Roll Up Your Damn Sleeves: An Interview with LGBT Activist and Fox News Commenter Sally Kohn


AE: That brings up an interesting area. I watched a clip of you in which you were discussing gay marriage with Mike Huckabee, and he clearly thought of himself as one of the bigger victims in the situation. That seems like a delicate dance you have to do. What goes through your head when you’re having that kind of conversation?
SK: This an extension of the previous question in a way. I think especially with being gay… The more visible gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgender people we have in the media the better, period. You know, we know this from all the studies. I try not to base my life on research, but we know that the more gay people [straight] people come into contact with, the better. The more open-minded they are, the less homophobic they are, etc., etc. The more supportive they are of gay rights.

Visibility isn’t everything. I’ve never thought that politically, like, “Ooh, you came out! You’re done!” I don’t think that. No, now roll up your damn sleeves! There’s work to be done! But we still shouldn’t overlook how tremendously powerful it is. I always take great hope, however defeated I’m feeling politically about the world around us and what’s happening, I get great hope from the fact that among the top shows on television are Modern Family and Glee. The world can’t be that bad right now, at least with respect to gay rights. That’s huge! That’s worth celebrating. There’s still way more to be done, but that actually does matter, number one.

Number two, I can’t say that I’ve always lived up to my own aspirations for myself. But my aspiration for myself is to always believe that other people believe themselves to be good. So I don’t believe that someone who doesn’t want gay people to get married – and I’m sure there are a few examples we could probably name that are actually truly evil people, the Fred Phelps of the world, right?

But most people — I try to find it in my heart to be equal parts impatient, because I think that a moral outrage and impatience at the often slow pace of progress is what in fact moves progress forward in the world and always has. And so not just sort of accepting things permanently for the way they are. But there’s an adage in organizing: You meet people where they’re at. And I trust that where people are at is honest, is heartfelt, is honorable. They want the best for themselves, for their family, and their country. Now, we may disagree about where the political answers fall in relation to that goal. But I don’t think I’m going to get anywhere by insulting people’s beliefs, insulting where people are. My job is to meet people where they’re at and then take them somewhere. I think that’s what a good organizer does. I think that’s what a good change agent does.


AE: As I’ve been watching your Fox News clips, I see you get interrupted a lot.
SK: [Laughs]

AE: That drives me crazy. How do you deal with that? You seem to like to get in there and throw an elbow when you need to, but still, how do you deal with it?
SK: It’s two things. First of all, there’s a cultural piece to it. I’m very much an East Coast Jew: I don’t mind being interrupted, and I don’t mind interrupting. That helps. I am a product of my upbringing. Nobody can finish a sentence at Thanksgiving dinner in my family. So there’s that.

And then also, I think this translates to a larger movement psychology, if you will, about how do you sustain yourself if you’re doing this work? Which is, on the one hand, you have to realize that this is serious. We’re talking about… It’s one thing for me to get dressed up and go sit in a TV studio and talk about the suicide rates of queer kids or the jobless rates across the country, and of course these are real problems. These are real issues. They’re serious – they’re life-or-death issues in a lot of ways. And so you have to keep that in your heart, and keep that element of fight, because you’re fighting for something. While at the same time, of course, realizing that you’re not actually — that it is television, you know what I mean?

Let me think about this for a second. You have to keep it in perspective. In a sense, every fight is a fight, and in a sense, you have to bear in mind that it’s all a part of something larger, and that you can’t take it all too seriously when you’re just sitting in a room with a TV camera. In a sense, I have to keep my perspective.

And yet, bear in mind why you want to win the game. The thing at stake is in fact the future of our country, how we treat one another. It’s — I just gave you a very muddy answer to a deeply complicated question. It’s the question we all walk around with. I mean in a way, it’s like the question a lot of people have when they face their families, right? How do you deal with people who love you, and yet they don’t accept this part of you. We embrace these contradictions all the time.

And we’re angry. I’m constantly brokenhearted at all the injustices I see around me in the world, and I don’t walk around screaming all the time in the street. You find a way to exist in that contradiction and try to be productive.

That was a very Hegelian answer to your very simple question. Sorry about that.

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