By Rod Hensel, the Gayging Advocate
Back in the dark ages of the local Mattachine Society, we LGBT seniors can remember that one of the biggest problems we had was how the media portrayed “the homosexuals.” That memory whispers to me now that Donald Trump stands a good chance of being our next President.
Hillary Clinton is facing a tough media problem, one that held back gay rights for decades. It’s called false equivalency, and Wikipedia defines it as “a logical fallacy which describes a situation where there is a logical and apparent equivalence, but when in fact there is none.”
For example, in the seventies and eighties, it would not be unusual to see a debate on homosexuality led on one side by an Orthodox rabbi while the queer side was represented by someone from NAMBALA (the North American Man Boy Love Association). Which meant same-sex love was immediately equated with molesting little boys.
In Buffalo we had an evening talk show host named John Otto who with a smooth announcer voice and seemingly impeccable good manners took a special delight in bashing “my gosh, do I dare say pansies” with lies and old false claims. He had no trouble back then finding psychiatric professionals to claim “the twinkle toes” were mentally ill in debating local activists like Jim Haynes, Ron Silverio, Tom Hammond or Madalyn Davis who were invited on air to “defend” gay rights. When AIDS hit, Otto had a blast calling it a just punishment for homosexual behavior in general and promiscuity in particular.
It still goes on. Proponents of rights for transsexual people are forced to argue against a false equivalency of proper gender identification vs. peeping toms in rest rooms. The two sides are placed together on cable news because that’s “fair and balanced,” right?
Now we have elevated this false equivalency to the presidential campaign in which one candidate is a master manipulator of the media and one is a media-shy victim of scandals consistently proven false. Just watch the Trump spokespersons. In less than ten seconds they will turn a question on the latest Trump tweet of intolerance, secrecy and lies into a false equivalency on Hillary Clinton.
Why doesn’t Trump release his tax return vs. why doesn’t Hilary release her destroyed emails. Why does Trump praise Vladimir Putin as a leader vs. Hillary, a woman who is weak, sickly and without stamina. Why does Trump use other people’s money to give to charities in his own name vs. Bill and Hillary getting large speaking fees and possible (but never proven) charges of being influenced by contributors to the Clinton Foundation.
The media resorts to letting false equivalency happen — as opposed to pointing out facts — when there is an extreme imbalance between two opposing sides, one being at least reasonable and the other a distorted reality. They think if they point out the lie, the public will accuse them of taking sides, and that silence equals neutrality.
After the first presidential debate, Trumps lies were so outrageous some media outlets decided they were morally obligated to say bluntly that many statements by Trump and his surrogates are simple lies. But it might be too late. The Trump reps can now machine gun lies so rapidly interviewers don’t know where to start. And when they are challenged, these surrogates interrupt, shout and make new false charges until what was supposed to be a discussion on policies erupts into chaos.
If I have to tell you why Trump would be bad for LGBTQ people, I’m afraid I can’t help you. You must not have noticed that he is regularly appearing at rallies organized by the far right who advocate imprisoning, deporting or even killing LGBTQ people. Or you didn’t hear when he tells supporters “on day one we gotta get tough people, I mean real tough.” Even if you believe every word of the trash talk against Hillary, nothing comes even close to the kind of threat to the republic hinted at by Trump.
False equivalency in the media held back gay rights for decades generating shame and despair and causing thousands of suicides. False equivalency killed thousands of gay people as it made withholding funding on AIDS research seem a reasonable thing to do.
Trump has successfully manipulated the media so you will think that at the very least he and Clinton are equally bad. They are not. Trump is insane enough to circumvent the constitution, disband the Supreme Court and arrest members of Congress. These are the actions of his hero Vladimir Putin, and we have seen them carried out in rapid motion in Berlin in the 1930’s.
Even if Trump loses the election, there may be problems. Using false equivalency, he tells us his microphone was tampered with deliberately because “they” are so against him. That because things are rigged against him, “someone” might tamper with the voting process. And so he’s “not sure” he would accept the result of the election if he doesn’t win.
Using the illogic of false equivalency, Trump seeks to convince America that Hillary is the real liar and crook, not him. Trump wants you to be disgusted enough with “the system” that people won’t bother to vote.
It took the gay movement over 30 years to argue down all the false equivalencies hurled against us. Hillary has less than 30 days. If she doesn’t succeed, then once again LGBTQ people…and all minorities from Latinos to African Americans to fat women…will be the ones to suffer.
Rod Hensel is based in Buffalo, NY where he was a gay activist and Mattachine Society chapter president in the ’70’s and ’80’s. He later co-founded Stonewall Democrats of Western New York. He is currently helping to organize the SIlver Pride Project of the Pride Center of Western New York to address issues of concern to LGBT seniors, and writes on LGBT senior issues for Buffalo’s Loop Magazine. You can find him at facebook.com/rodney.hensel.