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

AE: I’m about to ask you a horrible question and I’m sorry.
SK: Oh, my gosh, because the others were so un-horrible! I’m kidding. No, really, you’re going to ask a horrible question? All right.

AE: I did some very basic phone banking and knocking on doors in 2008 when Prop 8 was on the line, and I started writing for a website called 365Gay at the same time, and I was shocked to discover what was to me a surprising amount of racism in the LGBT community. And there’s a small population of white, affluent members of the LGBT community who are like, “I got mine.”
SK: [Laughs] Yes, ma’am.

AE: …Or there’s the stuff we’ve learned about some high-level gay members of the Bush administration who were willing to stir up fear about the LGBT community to win elections. How do we move forward with LGBT rights without people dropping out and forgetting where we’ve come from and getting apathetic about other kinds of social justice?
SK: Yeah. Is that a horrible question? Really it’s an awesome question. If you could answer that, you’d be the key to the future. Boy, I can’t promise to give you an immediate answer on this one, but let’s try. Look, early on in my activism, in my involvement with gay rights groups, there was an article – I think it might have even have been written by the editor – of Out magazine at the time, which sort of introduced the concept of being post-gay. And this was in the late ‘90s, so at the time, it was a shocking conversation. Now it’s less so, in part based on the things you’re revealing in your question. But at the time, it sort if introduced this idea that there were gay people, particularly gay men, who were mostly white, who were mostly incredibly wealthy, professionally successful, to a point where, but for a few legal equality issues here and there, were arguing that they were in effect post-gay. That the world was no longer treating them as gay, that they weren’t being seen as gay in their professional and social circles. They had, in effect, eclipsed their identity.

And I remember being shocked at the time for a whole bunch of reasons. No different, probably, than I am now when female leaders, especially female leaders on the right, eschew feminism. It’s like, “Why, you ungrateful blankety-blanks!” You know? I mean, come on! Whether or not you even accept the premise – because, again, look at the way Hustler just attacked the conservative commentator S. E. Cupp. I’ll spare you the details — you can look that one up on your own but women, left, right, and center, are still subject to sexism. People of color, left, right, and center – are still subject to racism. Anti-gay stigma, homophobia, it attaches itself to you whether you think you have moved past it or not. Not to mention the fact that there’s this, not just lack of gratitude, but — what is it, some sort of sickness you’ve grown out of?

But to me, there’s another point to it, which is my political aspiration isn’t sameness. While I support gay marriage, marriage equality – I think it’s great, everybody should be able to get married if they want to – I personally have no interest in marrying. I personally haven’t worked all this time so I could be the same as straight couples. I thought I was working this hard so that I could be different from straight couples and yet be treated equally. To be able to preserve that difference. Women in order to be successful executives shouldn’t have to act like men, right? That’s not the standard we hold up.

I will say in general that the challenge — no, I don’t think anyone’s hands are clean. I think that we have to learn as a nation and then specifically the left of that nation, progressives, to learn how to have conversations in which we publicly and institutionally evolve. That we should be able to point out something and ask questions about implicit racial bias, whether it’s in interpersonal dealings, whether it’s the way an organization handles a situation, whether it’s in our criminal justice system. We should be able to have those conversations without our patriotism being questioned on the one hand, or on the other hand being accused of being divisive and causing trouble.

The notion, in other words, that if we don’t pay attention to these issues, that we don’t pay attention to our differences, that that is what is meant by equality, that that’s the goal, is not only wrong, it’s actually dangerous. It stops us from having the kinds of conversations that help us all evolve.

That is not a horrible question. It’s a horrible world if you can’t ask that kind of question.

AE: Where do you see your career going next?
SK: I don’t know. It’s way too soon for me to know. I have two goals: One is I’d like to find more and more ways to – again, it really is like organizing, but through the media – and, you know, organizing gets this bum rap if you just listen to the right. But organizing is what gave rise to the civil rights movement and to the women’s movement. It’s what gave rise to the abolition of slavery. Organizing is what gave rise to our country. The Founding Fathers were organizers. They didn’t like the way the world was around them and they worked together to change it. And part of organizing, part of helping ordinary people do extraordinary things together, is bringing information to people. Helping people see the world in a different way. Helping people understand what’s happening around them. And that’s what I hope to do personally as much as possible, through more and more platforms, through larger platforms, whatever form that takes.

And I think the second part of that is supporting and finding ways for more and more people to do the same. Especially people who want to use media in all its forms as a vehicle for lighting the path to justice.

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