A few weeks back I went to see “Good Night and Good Luck,” George Clooney’s excellent film about how Edward R. Murrow, who set the standard for what journalism could be, brought down Senator Joseph McCarthy and his anti-communist witch hunts.
It all happened in 1953 and 1954. After years of McCarthy accusing everyone including President Eisenhower of being a communist or a sympathizer, Murrow and his boys at CBS said enough was enough. They exposed McCarthy by showing him in action.
McCarthy’s rants and raves in his Senate subcommittee hearings were broadcast on television, and within months his reign of terror on freedom of thought was over.
So much has changed in the 50 or so years since those witch hunts, yet so much has also stayed the same. The need to scapegoat one group for our problems has not gone away.
The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community is today” Communist Party. We’re not necessarily accused of a wholesale takeover of the U.S. government. Instead, we’re blamed for everything today’s McCarthys see as wrong.
Did you know that our community is responsible for ruining heterosexual marriage? Or that we’ve destroyed the family because we have kids? Or that we are to blame for every youth that comes out as 14, 15 or 16, if not younger?
Today’s McCarthys are Donald Wildmon and James Dobson and their organizations, the American Family Association and Focus on the Family. They are the Rev. Jerry Falwell and the Rev. Pat Robertson, members of the clergy who use their positions to demonize us. They are Baylor University and Seton Hall University, schools affiliated with religious denominations that purge gay alumni, faculty, staff and students.
Today’s McCarthys are Karl Rove and George Bush, who used our desire to marry to hoodwink the nation and re-elect a politically and morally bankrupt administration. They are the Pope and his cardinals with their new directive against gay priests. They are the high school principals who confiscate the student newspaper simply because there was an ad for a LGBT support group or an article about LGBT students.
Today’s McCarthys are all around us. Some of their witch hunts are like McCarthy’s threatening to expose and purge and some have taken on new and unusual forms.
For a good old-fashioned witch hunt against the LGBT community, you don’t have to look any further than the military. Its tactics are straight out of the McCarthy playbook: Exploit someone you know to be gay and get them to name names. The military has “Don’t ask, don’t tell” to hide behind, but now that we’re at war, the amount of LGBT purging has dropped precipitously. But don’t for a minute think they actually want us. If it were feasible, they would continue their LGBT witch hunts with fervor.
Then there’s the witch hunt of harassment that has gone on unchecked at Penn State University for years. It seems the school’s women’s basketball coach, Rene Portland, really hates lesbians.
This might be an “I think she doth protest too much” situation, but nonetheless Portland’s rants and raves over the years have effectively either kept the lesbians on her squad deep in the closet or purged them. But she went too far and kept accusing a straight player, Jennifer Harris, of being a dyke. Harris in turn has gone public and filed a suit with Pennsylvania’s Human Rights Commission. Her actions gave other former players the courage to speak about their experiences as well. But Portland is still the coach, and her reign of terror against lesbians continues.
And then there’s the witch hunt that doesn’t look like a witch hunt. Instead of purging us from this year’s White House Conference on Aging, the administration simply refused to let us in.
Once every 10 years, aging experts gather for this conference to meet, present papers and make recommendations to the president and Congress on national aging policies. The last conference took place during the Clinton administration, and while our concerns never made it into any resolutions, at least there was discussion. But this administration just refused to belileve we exist have have specific issues.
A half century ago, Murrow had the guts to stand up to McCarthy’s demagoguery. Fifty years later, there may not be one person in the mainstream media willing to follow in Murrow’s footsteps and expose the sham and shame of today’s McCarthies. But thankfully, there are plenty of us in the LGBT community who are.
Libby Post is a political commentator on public radio, on the Web, and in print.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition of January 6, 2006.