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Pink jelly beans.

Jelly Beans have once again falle into disrepute. For a gumdrop mainliner like me, this is baleful news. Just when I'd gotten over the fact that Ronald Reagan loved them and I was at last able to view them as an alternative substance to abuse whenever the stores were out of Chuckles, Jujubes, and Mason Dots, along came those guys from Texaco to rain on my parade. Racist slimeballs. How dare they screw up a perfectly good candy.

If you missed what the boys said, it was a remark concerning the company's apparent reluctance to promote African-American executives. "Looks like all the black jelly beans just stayed at the bottom of the bowl," a white guy said in a meeting or in a memo or in a meeting and a memo. No mention of the pink jelly beans. Perhaps they can't even be seen in the Texaco bowl.

Of course, there was a firestorm of protest over the black jelly bean remark, starting with other Texaco employees who came forth with more examples of overt racism, which were telecast instantly to the public at large, resulting in Texaco's paying a few million bucks in damages. Homophobic behavior would not have provoked anywhere near this response. You gotta rub a whole lot more sticks together to get a firestorm.

Texaco paid partly because straight white people live under the delusion that we have cured America of its racism. They ignore O.J.; they ignore Rodney King. They think that because the UPN and WB networks air one black sitcom after another, we somehow live in a racially calm society. So they are shocked when something so blatant as the jelly bean joke comes from something so American as Texaco. They would not be shocked to hear a fag joke come from the same lips because, well, people are still allowed to make those jokes, sort of--even in what is optimistically called polite society.

It was just 12 years ago that Dire Straits came out with their big hit song "Money for Nothing," the video for which portrays a blue-collar worker watching a Dire Straits video and singing about the lead singer, calling him "that little faggot with the earring and the makeup" and observing, "That little faggot got his own jet airplane / That little faggot, he's a millionaire." When I met Dire Straits some months after the song had been edited by some radio stations, they expressed surprise that no one had gotten the ironic bent of the lyric. "Oh, I got it," I told them. "But if irony is all you're after, why not use nigger instead of faggot?" There followed a lengthy silence, punctuated by the hostess's removing my wineglass. First of all, I had said the n word. And second, I had given everybody reason to think, which in the world of rock and roll is not, as Martha Stewart would say, a good thing. But the bizarre truth remains: Even in the realm of political correctness, there still are safe houses for the bigot You can make jokes about certain groups and still get away with it. Our groups.

Thirty years ago the historian Merle Miller observed that, in the aforementioned polite society, a faggot is a homosexual gentleman who has just left the room. It is one of the first remarks I can ever remember hearing from a gay man about our identity in the world, and I've carried it around for, um, 30 years. I always felt there should be some sort of Library of Gay Congress (there's a visual) where we can store these nuggets of wisdom, and--lo and behold--now there is.

A few weeks ago I emceed a benefit for the International Gay and Lesbian Archives, a project devoted to gathering the millions of books, records, pins, banners, quilts, boas, nylons, Harleys, dead poppers, Judy albums, and stiletto heels currently reposing in the garages and storage bins of America; transporting them to a central facility at the University of Southern California; and sorting, evaluating, and cataloging them for current and future generations. So soon there will be a place where people of all persuasions and party hats can safely and even academically indulge in the Gay Experience.

They can watch a community grow before their eyes from a secret society of self-loathing hedonists to a self-identified, politically active network of people bound together by struggle and loss. Of course, it's a community that still lives in fear of vice cops--and of cops in general, even though many cops are now openly gay. If s a community that supports a president who isn't particularly friendly but is at least friendlier than past presidents. A community whose victories and defeats are Page 1 news but whose prime legislative spokesman can be called "Barney Fag" by another politician who more or less gets away with it. A community of people rejected by their childhood families, trying to reinstate family values in their adult lives.

For straight people, of course, this will be an education. For gay people, the accumulation of so much thought and history in one place will represent the power of community, history, and visibility. And visibility is what it's all about As long as we stay closeted, Miller's observation will still apply. It will continue to apply until we come out in such numbers that the pendulum is forced to shift and we get to the next level--where straight people start professing shock that homophobia still exists in our society. That's a sound bite Fin longing to hear.
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Title Annotation:homophobic behavior still exists even in an era of political correctness
Author:Vilanch, Bruce
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Column
Date:Feb 4, 1997
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