Evan Wolfson hopes the Bush administration will prove "at worst more of a delay than a setback for gay rights." Pro bono lawyers have to think positively. But Cahill, who works the political end of the movement, notes that because Bush followed right-wing strategist Ralph Reed's advice to downplay homophobia during the campaign, "he was able to pass himself off as a moderate, even though his positions are quite extreme. So we've ended up with a very antigay president, but he's not viewed that way by the public."
An early test of Bush's true intentions will be whether he retains the executive order protecting gay federal employees from discrimination. Paleo-con Gary Bauer is pushing for a repeal of that order, along with other decrees involving abortion. During the campaign, Bush fed the right a small chunk of red meat by saying he would decline to name a liaison to the lesbian and gay community. Don't expect dykes to take tea with this president. Look for Bush to work behind the scenes, as he did in Texas, to assure that no gay legislation lands on his desk.
But the worst damage Bush can do is in the courts, where his appointments will make an already conservative federal bench even less likely to consider gay rights. Ralph Nader's assertion that the courts don't matter much is about to land on us. Though Nader embraced a number of gay initiatives during his campaign, he maintained what Cahill calls "a two-tier agenda," with civil rights relegated to the lower rung. The implicit embrace of these priorities by major elements of the left is ominous for anyone who thinks race and sex are as central as class to radical politics. Nader has made it cool to be a social conservative of the left.
Most gay activists understand that homophobia exists across the political spectrum. Seeing our oppression for what it isand taking it seriouslyhas more to do with empathy than with any political ideology. So it could be that, in the coming year, gays will find heroes in unlikely places. Maybe even in the Boy Scouts.