Fighting for Human Liberation

One Chicago activist says the key to LGBT equality is supporting other groups.
by Jillian Sandler
Andy Thayer, 53, is no stranger to the streets of Chicago. The activist co-founded the grassroots organization Gay Liberation Network in September of 1998. Thayer has also demonstrated against war since the 1970s and in support of equal marriage rights since the late 1990s. The veteran organizer also protested at last year’s NATO conference and was even arrested at a 2012 Occupy Chicago protest for camping out in a park after curfew, though a judge later threw out the charges on the grounds of selective enforcement. Thayer’s blogs on his views of war, politics and LGBT rights can be found on the Huffington Post.

The Medill Equal Media Project sat down with Thayer at the Chicago law firm where he serves as office manager to discuss maintaining solidarity with other minorities, media coverage of marriage equality and his goals for LGBT communities. Excerpts:

MEDILL EQUAL MEDIA PROJECT: WHAT LED YOU TO CO-FOUND THE GAY LIBERATION NETWORK IN 1998?

Andy Thayer: It was initially in response to a series of gay bashings that happened within a block or two of Halsted Street, the main gay entertainment district in the city. The co-founder Paul Adams [who passed away in 2001] and I felt that there needed to be more vocal and public response to the violence against our community. A lot of the sentiment at the time was simply “violence is bad.” To Paul and me, that seemed a little simplistic. You needed to go to the roots of the problem: leading political figures in both parties and religious figures in almost all denominations were condemning gays, and that made it “OK” to physically attack us.

YOU PROTESTED AT THE NATO SUMMIT LAST YEAR. WHAT CONNECTION DO YOU MAKE BETWEEN ANTI-WAR PROTESTING AND YOUR PUSH FOR GAY RIGHTS, AND WHAT IS THE COMMON GROUND BETWEEN THEM?

The common ground is that we as LGBT people cannot in good conscience expect to receive solidarity from non-gay people if we’re not sensitized to and actively working against oppressions that hit others.

IN ONE OF YOUR ARTICLES FOR THE HUFFINGTON POST, YOU SAY THAT THE HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN WAS MORE INTERESTED IN ALIGNING WITH THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY THAN WITH THE MORALS THAT SUPPORT GAY RIGHTS. HOW DO YOU RECONCILE ANY DISPARITIES BETWEEN YOUR POLITICAL AND MORAL BELIEFS?

I would like to think that there isn’t any separation, frankly, that my political beliefs flow from my moral beliefs, that if you say you’re against war, it shouldn’t matter whether or not that war is launched by a Democratic or Republican president. That piece and others, I think, were a call for people to be morally and politically consistent.

BESIDES THE HOT-BUTTON ISSUE OF MARRIAGE EQUALITY, WHAT ELSE DO YOU THINK NEEDS TO HAPPEN TO ENSURE LGBT EQUALITY?

You can have all the legal equality in the world and if it’s not matched with social equality, then it can be in many respects a pyrrhic victory. If not de jure discrimination, de facto discrimination persists, and unfortunately it’s the de facto discrimination that kills and maims and really reduces people’s life opportunities.

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE MEDIA COVERAGE OF LGBT COMMUNITIES, WHETHER IT’S MARRIAGE EQUALITY OR ANY OTHER ISSUES?

It’s changed over time. The fact that you used the phrase “marriage equality” rather than “gay marriage” is indicative of that. When we first started out our campaign for marriage equality, our opponents successfully labeled our drive for marriage equality as “gay marriage,” whereas really this is a question of whether or not same-sex couples would be able to enjoy the rights that other people already enjoy. The media coverage has changed, not entirely, but for the most part has changed dramatically over just the past decade. And that’s largely because activists have forced that change.

WHAT IS YOUR ULTIMATE GOAL FOR LGBT COMMUNITIES?

Human liberation. I think that human beings not only want to, but deserve to live in a world where they control their own destinies, and the sad fact is that not just in the realm of LGBT rights, but any number of other rights, the vast majority of people in this world do not truly control their own destinies. We as a species could have so much more fulfilling lives if we had a culture and society based on cooperation rather than fighting each other.

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© 2012 Medill Equal Media Project
Medill School of Journalism | Northwestern University
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