ill and your parents pay no attention," Kendell said. "It was a life or death situation, and whatever the social differences were became totally irrelevant."

The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a rarity among major gay-rights groups in retaining a gender-specific name, even though it advocates on behalf of men, too, in pushing for same-sex marriage and other goals.

"That part of our name conveys a feminist philosophy and recognizes that sexism is the universal oppressor -- of gay men as well as lesbians," Kendell said.

At times, the discussion of gender can be lighthearted. Kendell, for example, joked that lesbians "don't have a social life -- it's just being soccer moms."

Paris Poirier, a lesbian filmmaker from Santa Monica, Calif., tackled gender stereotypes with a mostly light touch in a 1997 documentary, "Pride Divide" -- interviewing dozens of gay men and lesbians about differences in dating habits, humor, tastes in pornography. Among the stereotypes debated: that gay men were more witty in their conversation, more predatory in their sex lives, less serious in their relationships.

"I don't think lesbians are as whiny as they used to be," Poirier said in an interview. "There's a lot more freedom to talk about gender issues."

Shum Preston, a political consultant in San Francisco, said he and his partner of 13 years have been thrust into lesbian culture since they became co-parents of children with two lesbian couples.

"The friendship structure seems a lot stronger than in the gay male community," he said. "We're the longest surviving male couple I know, but in the lesbian culture we're just two more peas in the pod."

Bevan Dufty, who represents the heavily gay Castro district on San Francisco's Board of Supervisors, said the boom in gay parenting is forging a powerful new bond between lesbians and gay men raising children as they share advice and lobby for family-oriented services.

But the Castro's nightlife remains male-dominated, Dufty said, and the lesbians and gay men in his coed track club often divide by gender when dispersing for lunch after running together.

"I've had women say they don't feel welcome in parts of the community," Dufty said.

Matt Foreman, New York-based executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said the degree of interaction between lesbians and gay men varies by locality.

"Where there's not much interaction, the stereotypes, the jokes and the myths persist," he said. "I've been to places like Topeka, Kansas, where gay men and lesbians socialize together and have a good time, while in New York -- with the exception of some political and charitable events -- there's virtually no interaction."

Foreman also said gay-rights groups should place more focus on breast cancer and other women's health issues.

"I understand the frustrations of lesbians," he said. "They did so much to respond to the AIDS crisis and don't see a lot of reciprocity."

Amber Hollibaugh, senior strategist with Foreman's task force, said the gay community should strive for candor in addressing gender issues.

"We need to talk about this, and not think it's dangerous," she said. "There are real differences. ... and a lot of times, in order to achieve solidarity, people try to hide them."