The Pro-Life Alliance of Gays And Lesbians
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Jayelle Lukash is a member of PLAGAL and wrote this article first appearing on a website called "Written By Me" in February 2002. It's reprinted here by permission.
"Politics A La Carte"
Imagine this scenario: There's a big march in Washington, D. C. every year, right? The organizer of this march has historically been pretty chilly towards sexual minorities. In fact, she has threatened to have members of a gay group that wanted to march arrested should they identify themselves. But last year, they were allowed to march openly without a problem, so they think they can this year, too. Except that right before they step off, U.S. Park Police officers tell the lesbian and the gay man holding the group's banner that they'll have to put it down. It contains a pink triangle and the words "Gays and Lesbians", and the organizer objects to it. The dozen members who showed up may march as individuals, without the unifying banner. But every other group is allowed to proclaim their affiliation, from Catholics to vegetarians. Naturally enough, the gay man and the lesbian, a vice-president and the president of the group respectively, protest. The police officers try to take away the banner, and a heated tug-o-war ensues. Within minutes, the two are wrestled to the ground and arrested. The official charge is "disorderly conduct," but really, they were arrested for daring to be openly gay at this event.
This story is fact, not fiction. It happened on January 22, 2002. You may have heard it already, but most likely you haven't. The arrestees were Cecilia Brown and Eric Jurek. The group was the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians (PLAGAL). The event was the annual March for Life, organized by attorney Nellie Gray to mourn the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
No thanks to any major Queer news outlet (Kara Fox' awesome Washington Blade article excepted), I quickly learned about the PLAGAL arrests. Hours after the incident, I got an e-mail from a member of my Alternative Lifers list. Seconds after re-reading it to make sure it was real, I cried. I felt like my heart had been broken in several places, and I still feel that way. Like many PLAGAL members, I forwarded that e-mail to most of the Queer people I knew.
Katarina, my "abortion-ambivalent" girlfriend, e-mailed me back. "Blossom, you know I respect your convictions. They come from deep within your gentle soul, and I treasure your kindness," she wrote. "But most of those pro-lifers are complete LOSERS! You hate bullies so much, and these people have proven themselves to be bullies today! How can you work with them? You cannot possibly be effective in that setting, love! Do stop trying to open their tiny minds. They are much like Brazil nuts, only less rewarding. Save your gifts for those who will appreciate them." I have always cherished her bracing honesty, but I could have used a smaller dose, and I told her so. The next day, my "sorrowfully pro-choice" Bisexual boyfriend Randle delivered more frank advice, coated in Southern sugar. "Baby, maybe that's not where you belong," he suggested. "I know you think babies are being killed, and I can see why you believe that, but you can't save any of them when the pro-lifers keep you focused on defending your own self." He compared my situation as a Bisexual lifer to that of a hypothetical firefighter whose co-workers keep sabotaging her efforts. "They want you in free-speech stuff," he pleaded. "They can use you in gay rights. Your [adult-literacy] students appreciate what you do. Why bother dealing with assholes who hate you?"
Why, indeed? There was nary a peep about the PLAGAL arrests on most of the pro-life news sites I use. Feminists for Life president Serrin Foster, herself a veteran of run-ins with Nellie Gray, denounced the arrests. The Pro-Life Infonet, an e-mail newsletter, ran a brief paragraph. But they were exceptions. Nellie Gray herself has been silent as I write. Other pro-lifers, ones I know personally, allowed that the arrests were unfair, but some basically said that Cecilia and Eric had asked for it. "If all they'd wanted to do was support life, they could've done it without a problem," my friend Brandon said. "But they had to mix homosexual issues in with it." I angrily pointed out that Christian and conservative issues got "mixed in," too. When I posted the story to a pro-life BBS, I got some supportive comments, but several vocal posters tried beating me with the Bible and their stereotypes. I'll have to look elsewhere to prove Katarina wrong, and the thing is, I don't think I can.
But this isn't a pro-life venue. It's a Queer venue, and I have a few things to say to the Queer community, too. Two people got arrested for being openly Queer, but most of our news outlets and organizations are deafeningly silent. Believe me, I know full well that my opposition to abortion places me in the minority of Queer people. Just for a second, please try to put aside whatever feelings you have about abortion and the pro-life movement. Let's discuss basic fairness instead. What if the scenario I described had occurred at a Martin Luther King Day or St. Patrick's Day parade? Would you have heard about the incident more than once before the week was out? Would you be upset, perhaps even moved to action? Would the story have blown up in Queer and mainstream media venues? Would LGBT leaders flock to condemn the event's organizers and offer the arrestees support? I think I know the answers to those questions, and that's why I'm crying yet again.
I'm a vegetarian in practice, not theory, meaning that while I have no moral objections to eating meat, I can go weeks without it. Because I live in Altamonte Springs, where you can't throw a rock without hitting a mid-priced chain, I eat out a lot. Many chains have Gardenburgers or Boca Burgers as non-meat alternatives. The menus' options seem rather limited on the surface. Restaurants tend to offer "healthy" sides instead of french fries with non-meat burgers, and interesting toppings like avocado or chipotle sauce only with meat. I refuse to accept that situation. If I want a black-bean burger with chipotle sauce and blue cheese, no nasty shredded lettuce or pickle, fries and salad on the side, that's what I'll get, and I defy any server to give me shit about it.
Don't worry, I'm getting around to making a point! Modern American politics works a lot like those chain restaurants. The pro-sexual-minority burger comes with pre-selected sociopolitical toppings and, often, a pro-choice side. If you want pro-life fries, they're accompanied by a conservative Christian burger with anti-gay toppings. If a package deal appeals to you, by all means, take it as is and be happy. But so many people I know are afraid to ask for the political meal they really want, and those of us who aren't afraid to play with things until we get what we need can expect dirty looks and arguments. This isn't the first time that package-deal politics has made me feel tired and sad, and it probably won't be the last.
The much-contested PLAGAL banner reads, "Human Rights Start When Human Life Begins." The point can be argued, but the nearly 1,000 members of PLAGAL sincerely believe that human life begins in the womb. (Please don't go sending me "proof" to the contrary, either-I get that stuff as often as I get the same six Bible verses from some of my fellow pro-lifers. Besides, I wasn't always pro-life.) We care about our own rights, too, which is why the founders bothered to create a pro-life option for open sexual minorities. Yes, the pro-life movement is definitely not a hospitable place for us. Neither is the Boy Scouts of America. Randle's analogy aside, professions like firefighting and education are just now opening up to us. That happened because brave, committed Queers who recognize the difference between service and masochism wanted to help others without victimizing themselves. As it should be, their causes were and are championed by the greater sexual-minority community.
I'm not asking pro-choice readers to abandon their beliefs. We can disagree on this issue. However, I hope that activist sexual minorities can agree that every place is our place, and we all have the right to pursue justice in our own way. I fully intend to continue working for LGBT rights, but I remain somewhat bitter that Cecilia and Eric's cause has not been taken up as quickly as those of countless others who needed their siblings' help. Please forgive me if our self-declared leaders' calls for acceptance of diversity ring pretty fucking hollow to me at the moment.
Please check out http://www.plagal.org. They've got pictures of the arrests and lots more. Wanna help start a Central Florida chapter of PLAGAL, join Alternative Lifers, or just talk? E me at firstname.lastname@example.org.