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Maverick to martyr. (last word).

If you blinked, you might have missed it. On May 6 the most significant assassination of an openly gay political figure since Harvey Milk happened. Sure, it was in Holland. Sure, he wasn't an American. But his story is important for the lessons it teaches about tolerance, diversity, and the future of the gay rights movement. For Pim Fortuyn, the maverick who came close to being prime minister of the Netherlands, was killed not because he was gay but because he was allegedly conservative. And his accused killer is a radical environmentalist, a dues-paid member of the European far left.

Why didn't you hear much about this? The story was lowballed in the gay and mainstream press; the Human Rights Campaign Web site had no mention of, it ("We don't comment on every gay man who's murdered," an HRC staffer told me); only a few gay columnists took the subject on. The reason for this reticence was simple: Fortuyn was described in almost every media outlet as a member of the fascist right, a symbol of resurgent racism and xenophobia in Europe, an ally of Jean-Marie Le Pen of France, a man whom one gay columnist compared glibly to the Nazis. No wonder Fortuyn was ignored. He was, according to these accounts, an immense embarrassment. He was--dread word--a "conservative."

But was he? He favored legal soft drugs; he backed legal prostitution; he supported same-sex marriage; he was pro-choice on abortion; he endorsed a welfare state far more generous than anything available in America; he was proud of his sexual adventurism; he was a child of the 1960s. His crime was voicing opposition to increasingly militant Islam, its demonization of gays and lesbians, its belief in the social and political subjugation of women, its hostility to freedom of speech and religion, and its sponsorship, in some cases, of murderous terrorism. His political party wanted Islamic immigration reduced by three quarters. And he wanted those Muslim immigrants who were Dutch citizens to be more fully integrated into modern, liberal Holland.

According to a large number of commentators, that made Fortuyn a member of the "far right." But it could also make him a liberal. If a pro-choice, drug-legalizing, sex-positive gay man speaks out against Christian fundamentalist right, he is hailed as a hero. But if he speaks out against Muslim fundamentalist right, he is a pariah. In fact, Muslim intolerance is far worse. Almost every Islamic country makes homosexuality illegal and punishes gay men by throwing them out of tall buildings or crushing them beneath stone walls. Almost none give women the right to vote, and most subject them to sexist social customs, such as being covered from head to foot. Not even Jerry Falwell has stooped to that.

The lesson to be learned seems to me a simple one: Beware the labels. A generation ago, those of us who argued that same-sex marriage was integral to the gay rights movement were dismissed as radical right-wingers. According to a recent online Zogby poll, marriage is now a top political priority for most gay people. Are they all members of the far right? Those of us who have actually differed from some gay nostrums know the drill. If you don't hew to the party line, you get the Fortuyn treatment. For years, I've endured being labeled as a radical rightist, a sexphobe, a puritan, a self-hater. None of it's true, as anyone who's actually read my stuff will know. But labeling is easier than listening or conversing. Instead of discussing issues, we cast everyone we disagree with into a category so we can dismiss them.

That's why Fortuyn is a true martyr for the gay rights movement. This movement should never be about the right to be gay or to have the right politics or the right clothes or the right accessories. The gay rights movement should be about the right to be yourself, whatever that is. That freedom of self-expression, that love of individuality, that spirit of independence is what Fortuyn represented. And it's what some in our community have sadly lost sight of. So next time you hear about a gay man or woman in the news, stirring things up, making waves, leave the labels behind. Listening and arguing with respect and true diversity is the only thing that will take us forward.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:how labels about politicians can misrepresent their ideas
Author:Sullivan, Andrew
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUNE
Date:Jul 9, 2002
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