When Glitterbombing Backfires

Sure, the protest tactic gets attention - but is it the right kind?

Illustration by G Philly

When Rick Santorum – the oh-so-anti-gay presidential hopeful who came in second in Iowa yesterday – was glitterbombed this week (glitterbomb, v., a new form of protest that is to toss glitter at someone who is opposed to gay rights), a lot of people were laughing. But I’m not so sure they were laughing at the right guy.

To spotlight what an enemy Santorum has and continues to be to the LGBT community is a great idea, especially since he’s vowed to annul same-sex marriages if elected president (a long shot, but his words have momentum). But does the flashy glitterbombing of politicians and celebrities really do anything to advance equal rights? And could it, instead, have the power to alienate potential allies and make a mockery of the serious issues facing LGBT Americans today?

Today’s glitterbombing reminds me of all the pie tossing years ago against controversial figures (hello, Anita Bryant) that, to me, only sought to make the protestors look ridiculous in the eyes of the world. Is that all you have? A pie to the face? Even when they tried to cream Rupert Murdoch last year, didn’t we all hope for something a little more ingenious – like a phone tap? That’ll teach him. But a pie just seems like a waste of food (ask MANNA). And glitter? Surely there’s an art class somewhere that has a better use for it than having it land on someone’s lapel.

Like the pie tossers, glitterbombers only ever really manage to secure a few minutes of fame (which feels more like seconds these social media days) and risk alienating any reasonable person who may agree that physical attacks (however innocuous) are out of line. Case in point: The guy who tossed the glitter at Santorum looks ridiculous in the video as he shrieks something about “tasting the rainbow.” And unless he’s an ad guy for Skittles, most Americans will likely miss the point.

Even when they tossed glitter at Newt Gingrich last year for his anti-gay rhetoric – getting lots of video hits – I had to worry if it might make the LGBT movement seem so frivolous. People who may not understand the nuances of the very real fight for LGBT rights may end up discounting a movement based on a couple of high-flying sequins, sequins that would look better pasted onto a Cher costume anyway. For some folks, the glitterbombing phenomenon becomes their only connection to LGBT protest – especially when networks like Fox News make sure if that.

So to glitterbomb or not to glitterbomb?

If that’s the question for gay rights now, the answer could rely less on the sparkles and on real people with legitimate things to say. There are so many smart people in this community who are eloquent and have stories to tell. Did you see the video by the gay son raised by lesbian moms? Or even the thousands of “It’s Gets Better” blogs? These people speak volumes about the injustices LGBT people face today and continue to face as guys like Santorum try to strip away human rights – in the name of God, no less. The impact these people have is monumental compared to a handful of sparkles thrown in someone’s face. Even if that someone is the butt of Dan Savage’s much-Googled joke.