12 MONTROSE VOICE / NOV 11, 1983
Pop Culture and Gay Rights
By Dan Siminoski
For a long time, I have believed that the
expression of views on "public" issues in
media like film and music offers a special
way for political activists to build support
for their causes. If "culture" can be called
"political," it is most powerfully so in
First, it can bring attention to existing
problems in a way usually ignored in
mainstream political discource, and thus
involve us emotionally in the search for
solutions. Second, because of the artist's
freedom of expression, he or she is not
limited to the practical political agenda,
solutions or views of the future. An artist
defines problems more freely and has
greater latitude to define alternate policies, institutions, lifestyles and moral
codes. Last, and most urgent, the artistic
address to an audience is more direct than
a political one, it aims to the heart and
emotions, rather than the head and reason.
The result is that though the politician
may be more "correct" in analysis, the
artist strikes a deeper cord, creating pain
or fear or self-identification, urging us not
only to see the problem, but to live it for
Hopefully, this submersion into the
realm of the artist allows us to emerge
more sensitive to the problem, more open
to its discussion, and more likely to participate in its solution. Were Karl Marx to
comment, he would surely agree that "consciousness raising" is a necessary part of
any revolutionary program. I contend
that it plays an important role in gay
rights at the moment.
If we agree for a moment that culture
can speak politically, and its expression
can be used to promote a political movement, we are still left with a towering question. What is "gay culture?" The answer
seems to elude all of us. Whether or not
there is a unique gay aesthetic, the creation of a truly unique people or whether it
is only the product of a ghetto-ized sub-
community, are issues too large to tackle
in this column.
Happily, though, another standard
offers itself for this discussion, one not
based on who the artist is, but how effectively that person portrays gay life. This
You're Reading the
One of America s Major Gay Community
standard is the language adopted by the
Alliance for Gay Artists in the Entertainment Industry, which recently presented
its third annual media awards.
They are given to actors, writers and
production staffs in film, TV and theatre
for "the realistic portrayal of gay and lesbian characters and issues in the entertainment media." As did the earliest
Oscars and Tonys, these awards celebrated honesty and accomplishment without nervous nominees or declarations of
best anythings. Instead, they celebrated
the works that allowed audiences to experience three-dimensional gay and lesbian
people, that invited non-gays to experience our richness and difficulties and
that gave us the chance to see ourselves
onstage as we are in our private lives.
Among the most emotionally received
theatrical tributes were the late Jane
Chamber's play, Last Year at Bluefish
Cove, and the ensemble of actresses who
played it, Pat Carroll's solo performance
in Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein, Vincent Price's powerful version of Oscar Wilde in the one-man
Diversions and Delights, and Caryl Churchill's Cloud Nine, all productions of the
Los Angeles Theatre.
For what I consider the best film yet
made about the pains and rewards of coming out, John Sayles' Liana won, and
received special recognition for, the performances of Linda Griffiths and Jane Har-
aren. In television, award went to
Dynasty for the honest and routine way in
which the gay character Steven Carring-
ton was portrayed, and to PBS for its production of The Fifth of July, with Richard
Thomas and Jeff Daniels as the stable gay
couple—and probably the most "normal"
people in the play.
The awards evening was produced, written and directed by members of the
Alliance and was easily more entertaining
and crisply presented than the more familiar awards shows. I felt proud to be part of
The Alliance numbers about 250
members, its main percentage made up of
gay professionals. In addition to the
awards, year-round activities include
monitoring productions that focus on gay
life and working to eliminate stereotypes.
There are risks to open members of the
Alliance, as chairperson Chris Uszler
reminded the audience, the same risks
faced by every person who chooses to
reject the closet.
Speaking for himself and the Alliance,
Uszler affirmed that he would not be
intimidated: "I am not discouraged.. .no,
far from it, for I see a new generation of
gays and lesbians emerging in our history.... People who are willing to take
risks, refusing to pay the emotional price
of the closet, individuals who say 'I can be
myself, openly and freely, and I will work
in this town again!"
Whatever their background, sentiment
or sexuality, most artists speak to their
audience in metaphors rather than political tracts. If they are forced to create stereotyped charaters, most audiences will
believe them and extend them to the real
world. How short a time it is since any gay
character found in the media was ridicu
lous and disturbed! But if gay characters
were once one-dimensional and false, that
is less true each year.
The characters honored by the AGA
were complex, honest and wholly within
their dramatic context. Some were
extraordinary gay icons, like Stein and
Wilde, but most were ordinary people, like
you and me. Their sexuality was merely
an aspect of their makeup, not a constant
source of struggle and conflict. When
Americans can begin to see us in the
media in all our richness and variety, we
begin to close in on our political goals.
Dr. Siminoski is a political scientist and
has been active in the gay rights movement for about a decade. He may be written at 1221 Redondo Blvd., Los Angeles,
CA 90019. ©1983 Stonewall Features Syndicate.
• San Francisco
only $329 Round Trip
• San Diego
only $270 Round Trip
• Miami & Ft. Lauderdale
Gateways to Key West
as little as $229 Round Trip
(daily non-stops to Ft. Lauderdale eff. Nov. 1)
Certain travel restrictions may apply. Call your travel agent or Eastern Airlines in Houston at 738-8615.
EASTERN, Houston's oldest and largest major carrier
serving you since 1936.
America^ favorite way to fly.