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Michelangelo Signorile reminds us why 'It's Not Over'
by Sarah Toce
2015-04-22

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Sirius XM radio personality and HuffPost Gay Voices vertical editor Michelangelo Signorile begins his book "It's Not Over" with a word of caution: he is not going to please everyone. In fact, he makes this point abundantly clear when he explains that there are trans issues he can't personally speak to, women's issues he can't rightfully construct on his own, and a plethora of dialogue that still needs to exist outside of the realm of literature to make sense of the most common threads that unite ( and divide ) us all. The LGBT umbrella is vast and inclusive, but also narrow and limiting.

"We're a lot of little movements within a movement and we intersect and come together when there's something that really can affect all of us. And what happens - and sometimes it gets noisy and sometimes it can get a little tense — is we do educate each other, eventually, on our issues. And I think that transgender activists have done an enormous amount really helping to educate not just the wider world, but people within the gay community. And I think a lot more of that has to happen; I think a lot of us as gay men need to be educated about women's issues - and lesbians have done that, but we need to educate each other about that, too," he said. "So I think we do come together as one, but I think the differences are important, because it helps us to educate each other, too, and to be able to then speak to these issues in the wider public."

Signorile added, "Writing this book, I wouldn't know how to address some of the issues regarding transgender rights if women and transgender people did not educate me about some of those."

The internal structural fights and caveats that oftentimes separate us as facets of the larger LGBT scope are nothing in comparison to what happens throughout the patchwork of states regarding civil rights laws.

"We need to fight in the states in a big way. Because as long as our enemies are able to organize in one place they're organizing everywhere against us; they're still promoting hate, and they're still affecting young people and putting out the idea that it's shameful to be gay. No matter where those young people live, right? Even if they're in a state where there are protections, we're still seeing kids who have supportive parents and they're taking their lives…So this hate being out there, anywhere, affects all of us," Signorile said.

Signorile added that there is an ongoing need to focus media attention on real representation.

"Really focusing on culture, both media and popular culture, to represent us in a real way and not in the sort of what I call 'the comfort way,' which is just sanitized and nice and sexless, and, you know, not really showing full diversity. It hurts us in so many ways, because it doesn't reflect who we are, but - you can point to how it affects us with regard to HIV - it's not even existent in the lives of characters on television who are gay; young people who are gay really face the reality of it, but they don't really get that message that it's a real issue," he said.

Verbiage has a tendency to get in the way at times — a sure sign that the overall movement is growing and maneuvering into its older skin.

"Words can be a tricky thing, because you don't want to make people invisible, while at the same time it can be cumbersome to just say something over and over again," he said.

Signorile speaks of the proverbial "glass closet" in his book; a "safe" space that is really unsafe for everyone involved.

"It's really so important for young people to see these public figures who are open and comfortable and who thrive and do well. I think that's the important thing for them to see and when they look at what we call the 'glass closet' and they know these people are gay, I think that sends an even worse message, because everybody says, "Oh, everybody knows that person's gay, but that person won't talk about it.' So what is the message that's sent? That you should not talk about it, that you should keep it hidden, that you should lie — I think that shows how far we haven't come," he said.

Being that 2016 is right around the corner, Signorile issued caution.

"I think we should be concerned whether there's a republican president in 2016 or 2020, or whenever, and we should be concerned about the courts and the Supreme Court. We should be concerned about the states — no matter what happens in the presidential election, the vast majority of states right now have republican governments and they are very, very conservative, many of them, and very anti-gay," he said. "And with relation to the issue of women's rights and African-American people's rights as well, we've seen a backlash against both that has allowed opponents within the republican party to chip away at those rights; to take back the rights that people thought were a given; the Voting Rights Act. And with women it's not just abortion, it's pay equity — we're still dealing with the issue of pay; or even rape culture and other issues on campus, I mean it's still all going on."

There seems to be a distinct disconnect between feeling inclined to accept change because it's due and actually working tirelessly for that change and expecting nothing in return.

"I think what people don't realize is that they think it's inevitable or there's this natural justice that comes. We are lucky, we're very lucky that there is one man on the Supreme Court who happens to think we should have some rights even though he is not friendly toward women and African-Americans — and that is Justice Kennedy. If not for him we would be in the same boat, wouldn't we? And that Supreme Court can change at any time. It's not pre-ordained, and it all can roll back; and some of what we have is just because of one person on the Supreme Court. You know, the Loving vs. Virginia ruling was 9-0 — we're not going to get a 9-0. So I think if people could just wake up to that and see the backlash against other groups, how it happened and then realize how that could be us, it could be a wake-up call," he said.

A wake-up call that has been going on for years is what happens behind the walls at the Conservative Political Action Conference ( CPAC ) and Value Voters forums.

"I have a chapter in 'It's Not Over' talking all about how I've seen republicans organize around these religious liberty bills at these conventions — like the Conservative Political Action Conference and Value Voters — and I think for them they just go back to the laboratory and they'll go back to those conferences and reorganize and everything they do is a trial balloon — like Arizona was a trial balloon, that didn't work; they thought they had it right with Indiana and Arkansas; they did manage to get it done in Mississippi and nobody paid attention…They did get this horrendous law passed in Arkansas and nobody paid attention where they rescinded any ability to have anti-discrimination ordinances," Signorile said. "I think they continue and they rely on a few things — they rely on tinkering and refining these [religious freedom] bills; they rely on the media being busy and not paying attention; or big business, for whatever reason, not being interested — because we can't figure out still why Walmart didn't speak out on that bill in Arkansas, the original one, but now spoke out on the religious liberties one, which really is not the most dangerous one compared to the other one."

As in anything, timing is everything.

"I think they rely on the timing, too, and I guess all the factors aligned against them in Indiana. So they'll just move on, they'll hope that there's less attention, they'll hope to refine the bills more; for example, now they're focused on Louisiana. They think they have a better shot there, they're making the bill more about marriage specifically so that it doesn't seem like it's just about throwing people out of a restaurant or something like that — it's just going to be about anything related to marriage, which sounds crazy, but you see what I mean? They'll keep trying different things. And they'll rely on a governor who maybe won't back down. Bobby Jindal seems like he's determined, right?"

The tone of "It's Not Over" is cautionary, with well-earned celebratory flash mob breaks. It's a reckoning — and a bargaining. It's tit for tat, and all of that.

"The book is focused on how we've been enormously successful, and I certainly say that right up front, but that, as I say in the first chapter, there's a victory blindness where we don't really — we get so intoxicated by the victories that we don't see the bigotry that lies ahead and that is a trap, because it's what allows the backlash to continue; and then I pretty much go into what that backlash is. But that last part of the book is what I really want people to also see: that there are real world solutions that we could all engage in, together and separately, to fight this off and to beat back our enemies; but it means remaining engaged and organizing."


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