Mon, Nov 08, 2004 - Page 7 News List

US gay community left reeling in wake of poll

REJECTED Some say the community is facing its worst crisis in years, after US voters showed strong opposition to gay marriage and re-elected an anti-gay president

THE OBSERVER , LONDON

In the bars and cafes of Dupont Circle, the center of Washington DC's gay scene, the mood is funereal. The American gay community, already reeling from a "broad and widespread assault" under a Bush presidency, now feels under siege from the country itself.

A week before polling day Washington hosted its annual High Heels Race, a sprint by drag queens that drew large and noisy crowds, both gay and straight. It was a moment of celebration, alive with the optimistic anticipation of a Kerry victory.

This weekend, after 11 states voted strongly against gay marriage and civil unions and elected Republicans who had run "gay-baiting" campaigns, gay advocates are talking about their worst crisis since the administration of Ronald Reagan or even the Stonewall riots of 1969.

Some are talking about leaving the US for good. Performance artist Tim Miller fought a high-profile funding battle with the National Endowment for the Arts that went to the Supreme Court. After traveling to Britain today for a series of shows, he says he may not return. The Californian, like thousands of gay Americans, is caught in a double bind: he is in a country he feels is rejecting him, and in a relationship with a partner who the authorities will not allow to live in the US without the protection of marriage or civil union, which it is not prepared to give.

"My partner has a UK passport," Miller said. "We are never sure whether he can stay. What little political hope we had for change has been wiped out. On Monday there were limits on Bush's power. On Tuesday night we had to have a serious conversation about whether we wanted to carry on struggling and feeling like third-class citizens.

"We have this overblown idea here that we live in the freest country in the world. But in reality we are scraping the barrel with our rights. When I pack to travel to London tomorrow it is going to have a real poignancy. We are used to setbacks, but this time it has hit people hard. It is just despair."

That sentiment seems to be reflected across the US, despite figures suggesting a significant minority of 23 percent of gay voters -- almost a million -- voted for Bush, a fact causing bafflement on gay Web sites.

"Eyes are not just on the next four years," says Jonathan Katz, a professor of gay history at Yale University, "but on the composition of the Supreme Court which, if it swings to the right, has the potential to wreak havoc for gay rights. It is the worst moment since Reaganism. I only console myself that this has been largely about gay marriage, which was not even an issue 10 years ago."

Katz worries that anti-gay political rhetoric will lead to a resurgence of homophobic violence.

"The culture now is like it was in the early 1980s, and I fear we will start seeing what we saw then," Katz said.

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