Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer

San Francisco LGBT Pride Committee Throws a Pink Brick at Senator Roy Ashburn

Filed By Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer | April 23, 2010 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: Bisexual and Transgender Pride Committee, Pink Brick, Roy Ashburn, San Francisco Lesbian

The Ashburn200x316.JPGSan Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Committee awarded Roy Ashburn its Pink Brick yesterday. Roy Ashburn is the California state senator with an anti-gay legislative record who was arrested for drunk driving leaving a Sacramento gay bar in March. The Pink Brick is an award given to enemies of the LGBT community. (Previous winners have been Carrie Prejean and Bill O'Reilly.)

Though I don't believe we should be overlooking this guy's long record of homophobia -- and it's certainly not the time for forgiveness yet; he did after all pledge to continue to support anti-gay legislation -- I think that singling him out for special censure from the LGBT community is exactly the wrong tactic. It sends the wrong message to Mr. Ashburn, to the community, and to anyone struggling with his or her sexuality, whether it's an elderly homophobic politician or a 12-year-old kid.

It's always a difficult critique to frame. Of course, I understand the impulse to castigate Ashburn. I don't want to say "hands off!" Of course this guy should be held accountable for opposing LGBT rights at every turn, but it's bizarre to me how we let loose a special kind of vitriol in these cases where someone with a history of homophobia is found out to be queer.

We label it hypocrisy, which is absolutely wrong. It's not hypocrisy, it's a deep, painful shame that I think all of us remember. Haven't we all been that 8th grader who joins in extra loud when the boys are shouting "faggot!" at someone else, for fear of being found out, or because we held some desperate notion that if we shouted loud enough maybe it wouldn't really be true that we were faggots, too?

And I would guess that no matter how out and proud we are now, no matter how long it's been since we threw open the proverbial closet door and marched in our first pride parade, vestiges of that shame linger somewhere deep in our hearts. Because we understand that shame, can't we find some room for compassion for someone like Roy Ashburn, whose life has been so distorted by it? Accountability, yes, but compassion too? Because when we hurl daggers at Roy Ashburn, how many others like him do we push further into the closet?

I know it's controversial to hold this point of view these days when the number one item on the gay agenda is to convince everyone that we're exactly the same as everyone else, but I happen to still believe that one of the great blessings of growing up queer is that our status as pariahs gives us a special understanding of the outcasts of society, because we know what it's like to be marginalized. It's a huge generalization I know, and obviously not all of us are uniquely bighearted, but isn't compassion a quality to be encouraged, to be cultivated?

Maybe I lost you with all the talk about feelings, but even if you look at this in cold political terms, Roy Ashburn's outing provide us with a perfect moment to score political points. We can say, "This is what persecuting sexual minorities results in: a kind of self-loathing that leads people like Roy Ashburn to devote his career to throwing obstacles in the way of fulfillment for himself and anyone like him. We understand how this happens, we understand how the crushing shame of homophobia in our society can so distort a person's sense of self. This is why it needs to stop."

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"Haven't we all been that 8th grader who joins in extra loud when the boys are shouting "faggot!" at someone else, for fear of being found out, or because we held some desperate notion that if we shouted loud enough maybe it wouldn't really be true that we were faggots, too?"

Well, yes. But those of us who grew up and became men learned how to stand on our own two feet and demand justice. We didn't stay in the closet and legislate against our own community. This man is not only a hypocrite, he is a self-denying, self-righteous, immoral human being who doesn't deserve forgiveness or anything else from us.

Thanks Mykelb. You and Margaretpoa said it best.

We need to realize that homophobia and bigotry will never go away. Racism didn't magically vanish from this country when the Civil Rights Act was passed in the 60s. To this day, there remain organized groups and certainly people who quietly hate African-Americans (see Teabagger Party).

What has happened though is that society has, to a great extent, made racism unacceptable. It would be better if there were no racism, but we continue to move towards that goal party because everyone knows you will pay a societal price for expressed racism.

LGBT's are the last people around who can be discriminated against and taunted with very little societal punishment. The part about this guy being gay doesn't matter as much as what a bigot he's been in his life (public and otherwise).

Steven, you're a damn bleeding heart. Probably a tree hugger to boot.


Seriously, I think you make some excellent points. I'll be curious to see the responses.

Thanks, Sean. Yeah, I've hugged a tree or two. :-)

Margaretpoa Margaretpoa | April 23, 2010 3:33 PM

"I think that singling him out for special censure from the LGBT community is exactly the wrong tactic. It sends the wrong message to Mr. Ashburn, to the community, and to anyone struggling with his or her sexuality, whether it's an elderly homophobic politician or a 12-year-old kid."

Really? I can see that about a 12 year old kid but this guy put himself into public scrutiny voluntarily and with his eyes open. He knows that he is a self loathing closet case. He knows what kind of scrutiny public office invites. He knew what he was doing when he was writing and advocating homophobic policies in order to make him feel better about himself, appear absolutely straight to the people around him or a combination of both.
It's a huge struggle for almost all of us to come out and be who we really are and I'm not denying that. (Try being a transsexual in east Texas in the 60s and 70s!) For all of the efforts I made to fool both myself and others, I never held myself up as a stainless example of moral behavior and I sure as hell didn't make life difficult for already out LGBT persons around me. I'm against "outing" people against their will but that's not what happened here. This guy did everything himself with his eyes open. He doesn't deserve forbearance.

Michael @ | April 23, 2010 3:50 PM

"Kumbaya, my Lord, kumbaya. Kumbaya, my Lord, kumbaya! ...What? Why yes, thank you, Miss Manners, I'd love another S'more. But then I have to go beddy-by because we all need to get up early in the morning to go to the butterfly farm. Miss Manners, do you think butterflies go to heaven when they die? I sure want to because I want to see my hamster Pootie again. Kumbaya, my Lord, kumbaya....."

Haven't we all been that 8th grader who joins in extra loud when the boys are shouting "faggot!" at someone else, for fear of being found out

No... Most of us haven't. I never did that, and many people I've talked to didn't either. If anything we sat quietly by, stewing, and let others pick on the obvious ones. Later in life most of us still kick ourselves for not standing up earlier and confronting such people. Denial and self loathing is one thing. Attacking people like you to "hide" who you are is not only dumb, but self destructive.

Don't get me wrong, my heart goes out to a gay kid who does this because (s)he doesn't see another way out. In many cases kids don't have a way out, since they're trapped in the place they live. How many of use have moved away from our home towns to be somewhere more accepting, to start our life over again, where we can be out, and have more support. Once you're an adult (especially one making a comfortable living as a congress person) you should have figured out that you're hurting yourself and the community and STOP doing it. Either by taking a stand, or making a new start somewhere else.

Tell me, how far do you think a straight man would get with women if he were publicly fighting for legislation to remove their rights? Not just letting it happen, but actively voting for such bills, pushing their promotion, and publicly calling for women to return to the home to be subservient to their husbands? Why should we cut this guy slack as he actively continues to remove our rights, while at the same time is coming into our community looking for a partner (or sex)?

Make no mistake: It's not like he came out, and is now going to swing his vote to match who he is. He's saying he will continue to vote against the interests of the gay community while trying to become it's latest member. Sorry, but to me that's not showing much in the way of remorse, redemption, or common sense. If I owned the local gay bar, he'd be banned until he at least came to the realization that he should be supportive of the community he want's to desperately get drunk and take part in.

Sometimes the support people need to realize they're on the wrong track is a swift kick in the junk. It's a painful way to learn, but it's also very quick and conveys the message clearly. If he changes his tune, and starts to accept the community then we can hug him and pull him in. But if he wants to keep kicking us in the junk, I say a nice game of roshambo is in order.

NO NO NO NO and Double NO I have not one ounce of sympathy as advocated by some of the responses written to date. Sure some of us were the loud mouthed kid but we matured. We came to grips with our own sexuality. Most of us can be proud of who we are today no matter how badly we may have acted in our adolescence years Some chose the soap box while others choose to remain quietly in our neighborhoods. While Ashburn frequents gay bars by night under the cover of darkness he chooses to live a homophobic life 24/7. By day he writes and advocates laws that are totally against his own sexual orientation. He sees this as a method to protect the image that looks back from his mirror. Closet case that he may be just to prove to those around him that he ain't one of THOSE FAGGOTS and to prove it he discriminates against the LGBT community. Ashburn is a total hypocrite to himself, his staff, and his mentors. The Pink Brick is well deserved and timely. I hope that he is happy now that he has been outed. Not by his own choice but by the letter of the law and a DUII. The fact remains that he has been outed and not by the Gay community by getting caught with his proverbial pants down. Now there are those of you who wish to equate him to that immature 8th grade 12 year old but this is a mature man (so to speak) and the fact that we didn't out him for his hypocrisy before this speaks volumes for the rest of us who have known or suspected all along that the most homophobic be they family, a parent or a sibling, just who and what they were usually long before that one would come close to getting real with life. Ashburn is a sad example of the reality of self loathing ones own image. He knew all along that he was gay and he proved it quite handsomely. He isn't that kindly uncle who got married just because that was what they did. He isn't the high school jock or the kid down the block waiting for High School. He is something of a kin to Enis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain who got 20 years of hating himself only to come to grips with so much water under the bridge of life. Pity him if you must he made his own bed I hope that he is happy in it. So let’s keep an eye on his legislation now that everyone knows what he is. California you can keep him we have enough bigots up north.

"Haven't we all been that 8th grader who joins in extra loud when the boys are shouting "faggot!" at someone else, for fear of being found out, or because we held some desperate notion that if we shouted loud enough maybe it wouldn't really be true that we were faggots, too?"

Actually no. I knew right from wrong at that point and never engaged in this sort of thing. I also knew who I was at that point. I can't agree that he should be treated with any consideration in this matter. And I feel no kinship to him or his problems but I do feel kinship with the people whom he has hurt and has pledged to continue hurting.

He deserves much worse than a symbolic "You're a jerk award." It has nothing to do with fear of the closet or his own issues about his sexuality. It's just about being an enemy to our community.

He's voted against us consistently, regularly puts out anti-gay speech, actively tries to legislatively remove our rights, etc. Just because he's a queer too doesn't give him special exemptions.

Apparently, I haven't been clear. I am not arguing that Ashburn be given a pass on his homophobia. Compassion doesn't mean turning a blind eye.

I am saying that there is a meaningful difference between someone like, say, Maggie Gallagher, whose homophobia comes from small-mindedness, ignorance, and a warped Christianity, and someone like Ashburn, who has a more complicated relationship to homophobia. Throwing the same kind of scorn (and usually even more of it) at people like Ashburn that we throw at Gallagher misses the point.

Ashburn is a homophobe, but he is also a victim of homophobia. He experiences same-sex desire, just like many of us. We have that in common with him whether we claim it or not. He is us, and that fact presents us with a chance to show the world how homophobia fucks people up. Demonizing and shunning him robs us of that opportunity.

Michael @ | April 24, 2010 4:52 PM

No points for creativity! Are you sure you're gay?

I say we can "show the world how homophobia fucks people up" AND ALSO "demonize and shun him!"

Steven please say it ain't so. Ashburn is not a victim of homophobia; he is a victim of hating himself for what he is as a gay man. He knows who he is by choosing to frequent Gay Bars and pick up men for sex. He is not the Maggie's of the world in small mindedness he knows all to well who he really is. The homophobia that he expresses is simply his self imposed method of running for cover lest his staff, his constituents, and his mentors know the truth about how he was conceived in the womb of his mother. Whether or not you believe that one or the other of his parents was responsible for either the egg being a gay man or woman, a heterosexual man or woman, or anything in-between. Whether or not you choose to believe that it was the sperm of his father. The fact remains that we are who we are not how we were raised. We are not really far beyond racism with the passage of the civil rights of the 1960’s. We are in the midst of finally refusing to be the scapegoat of second or third class citizens. It will take years more as I see it to get where the civil rights has gone ahead of us over that past 50 years since we are vulnerable to believing within ourselves that the Religious Right can legislate against us. We alone give them that power by the numbers of our community choosing to go along to get along. Ashburn has single handedly set our movement back to the 1950’s but at least the dark alleys of Philadelphia gave our movement character. At least Stonewall set precedent to our movement in New York City. It is high time that we get on with life and demand equal rights then maybe there wouldn’t be the perceived notion that we need to hide from ourselves. Saying this is to me seen as being the greatest of problems we face in today’s world. I certainly was hoping when I read the original letter on Ashburn that someone was going to yell out, April Fools Gotcha. It seems to me that compassion for this man goes well beyond the scope of the Gay Community with good reason. It seems to me that the Pink Brick is a weak wristed yet all too timely and tame response by our community. So either Ashburn in retribution goes back to Sacramento with a newly found hit list to get even with himself with even more gusto. We if need be can and should elect our own representative to replace him. Sending him into retirement where he belongs attempting to right this man’s diatribe that he has brought upon himself for the most selfish of reasons.

Maybe I shouldn't chime in but if this guy was a mosquito I'd swat him. He is full of your blood.

Margaretpoa Margaretpoa | April 24, 2010 11:50 PM

I am saying that there is a meaningful difference between someone like, say, Maggie Gallagher, whose homophobia comes from small-mindedness, ignorance, and a warped Christianity, and someone like Ashburn, who has a more complicated relationship to homophobia.

I agree! Ashburn is worse, way worse than Gallagher. Gallagher has an excuse for being a narrow minded, bigoted asshole. It's not a good excuse but her hate is entirely ignorance driven. Ashburn, on the other hand, loathes us because he loathes himself and misery loves company. He, being gay, has no excuse, however bad, for his behavior.

I believe that Steven C-M, the author, has stated that he is not gay or homosexual. I think he said his sexuality is too complex for labels. Also Steven says Ashburn has "same sex" desires. Surely he means same gender desires. We no longer say same sex because it implies genitalia. We say same gender because attraction is to the signs of gender and not the specifics of sex that people should be attracted so not to exclude anyone through prejudice against gender-discordant accidents of physical sex.

I'm going to hold fast to my optimism about the human race and assume you folks who commented here are not representative of anything but the bitterest among us. All I can say is that I hope I'm never on a sinking ship with you guys commandeering the lifeboat.

Margaretpoa Margaretpoa | April 25, 2010 11:59 AM

Sorry that you feel that way. I'm probably much more liberal than almost anybody you've met. My compassion is only limited by my resources. I am so pro single payer that anything less is an unacceptable sell out. I would happily give up my spot in your hypothetical lifeboat for someone who can't swim as well as I can. In point of fact, I once voluntarily gave up my claim on a really good job for which I and one other candidate were equally qualified because he had children to feed and support and I did not. I wasn't asked to, even the other candidate hadn't suggested it and I really needed that job but I told the company owner that I was withdrawing my candidacy and why.

That being said, I'm not likely to call an arsonist to put out my house if it's on fire, I'm not going to consider setting up a monthly contribution to somebody who just robbed me, I'm not going to load the gun for a person who wants to shoot me. Compassion is one thing but I don't have to suffer from Stockholm Syndrome to display it.

Margaret, your response makes clear to me the misunderstanding of my argument. You are obviously a charitable person, but compassion does not mean charity. Compassion is the capacity (or the willingness) to feel what someone else is feeling. No matter how despicable Ashburn may be (and I happen to agree that he's pretty despicable), I believe his homophobic actions are motivated by shame.

I won't try any more to speak for others, but I know that I have at times in my life felt intense pain associated with shame. I know what it's like to hate oneself because one is homosexual.

I think we learn more and we make more progress in solving disputes when we make an effort to identify with and understand our "enemies" rather than demonizing them and putting them in some fictional category of "other."

Margaretpoa Margaretpoa | April 25, 2010 1:57 PM

I know what it's like to hate oneself because one is homosexual.
And I know what it's like as well, (well for hating myself for being transsexual anyway). Please understand that I'm not trying to be down on you, you are doing what to you is the right thing. One of my weaknesses is that yes, I can be bitter and hold onto grudges and I experienced a whole world of pain and violence in my time. I can't change that or the effect it's had on me, I wouldn't be who I am and I mostly like who I am now.
The short version is that you're a better person than I but I wouldn't be who I am if I felt the way you do and that's okay too. Peace. :-)

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | April 25, 2010 3:39 PM

The question is solved by unraveling the definition of homohating behavior from the various social and psychological problems that produce it.

Homohating bigotry is functional. It's functionality, irrespective of motive, is to harm the LGBT communities. Politicians, Democrat and Republican, have all sorts of slimy reasons for being functional bigots but we have to be clear that those who harm us are our enemies. There are no set limits on what we should do politically to even the score.

Politics is about power and what might be correct for a psychological treatment program is rarely appropriate for political life.

It all boils down to this, who really gives a rat's ass why kapos become kapos.

"The German concentration camps depended on the cooperation of trustee inmates who supervised the prisoners. Known as Kapos, these trustees carried out the will of the Nazi camp commandants and guards, and were often as brutal as their SS counterparts."

I largely agree, though not on every detail.

I think Bil's comment makes it the clearest when he says that the award is about Ashburn's voting record, because it's so obviously not. I'm sure there are another dozen or two CA state senators who have the same voting record, and have had that record for years, and none of them have ever gotten this award. People think there's something special about Ashburn's homophobia that makes it worse.

I know, if he's gay, he should know better, but he is and he didn't. So now we're left saying that a gay man doing the exact same thing as a straight man is worse specifically because of his sexuality. Is that the position we want to be debating this from when we have a golden opportunity to change the way this politician votes?

Oops, didn't notice the comment previous to mine compared someone to Nazis and the current situation in for gays California (everything but the M-word!) to the Holocaust. Godwin's Law, amirite?

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | April 26, 2010 6:03 AM

Yes and no, Alex.

Yes, I do think the term Kapo is a sufficiently disrespectful analogy for the role of political quislings.

No, I didn't compare the political in California to Dachau or Treblinka. Whatever gave you that silly idea?