The True Significance of the book "After The Ball" for Gay Rights?
May 30, 2014 7:07 AM   Subscribe

It seems like many conservative preachers have latched on the the book After The Ball by Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen as the text that defined the "gay agenda". Does anybody on MetaFilter -ideally someone connected to the gay rights movement- know the true significance of this book? Was it influential in defining approaches that the movement took for getting equal recognition for LGBTQ folks?
posted by Going To Maine to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have never read or heard of it. Gay all my life, almost 40, well read, former activist, was in Queer Nation and have read some queer theory and a fair amount about queer history. Have watched many a documentary about queer history. Not a gay man though.

My guess is, was not that important.
posted by latkes at 7:32 AM on May 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have been a gay activist since 1983. I read After the Ball when it came out. I don't think the book itself was that influential, but it did reflect the thinking of many activists at the time. It reflects the move from outsider to assimilationist strategies that happened in the 90s culminating in the focus on marriage and military at the 2000 March on Washington. And, that move did set the "agenda" for the last 2 decades of mainstream gay activism.
posted by hworth at 7:57 AM on May 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think it's a really handy example used by the right to argue that the "gay agenda" is a thing, more than that particular book actually launching any sort of gay agenda. The ideas in it aren't all that outlandish and weren't back's a matter of approach. At the end of the 80s, many gay activists (myself included) embraced the idea of showing the world that we are just like everyone else and should be included in things like service, marriage, etc. This book happens to lay out that idea, but I don't think it was especially groundbreaking.
posted by xingcat at 8:12 AM on May 30, 2014

I'm straight but have been involved in equality causes here and there for a few decades now. I've never heard of the book, though I suppose I wouldn't have if it was a seekret guide - it would presumably be "above my pay grade" as a marcher and volunteer.

I guess the real question is whether, as hworth says, it really represented anything all that different and unique from other sources. Reading what wikipedia identifies as its precursor, the article "The Overhauling of Straight America" it sure doesn't seem all that radical.

The essay itself acknowledges how not-unusual some of it is.
But an additional theme of the campaign should be more aggressive and upbeat: to offset the increasingly bad press that these times have brought to homosexual men and women, the campaign should paint gays as superior pillars of society. Yes, yes, we know--this trick is so old it creaks. Other minorities use it all the time in ads that announce proudly, "Did you know that this Great Man (or Woman) was _________?" But the message is vital for all those straights who still picture gays as "queer" people-- shadowy, lonesome, fail, drunken, suicidal, child-snatching misfits.

The honor roll of prominent gay or bisexual men and women is truly eye popping. From Socrates to Shakespeare, from Alexander the Great to Alexander Hamilton, from Michelangelo to Walt Whitman, from Sappho to Gertrude Stein, the list is old hat to us but shocking news to heterosexual America. In no time, a skillful and clever media campaign could have the gay community looking like the veritable fairy godmother to Western Civilization.
Consider the real facts behind the Rosa Parks arrest and subsequent boycott, as well as decisions about who would be a test case in the courts.
"Rosa was aware...that in the last twelve months alone three African-American females had been arrested for the same offense. One incident made the newspapers in March; it even happened on the same bus line. Of four black passengers asked to surrender their seats in no-man's land, two refused--an elderly woman and fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin. 'I done paid my dime,' Colvin had said. 'I ain't got no reason to move.' The elderly woman got off the bus before police arrived. Colvin refused to move, so police dragged her, fighting and crying, to the squad car, where she was rudely handcuffed..."

"Colvin was charged with violating the city segregation law, disorderly conduct, and assault. With the NAACP defending her, she was convicted but fined only for assault, the most absurd of the three trumped-up charges. It was a shrewd ruling; it sent a tough message to blacks while avoiding an NAACP appeal of a clearly unconstitutional law. Afterward, E.D. Nixon, former Pullman porter and [now] president of the local NAACP chapter, met with the indignant young Colvin to determine if she might make a strong plaintiff in a test case. But she had recently become pregnant, which spelled trouble; Nixon knew that Montgomery's church-going blacks would not rally behind an immature, unwed, teenaged mother who was also prone to using profanity."
--From Black Profiles in Courage by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Alan Steinberg, pp.233-234.
Sympathetic imaging wasn't new when Kirk & Madsen proposed it and I don't think anything else they spell out represents anything but how a strategic operation would use the lessons of past equality battles.

You could certainly argue the the reluctance of many groups, such as HRC, to enter into the marriage equality lawsuits represents stacking to an effort not to seem shrill/demanding.
posted by phearlez at 8:25 AM on May 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think the focus on Kirk and Madsen is just one more example of the right's schtick of elevating some text to the status of SECRET BLUEPRINT FOR WORLD DOMINATION!!! See also: Saul Alinsky, the "Cloward-Piven Strategy"....
posted by neroli at 10:10 AM on May 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Thanks for your answers, everybody. I had figured that this was an overblown fixation, but had no idea of its real value & the history of the gay rights movement isn't something I know particularly well. This has been a useful help.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:09 PM on June 2, 2014

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