Feeling – and Resisting – the Chill

At a time when dissent is being chilled across the nation, two spring CLAGS events considered restrictions on speech in
two LGTBQ realms. A panel on May 16, “Free(z)ing Speeching” (pictured), featuring Bill Dobbs, Sonia Katyal
(moderator), Amber Hollibaugh and Richard Kim, considered questions of self-censorship and the internal policing of
boundaries in LGTBQ communities and the clash between competing moral claims when, for instance, a gay performer is
regarded as racist. Panelists analyzed such cases as last year’s controversy over performances of Shirley Q. Liquor, the
character of a black welfare mother portrayed by a white male drag artist; community campaigns to shut down the
homophobic radio personality Dr. Laura; and efforts by lesbians in Cherry Grove to close gay male porn nights at a local bar.
Generally panelists agreed that cutting off speech is a dangerous approach—”It’s always best to think about what happens
when the tables are turned,” Dobbs suggested as a way to respond to the human urge to make someone stop saying things
one doesn’t like to hear. Hollibaugh noted the need for more space in LGTBQ communities to “debate these issues and figure
out a response that would not polarize or shut down,” while Kim urged that we delve more deeply into understanding what
happens “where speech meets emotion,” an area, he suggested, “where queers can contribute a lot to the discussion.” This
panel was the first in a series of programs called “Bad Law,” which look at ways law facilitates, suppresses, and regulates
LGTBQ lives.
Censorship was also a theme of a May 15 panel, “The Politics of Prevention,” which offered a grim analysis of
the impact of abstinence-only sex education and right-wing attacks on HIV prevention efforts across the country. Panelist
Mark McLaurin, associate director of prevention policy at GMHC, explained what he called the ABCs of the government’s
assault: Audits of HIV prevention programs used to harass groups providing safer-sex education; Biblical grounds for limiting
sex education to abstinence only; and Censorship that has become so profound that researchers are being warned by
sympathetic colleagues in the Department of Health and Human Services to leave phrases like “anal sex” out of their grant
applications. Sean Cahill, director of the NGLTF’s Policy Institute, showed how a string of policy initiatives has required
“either silence or ignorance about homosexuality” while William A. Smith, director of public policy at the Sexuality
Information and Education Council of the US detailed the expanding reach of abstinence-only education over the last few
years. All agreed, as McLaurin put it, that “the HIV prevention community is under attack.” The panel was presented by
CLAGS in collaboration with GMHC and the LGBT Community Center