Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Melissa Etheridge on Activism, Celebrity and Rick Warren

Below is audio of the full Melissa Etheridge interview from the show today.

Regarding the "reaching out" and the ongoing dialogue that both Melissa Etheridge and Rick Warren (and his defenders) have talked about, she told me that she and Warren "email," though he has "been sick," so they haven't been able to get together. But, she says, she plans to visit his church, and that she hopes he will will visit her home.

We talked about the role of gay celebrities as well as of gay activists and the dilemmas that arise. We also talked about Warren's beliefs, most of which it doesn't seem she had known in full. Still, she discussed the "experience" of meeting with him as something powerful and important. She describes their having been booked for the same event (where she had to deal with him) as the "universe handed me something." Below are a some highlights, but I suggest, for context, you listen to the entire interview and give Melissa Etheridge a fair shake. Let me know your thoughts.

Signorile: I want to come back to what [Rick Warren] believes, and what his beliefs were and what he’s about, in a few minutes, but just staying on this idea of you taking that position and then it being so public, you[once] used this term, that you felt Bill Clinton threw us "under the bus."

Melissa Etheridge: Yes.

MS: A lot of activists, when you came out and assumed this role, because you are such a powerful figure just by virtue of who you are, they felt undermined from their message, and felt you threw them under the bus...I don’t know how we deal with this issue of, you know, we want public figures to speak out and be public, and of course when we don’t agree with them we don’t like that. So, I’m by no means saying I’m absolute [on this]...But what do you say to those who say you undermined them and threw them under the bus?

ME: I am sorry if they felt like in any way I undermined them. I truly believe everyone has their perspective and position on this. I’m glad for the activists who say this is not right to include someone who has spoke very poorly about a community that got this man elected...I also know I had this experience that I had to speak about...I think the best thing I can do for the gay community is speak my truth and say this is what happened to me.

MS: It sounds like you really didn’t get a lot of information about this...and find out what his views really were...Did you connect with the Human Rights Campaign [a group with which she has worked] and other gay groups before making your decision?

ME: No, I looked it up on the Internet. I tried to find what people were saying. I watched the beliefnet article, where he was asked about, “So gay marriage, is that like pedophilia and incest and stuff?" And I got to ask him, “So what’s that all about?” And he gave me his response. Now, again, I’m just going to take him on what he says --

MS: But can we take people on what they say when they’re working against us? Shouldn't we go by what their record is? We have seen that this man has empowered the very forces in Africa that have allowed people to become infected with HIV. He pushed abstinence-only programs, he helped to demonize gay people. There are gay people locked up in jail …because of Rick Warren...So shouldn't we go by his record?...

ME: ...Yes, absolutely we should. We should hold people accountable. Now, does that mean they are exiled from what we are trying to accomplish here, which is a united America? Or do we say, we see you now? You can’t be part of this party and hide that. I really want people to know that I’m not defending him.

MS: I think people know that, and you talked about reaching out, but I guess their feeling is, You reach out when people come halfway or three quarters of the way..The way he’s worked against gay people, would we reach out to someone who has racist views? I think Barack Obama would say, No, they’re not welcome.

ME: Right. Okay, you know, again, it’s such a fine line. And I, in my path and where I’m at, believe that we accomplish more by being present, by being out and open and saying you can no longer do this and we are all in this together. You got up and gave the invocation in front of two million people who wanted change and you are now held responsible. I think change happens when you include, not when you exclude...

MS: What do you feel Rick Warren has done though to change? You say we shouldn't’ exclude but he has excluded people...Have you spoken to him since then? Do you have an ongoing dialogue?

ME: We email. He’s actually been very sick, which says a lot to me,(laughs) because I look at heath in a lot of different ways. And he has emailed me. He emailed me a letter he wrote to his gay friends...He has asked me to his church, I have asked him to my home...

Listen to the full interview below.