GENRE

MAY 1994, PAGES 29-35

RADICAL RITES

By Karen Ocamb

Four months ago Charles Volz came out with a flourish. The 41-year-old gay man stood in the freezing cold with a dozen friends handing out 500 pro-gay pamphlets at the pro-life movement's 20th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. An estimated 50,000 Right to Lifers had gathered to protest the Supreme Court's 1973 decision granting women the right to an abortion.

Volz didn't know what to expect. But knowing that the pro-life movement is heavily made up of Catholics, Christian fundamentalists, and conservatives who do not accept homosexuality, the Philadelphia attorney was braced for trouble. "It was memorable because the negative comments we received were so few as to be unique," he says. "We heard no anti-gay remarks. I was very surprised and gratified by the reaction."

Perhaps the pro-lifers were in shock. After all, Volz and friends stood under a five-foot banner in "subtle shades of purple and neon pink" featuring a huge gay triangle with an antiabortion symbol in the middle promoting the Pro-Life Alliance of Gay and Lesbians. The literature was a reasoned plea to the antiabortion marchers to reevaluate their "cliquish and unwelcoming attitude" toward pro-life lesbians and gays.

"Nothing in any survey or opinion research suggests that Gay and Lesbian Americans are necessarily any less Pro-Life than heterosexual Americans," the literature, written by Volz, read. "To the contrary, save for issues involving sexual orientation, Lesbians and Gays share the same views in the same percentages as the general population. Do those who believe that groups like 'ACT UP' represent all Gays and Lesbians also believe that NOW [National Organization for Women] represents all women and that Louis Farrakhan speaks for all African-Americans? Such a stereotyping attitude provides a security blanket for those who are not only convinced that their lifestyle is entirely correct and righteous but that all 'right-thinking' individuals necessarily think similarly....

"Indeed, boiled down to basics, the message of the Lesbian and Gay community and the Pro-Life movement is the same: All human life deserves protection and respect simply because it is human."

Homosexual Right to Lifers. Gays against abortion. It's not a linkage that springs readily to mind. For years lesbian and gay activists have forged coalitions with women's groups based on the shared belief that other people while entitled to their opinions have no right to legislate private morality. It should be the woman's decision about what happens with her own body, say pro-choice advocates. She should have the right to choose whether or not to have a baby. Otherwise it's governmental interference in an individual's right to privacy.

Gay rights advocates agree, noting that state sodomy laws make it illegal for lesbians and gay men to sexually express themselves. The government, these advocates say, is mandating what gays can and cannot do with their own bodies, even though they may be consenting adults in the privacy of their own bedrooms.

But for members of the four-year-old Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians (PLAGAL), abortion rights and gay rights are not inextricably linked. In fact, these gays argue, lesbians and gays should feel more affinity for the pro-life movement.

"Being Right to Life is not an issue of putting private morality on others," says Philip Arcidi, a 34-year-old "liberal" architectural journalist from Boston. "Being Right to Life is an issue of allowing every individual to deter mine their own life. Being Right to Life is recognizing that every human life, simply because it is a human life, is inherently valuable. Gays have had their lives revoked for moralistic reasons. Our lives are deemed less than worthy, less valuable. I believe the unborn for utilitarian reasons are deemed less valuable. But they face the worst consequence: the end of their lives."

Joe Beard, 47, PLAGAL's "right-wing" outspoken secretary-treasurer, is more blunt. "Once you come to the conclusion that the fetus is a human being, it changes the whole thing." Beard dismisses the right to privacy argument, saying "they" would interfere "in the personal lives of the KKK [Ku Klux Klan] and of people who murder other people." And besides, the woman "had the option to use contraception. It's a choice she made to take the risk of bringing a new life into existence. She can't then decide to kill it after the fetus comes alive at conception."

Beard, who converted to Roman Catholicism because of his pro-life stance, became a "civil rights management" attorney in 1981 "challenging the use of racial quotas" in North Carolina school admissions. He says gays in particular should be concerned about abortion. "It is fast becoming clear that there is a genetic predisposition for homosexuality, if not a genetic cause. Anything genetic can be determined prenatally," he says. "That becomes a very real question of whether abortion used in the not too distant future will relieve us of having to put up with an unfair society. We will be bashed in the womb."

He challenges the conscience of the gay community. "Are gay and lesbian rights worth the deaths of a million and a half human beings a year?" he asks, citing what he says are Planned Parenthood abortion figures. "Is this not a pact with evil that will haunt the gay and lesbian community? How many babies would you kill in order to be able to sleep with your boyfriend?"

Thirty-eight-year-old librarian Steve Cook from San Jose, California, embraced his pro-life beliefs long before he accepted his bisexuality. Since he "values human life in all issues," his pro-life stance is consistent with having been a teenage Vietnam War conscientious objector and being against nuclear weapons and the death penalty. He believes "medical information" proves that 21 days into pregnancy there is "a beating heart" and "brain waves that can be measured in the fetus. Every abortion stops a beating heart." Cook also believes that the "right to privacy" is fallacious. "Abortion denies the privacy rights of the fetus," he says. "If this is a privacy issue, why do pro-abortion advocates want government funding of a private act? They're forcing other citizens to pay for what is viewed as a private act they don't agree with. The existence of the unborn child as a human life makes it a public policy issue."

Richard Colbert, president of the gay Republican Log Cabin Club's Los Angeles chapter, which has officially endorsed pro-choice positions, believes this "sensitive issue" should not be a public policy football. He has witnessed how the radical right has wielded the issue to dominate debates at Republican Party conventions, trampling basic libertarian tenets of limited government, respect for rights of privacy, personal freedom, and individual responsibility.

"I believe you can have a deeply felt conviction about being pro-life and at the same time respect and support equal rights for gays and lesbians. Things don't always fit into nice, neat packages," he says. "But this is not a debate where either side can win. Perhaps it shouldn't even be debated at the level of political platforms and political rhetoric for the same reason gay and lesbian issues shouldn't be bandied about as devices for these right wing activist organizations who are only using the issue to gain power, infiltrate the party infrastructure, and raise money. It doesn't belong in a political platform as far as I'm concerned. One can be pro-choice and oppose federal funding for abortion. It has to do with having respect for who has to make that incredible decision."

On the other hand, Elizabeth Birch, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Board of Directors Board Co-Chair, thinks having gay people express common pro-life and religious beliefs might open the eyes of non-allies.

"Gay and lesbian people are just as likely to speak in tongues as to speak at a pro-choice rally," she says. "I've been saying for years that we need to find gay and lesbian evangelists, Pentecostals, and Baptists who are willing to talk about receiving Christ as their personal savior. They need to talk about how everything about their lives is steeped in the evangelical movement and that they are gay and lesbian people. They might have done a more thoughtful analysis of the Bible and get across the over all message that the Scriptures are clearly about love."

That seems to be Cook's experience. In 1978 at a shopping mall in Pasadena, California, he signed up with National Right to Life, the largest "mainstream" anti-abortion organization. He subsequently moved north, became involved with their local chapter, came out of the "second closet," by picketing at the Planned Parenthood clinic in San Jose. His rainbow-colored sign read: "Killing Children Never Advances Gay Rights: Pro-Life, Pro-Gay." He want ed the media and people on both sides to know that not all gays were pro-choice.

Cook's bisexuality is "not an issue" with the California Pro-Life Council, says its president, Betsy Powell. In fact Cook has "helped me break some stereotypes. I'm delighted to be able to work together with PLAGAL for the cause of life," though she concedes they make "strange bedfellows." On other issues they "agree to disagree."

The California Pro-Life Council, the 44-year-old mother points out, is nonpartisan and nonsectarian. "This single issue allows us to cut across a number of boundaries that would keep us apart and splinter us endlessly." She says there have been occasions when Right to Lifers have returned from a protest at an abortion clinic and derogatorily complained about gays who spit at them. But Cook's presence reminds them that not all gays are alike. Additionally, she says, Cook has been able to "open doors" and bring the council and the Right to Life message into areas where they might not otherwise be invited.

Powell also evokes the futuristic scenario of aborting a fetus genetically determined to be homosexual. "Over the next decade it is very apparent that pro-lifers will be some of the most outspoken in protecting the interests of gay people. If and when they come to the point of identifying the gay gene, it will be pro-lifers who say these babies have a right to life too." Pro lifers are also the ones sticking up for AIDS patients who are "very vulnerable" when it comes to a reformed health care system that might deny them the right to receive life-saving treatments.

Meanwhile, says Arcidi, if you look at American society over the past few decades, "the trend is to broaden the scope of people who are guaranteed equal treatment under the law. That applies to race, gender, and sexual orientation. So to withdraw equal rights on the basis of one's residence the fetus in the womb goes against the trend of liberalism."

Some of his friends, Arcidi admits, are uncomfortable with his openness about his sexuality. But, he says, "I believe that if we can show the world that being gay is simply part of our lives, people will understand that being gay is simply part of society period."

Volz agrees. He came out because all his life he was open and aboveboard about everything except his homo sexuality, and he felt bad about it. But he expected his credentials in the pro-life movement to ensure him the respect he'd earned. After all, "I didn't get to choose being gay but I absolutely chose pro-life."

Volz's first involvement with the anti-abortion movement came December 8, 1984, when attorney Theresa Connolly called and asked if he would defend protesters arrested in Philadelphia's "first rescue" at the Northeast Women's Clinic. He said yes immediately, "flabbergasted that there was an abortion clinic in my neighborhood and I didn't know it. I overcompensated."

"A closet pro-lifer" and an attorney since graduating from Rutgers Law School in 1977, Volz was so successful in defending anti-abortion protesters that Operation Rescue's Randall Terry called him for help when no one else would represent him. This "triggered something" in Volz that catapulted him into action. He became the president of a crisis pregnancy clinic (a shelter with 25 beds), went into debt, became the "adoptive father of two barely spared from the holocaust, a godfather to a child rescued at an abortion clinic," and a pregnancy counselor.

Volz was also a Horatio Alger cover boy. Born into a Philadelphia blue-collar Catholic family, his father was a fireman, his mother a bank teller he has worked hard every day since he was 17 to become a success. Married and divorced from a Jewish pro-lifer, he was a closeted gay "happily married" to his second wife until she died of breast cancer in March 1989, leaving him with their four-month old adopted daughter. He since adopted a second child from the same birth mother.

Volz believes that most of his friends in the pro-life movement knew he was gay before he came out but felt that sexuality is a personal matter. He also speculates that they didn't care because "a lot of the darlings of the conservative movement turned out to be gay." He has since joined the board of the Log Cabin Club.

"I think pro-life gays and the Log Cabin Club serve a crucial part of the gay agenda. If gays are to be accept ed by mainstream America, we have to be accepted by things we hold in common. We all know how we differ," he says. He also thinks gays have "a certain nihilistic attitude" and "devaluing of life" that has "led to almost the self destruction of the gay community," Respect for the unborn will encourage gays to value their own lives, he says.

It's the "gay agenda" that bothers Volz's colleague Philadelphia Christian Action Council President Bill Devlin.

"As a pro-family public policy organization, we certainly welcome anyone into the pro-life movement," says Devlin. "However I view PLAGAL with a great deal of skepticism. In my dealings with the homosexual community here in Philadelphia, there has been quite a bit of grand standing. Is this one more opportunity for the homosexual community to use the media as a platform to promote their agenda rather than the agenda of the pro-life movement?

"I am coming from my position that homosexuality is a lifestyle of choice not a genetic determination," Devlin says. "I am not a Heterosexual for Life. I'm in the pro-life

movement because I deeply care about women and children. I'm not waving a personal flag about my sexuality. I'm willing to lose who I am within the greater corpus of the pro-life movement. My concern is that these are the same junkies like ACT UP and Larry Kramer and Grassroots Queers, and I wonder about PLAGAL's motivation. Is this one instance of grandstanding by the homosexual community to put sexual choice before women and children?"

Devlin says the strong alliance between Philadelphia's pro-abortion community (the fifth largest in the U.S., he says) and the homosexual community "makes sense since one group bypasses life and the other short circuits it." Besides, he says, since the "average age of death" for gay men is 42, "why should gays promote life for the unborn child yet not promote life" within their own community?

As for Volz, Devlin says "his credentials are not the issue." They've been to some protests and meetings together and Devlin is glad for Volz's pro- life commitment. But he finds it "dichotomous and mutually exclusive" that Volz would be a practicing homosexual. "I think Chuck is confused about his sexuality, and hopefully he will practice life within his own life. I appreciate Chuck. But if he's actively engaging in receptive anal intercourse, he doesn't want life."

Ironically Tammy Bruce, 31, the lesbian feminist executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of NOW, agrees with Devlin in questioning PLAGAL's motives and members. "This is a typical tactic of the religious right to divide and conquer. Suddenly these gay people are there and no one explains why they're not seen and known in the gay community."

A 10-year front-line veteran of pro-choice demonstrations, Bruce says one tactic used by pro-lifers is to have people pose as patients, make appointments, then suddenly call off the abortion, saying "I've changed my mind. I believe them." There is also plenty of historical evidence of self-hating gay people, Bruce says. The closeted Roy Cohn (who worked with closeted FBI director J. Edgar Hoover) "was one of the best gay-bashers and haters in the nation's history."

Several people challenged the six PLAGAL members who participated in the 1993 March on Washington for Gay, Lesbian, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation. "Some folks walked by and called me a neo-Nazi and a self-hating gay man," says Arcidi, who's been out since 1980. "Occasionally people hissed at us. One woman looked at Joe Beard and me and said, 'I don't even think you two are gay men.' We laughed. We didn't know what we should do to convince her we were. Others said, 'We're glad you folks are here."'

Beard also scoffs at the notion he might be a heterosexual spy. "I think anybody active in the gay life in the District of Columbia knows who I am and that I am gay. I haven't slept with all of them," says Beard, who's been out since 1978 and acknowledges that he is HIV positive. "But I have talked with them in bars. My ability to get into philosophical arguments is unsurpassed in D.C."

NOW's Bruce would no doubt like a shot at that. "This clearly is a pretty ignorant group of people. The abortion issue has nothing to do with zygotes, fetuses, babies, and the vagaries of conception," she says. "It's about control over what people do with their own body. If they don't know that we're the actual target ultimately, they have serious problems. They should go to Camp Sister Spirit in Tennessee and see how the lesbians who live there have to defend themselves against the same people they march with."

Bruce, who has followed the machinations of antiabortion and anti-gay rights forces, says that the divide-and conquer tactics are now being used to promote anti-gay initiatives in states, counties, and municipalities around the country.

"It's the same group of people backing them both," Bruce says. "They're moving into the mainstream and setting a tone through legislation and other means whereby certain people can be controlled when it comes to decisions about their bodies. 'Women don't know what's best for them. They're sick. They have to be stopped, con trolled for the sake of other people.' The anti-gay referendums use the same rhetoric. 'Gays and lesbians are sick and have to be stopped. What they do is wrong.' [And] we are not procreative so we are dooming the human race. It's the same theory, same agenda. So much for issues of self-determination."

Bruce is outraged about the "life begins at conception" argument. "There is no medical evidence when life begins. The only group on the planet that says they know when life begins is the Catholic Church, and they're guessing," she says. "How dare these gay men set themselves up in God-like judgment about when life begins."

In fact, lesbians and gay men should be worried that the radical right might succeed in establishing their version of a theocratic society. Consider, she says, the futuristic scenario evoked in The Handmaid's Tale where the sperm and the uterus are used in the service of procreation.

"Moving to affect my life or the life of a stranger based on your opinion is a dangerous thing," she says. These gay men are "no better than [former California Congressman William] Dannemeyer and [Traditional Values Coalition head Rev. Lou] Sheldon. They're suicidal if they hate themselves so much they need to join the thing that oppresses them. These are the same people who said we made the choice to get AIDS and want to put us in camps because we're a danger to the rest of life. The one thing in common is control based on fear and sexism. It has nothing to do with AIDS or saving babies. But if their dream world comes to pass, there will be camps for people with AIDS, sodomy will be illegal in every state, people will get executed for being homosexual because of the potential danger of AIDS to innocent heterosexuals and since homosexuals made a choice to be gay, they're guilty for that too. It's draconian, diabolical. People will get imprisoned and killed for who they are."

Think this scenario is far-fetched? Bruce asks. The anti-abortion forces are sitting in front of or fire-bombing clinics or throwing acid on clinic workers right now. Doctors have been shot at, one murdered. Their homes, families, and children have been subjected to around-the clock harassment and intimidation so that many doctors, nurses, and clinic staff have given up counselling, refer ring or giving abortions out of fear.

"How far are they going to go?" Bruce asks of the PLAGAL members. "What if it's a gay bar next?"

Volz, Beard, Cook, and Arcidi say they are adamantly opposed to violence of any kind, a stance that serves as the underpinning of their pro-life belief.

Beard, a Goldwater Republican who believes that Soviet Russia was an evil empire, thinks "government has no business interfering in the private, personal, economic lives of individuals and that the purpose of government is to prevent violence and fraud and leave people alone." Those radical right extremists, Beard says, are in "complete consternation" over PLAGAL's involvement in the pro-life movement.

"We're dealing with one of the greatest issues of conscience and I can't ignore my conscience," says Arcidi. "But I will not do a thing in support of anyone who will take my rights away as a gay man. I will, however, by being representative to other Right to Lifers as a gay man, have the opportunity to enlighten them about gay men and lesbians. That happens almost any time I'm present in many Right to Life gatherings. That is a wonderful dividend for every gay man and lesbian. PLAGAL works on a frontier that probably no other gay or lesbian can touch."

Beard says PLAGAL has a mailing list of 196, of whom some are assumed to be non-gay "fellow-travelers," some "pro-choice plants," and others who have expressed interest. He hopes PLAGAL is breaking a stereotype that the gay community speaks with a single voice.

On this, Log Cabin L.A.'s Colbert agrees. "There is an unreasonable expectation on the part of those of us who are active to expect that our community act in a cohesive, homogeneous way. In fact, I believe most of the national organizations, institutions, and the gay press links the gay and lesbian community at large with a certain way of being, way of thinking, and it just isn't so. Our fight and our struggle at Log Cabin or any other national organizations must be for the hearts and minds of the middle, where most Americans reside. That means that gays and lesbians with deeply held pro-choice and pro life convictions have a role to play."