Tuesday, March 8, 2011

1994: Gay Rights Are Human Rights

This "Publisher's Rant" from the eleventh issue of the Tucson Comic News introduced the work of the brilliant cartoonist Alison Bechdel, who also blogs brilliantly here.

Meanwhile, we've come a long way since 1994; marriage equality is on the horizon, though it may not come soon enough for all concerned. A final end to legal discrimination against gay people may come down to the conscience of Anthony Kennedy - or the health of some of his colleagues.

As you may have noticed, last issue featured the final installment of Mark Alan Stamaty's brilliant "Washingtoon." Mr. Stamaty's work can now be found (in full color!) exclusively in the pages of Time magazine, once the flagship of the Henry Luce empire, now a cog in the Time/Warner multinational. I can't honestly say that I wouldn't have sold my soul to the same devil, given the chance.

In its place, I am proud to announce the arrival of Alison Bechdel's delightful feature, "Dykes to Watch Out For," which follows the lives of a dozen charming lesbians. As a cartoonist myself, I have long admired Alison's work, both for her expressive pen-and-ink work, and for the vitality of her characters. I've missed the soap opera of their lives since moving here, so I am pleased to introduce Alison and her cast of characters to Tucson.

It's also great to have another female cartoonist to, however marginally, attempt to correct the huge gender imbalance among my contributors.Out of some thirty cartoonists whose work I draw upon to assemble this paper, Alison is the, er, fourth woman. She joins Marian Henley ("Maxine!") on the feature pages, while Ann Telnaes, who was recently hired by the North America Syndicate, joins Pulitzer Prize winner Signe Wilkinson in storming the once all-male bastion of editorial cartooning [Note: Telnaes received the Pulitzer in 2001]. As this paper continues to grow, I'll do my best to try to bring more women's points of view into these pages.

The arrival of DTWOF in Tucson could not be more timely, given the recent bleatings of That Wacko from Phoenix. Mr. Meliti, or Malignancy, or whatever his name is, may or may not have had enough signatures to have placed an anti-gay rights initiative on the ballot, similar to the ones seen in Oregon and Colorado. The evidence would seem to argue against it, since he refused to show his boxloads of alleged signatures to any of the reporters at his press conference. Instead, he maintained that he would not file them, since "militant homosexuals" would have held up his initiative in court, then promptly announced that he was going to court himself, to challenge Tucson's 17-year-old gay rights ordinance. Given the preponderance of Reagan/Bush appointees in the federal judiciary, the ultimate fate of these legal battles is far from certain.

Whether or not he had his boxloads of signatures, no one should be deceived into thinking there are not plenty of folks in this state willing to vote to curtail gay rights. A more likely reason for the hesitancy is that, in an election year with both the Governorship and a Senate seat up for grabs, state GOP leaders were not anxious to place an issue on the ballot that is somewhat divisive among Republicans, but more importantly, would tend to draw progressive voters to the polls. This does not by any stretch mean that they won't try again in '96, perhaps packaged by someone more, say, photogenic than Meliti.

In any case, the presence of this kind of bigotry in our government should concern all of us, gay, straight and bisexual. It's more important than ever to take care to vote for officials who are committed to human rights. And make no mistake about it, gay rights are human rights; their curtailment diminishes us all. At the most fundamental level, the gay rights struggle is about the freedom to be employed and sheltered, and not to be beaten or killed for who you are; it doesn't get any more basic than that. Some rightwingers argue that these rights, at least, are not in dispute, but the thousands of hate crimes in our nation every year argue otherwise.

Since this kind of vicious oppression drives many homosexuals and bisexuals to hide one of the most fundamental parts of their character, you never know whether the next gay to be bashed won't be your best friend, your sibling, or your parent. Or, who knows, maybe even you, for walking or talking the wrong way.

Ultimately, this fight belongs to all of us. If the anti-gay activists get their way, they will have taken some rather large chunks out of our beleaguered Constitution: the First Amendment, which protects us from other people imposing their religious morality on society as a whole; our rights to privacy, as interpreted by various Supreme Court decisions from the language of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments; and above all, our right to do whatever we damn well please with our genitals, which I believe can be found in the fine print of the Tenth Amendment.

Well, if it isn't, it should be.

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