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But Will It Play in Peoria?

Updated: Aug 23, 2022

I came out in 1988. Gay rights (it was called Gay rights at the time) were beginning to get some momentum. However, the queer movement (that word was loathed at the time) argued that we needed to put our most “respectable” face forward. We needed White professionals (doctors, lawyers, and famous people) to stand up for our rights. The rest of us- bisexuals, trans, queer, drag kings and queens, non-conformist, bull daggers, fairies and the like) were told to please stand quietly in the background. Eventually, we were told, the movement could include us.

The question raised at almost every LGBTQ group meeting was, “But will it play in Peoria?” This meant could white, heterosexual, evangelical, monogamous, queer-hating, steer-loving, racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic America tolerate giving the White, monogamous, lesbian physician couple the right not to be fired immediately because they were *gasp* gay! The rest of us were told we were too unpalatable for America. We were told our presence would detract and delay our rights.

The thing is, that delay of nearly three decades has cost millions of us our lives. Trans folks are murdered routinely because of bias. Lesbians are “fix-it” raped. Fairies are targeted and beaten. Waiting got us DADT instead of the right to serve. Waiting got us the right to marry but we can still be fired in most states. Waiting got us a segregated queer community with “MASC for MASC” and “no fatties or femmes” on Grindr.

With the election of the angry cheeto our rights, all of our rights are deeply threatened. The 100 day plan includes taking funding from HIV/AIDS treatment and education and having it funneled into conversion therapy. It has our immigrant brothers in harms way of being deported. It has our Muslim sisters getting their hijab ripped off and they are assaulted. It is the faggots, and fairies, and bull daggers, and bois, and leather dykes and daddies, and drag queens and kings that will be the first harmed.

The LGBTQ movement’s beginning is culturally marked by the Stonewall Riots. Who was there throwing bottles and fists and fighting the cops? It was the drag community, minorities, the bull daggers and fairies. We started this and then got cut out. We as a community cannot do that again.

As we are threatened by the cheeto brain and his followers, we have to carry our community, our entire community, forward at the same time. We must fight the urge of some in this community to want to be “bland” and “digestible” for Peoria.

The thing is, even you “bland” professional passing queers will never be acceptable to the cheeto hoards. Telling yourself you are somehow more acceptable tells the world that the rest of us queers are “unacceptable” even in the Gay movement.

So, as your groups start to plan organizing meetings, as you do outreach to your communities, you must specifically reach out to the disenfranchised and disliked parts of the queer community. We are still segregated. Many of us do not feel particularly welcome in certain LGBTQ groups. You can’t say you “fight for all queers” and then only welcome the wealthy, or “masculine” or “high femme” or passing queers to speak on our behalf.

We made that mistake thirty years ago. We must not do it again.

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