Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Democracy, Or The Lack Thereof


Two institutions to which I belong, and to which I am committed, are grappling mightily with issues near and dear to my heart.

First off, there's the Episcopal Church. And the issue here is homos.

Then, there's the Chicago Hellfire Club, which you might have read about in your local LGBT (that acronym I like to pronounce "LugBut") paper, as their exclusion of trans-men has become a hot issue.

Now, both situations must have folks on the outside scratching their heads, wondering what the big deal is. I wouldn't doubt that most people in the pews of the average Episcopal church know gay folks, and have probably known a few gay clergy in the day, and if a simple majority of Americans believe that same sex marriage is an okay thing, there's probably over-representation of that point of view among the Smells and Bells types.

And similarly, within the Chicago Hellfire Club, I don't doubt that most of the views of club members would be along the spectrum from "Absolutely! Some of my best friends..." on the one hand to, "Uhhhh... Sure. I guess I wouldn't have a problem with that" on the other. I don't think anybody in the club is really pleased that we're sounding in the press like a "Whites Only" country club explaining why the Chicago Civil Rights (!) law that bans discrimination against trans folks doesn't apply to CHC.

So surely, those head-scratchers outside of either group would say, can't you guys just go with the flow and say, "Okay, the homos/transguys can stay."

But that's not gonna happen, in either case, any time soon.

Because, you see, neither of these groups is a democracy.

The overwhelming majority of people invested in the Episcopal Church or the Chicago Hellfire Club don't get a say in the matter, little less a vote on the outcome.

Somewhere, off in a room behind closed doors, the decisions are made, and the rest of us can either live with it or pull on our boots and walk.

It's that simple.

O that it were otherwise, of course. But it's not.

ACT UP was the most purely democratic group I've ever been a part of. All important issues--and plenty of ridiculous irrelevant decisions--were decided after spirited debate by a show-of-hands vote at the weekly meeting. Taking the broad view, you see ultimately that Good triumphs over... ummm... Not So Good. When everybody gets together, we all end up listening to our better angels. And even when I was on the side of the Not So Good (for example, I argued for a narrow focus to our actions, strictly adhering to an agenda that served the nitty-gritty day-to-day interests of people living with HIV/AIDS, thus taking no position on the first Gulf War or joining in broader struggles, including civil rights for the gays). But when a vote wouldn't go my way, because I was able to trust the process, I didn't feel like it was the end of the world.

And I have no doubt that if in either institution there was a great big sit down where we all talked and talked and talked until there was nothing left to say, and then voted up-or-down, then everybody would be so much better off.

But democracy is not for the faint of heart. You have to have a verrrrry high tolerance for tedium. And it's so messy and slow and feelings get hurt. Having had a good taste of it, however, when "elections" consist of presenting a pre-determined slate of candidates to the membership for their vote, with eight people vying for eight positions... I just wince. Similarly, confronted with unabashed cynicism in church governance (for God's sake!), I have to take a few deep breaths.

History is a long march, not a sprint.

Eventually, there will be a rite in the Book of Common Prayer for the blessing of same sex unions. And one day, if the Chicago Hellfire Club is still around, all leathermen of good standing with passion, a sense of responsibility, and what used to be called "heart" will be welcomed at Inferno, without much concern for "penile appendages," and a good time will be had by all.

No comments: