Pride is quiet for me this year. I'm in Bluffton SC, and Michael and I will be celebrating it by ourselves here.
Happy Gay Day Everyone!
Sixty year old gay me sits astonished at all the progress I’ve seen over the last 45 years since I was a frightened little gayby peeking out of the closet door. Who would have dreamed back then that something so reviled, so terrifyingly secret and vulnerable to the assaults of both law and crime could become such a successful global a political movement. Marriage equality, gays and lesbians (and trans soon again) serving openly in the military! Openly gay candidates running for high office … and winning! Legal protections for LGBTQs in employment, housing, and public accommodation in many places in the USA, though certainly not everywhere. Astonishing to see other countries around the world that are way ahead of us on so many LGBTQ issues, especially civil rights. Doubly amazing to see the Irish vote in huge numbers FOR legalizing same sex marriage. And here I am with my partner of the last 15 years sitting in a condo that we own, that we bought quite openly as a couple, and in the first state of the Confederacy. In New York City, we can share a medical insurance policy and enjoy anti-discrimination protections in housing and employment. Frightened little 16 year old me with my deep dark secrets would be gobsmacked to see all of this. I am amazed to see gay equality becoming normalized, that in many places homophobia is rapidly joining racism among morally reprehensible archaisms. People don’t want to be friends with, date, hire, or work for homophobes any more than they would want to with racists. That was certainly not always the case, and still isn’t in a lot of the USA.
People lately exclaim over the rapid progress of the gay cause. I don’t know about the “rapid” part. That cause has been underway since the mid 19th century and faced a lot of backlash and violence. Our Book of Martyrs is far too long. In my lifetime, people could still be forcibly committed to “treatment” for homosexuality in state institutions by court order usually brought by one or more family members. I knew one such person over 40 years ago, sent to a state hospital in Texas by his mother to be “treated.” He came out of that experience angry, completely alienated from his family – and gayer than ever. These things happened much more often than people think. I can remember how gay men in Dallas and Kansas City, Missouri were sitting ducks for violent crime. In both places, muggers and worse frequently targeted them in parks where they cruised, or as they were walking back to their cars or home late at night after bar hopping or from parties. I can remember bars before closing time always urging people to leave in groups. I knew one young man in KC with a mouth full of metal teeth after being pistol whipped by a mugger. Since both the State of Texas and the State of Missouri aggressively enforced anti-sodomy laws in those days (the penalty in Missouri was 5 years in the state pen, and yes there were young men arrested, prosecuted, and imprisoned under those laws), gay crime victims were usually very reluctant to go to the police. A popular shop teacher that I knew as a boy used to regularly take favorite students out on Saturday nights to go “queer hunting” in Reverchon Park in Dallas. Violence was, and still is, an omnipresent fact of life for LGBTQs. I wish I could say all of this is in the past, but it’s not. Even in officially gay safe neighborhoods in New York, gay men can be attacked and even murdered in broad daylight (remember Mark Carson).
I remember people banging on for years about how the gay movement lacked leadership, that it devoured so many of its leaders. Few movements are more faction ridden and consumed with internal quarrels than gay liberation. And yet, the success of the gay movement here and around the world is due to thousands, millions of personal decisions to be true to one’s self, to no longer be afraid and ashamed, and to come out publicly. It turns out that people are safer out in the wide open, that the closet is the most vulnerable place of all. It’s the cumulative weight of all those personal decisions to come out, and their impact on families, friends, communities, and businesses that really drove the victories of this movement, that defeated crippling stereotypes, and moved the issue out of the realm of abstraction and into the concrete and personal. Everyone who ever came out of the closet is a leader.
Our enemies always obsess about our sex lives, reducing us all to a set of sex acts. The more radical among us I think wisely decided to accept the sexuality that makes us distinct and to celebrate it, taking all the dehumanizing poison out of our enemies’ sting. The stuff of straight men’s jokes and curses are our pleasures. Certainly, I’ve tried to do my part as an artist to take the stigma of same sexuality and turn it into a distinction to be embraced (everybody speculates over Caravaggio’s sexuality; no one does this with Rubens’ work). Our enemies obsess over fertility as though a world with 7 billion people is in any danger of becoming depopulated. They regularly predict our demise in sterility, that our refusal to reproduce in the conventional fashion guarantees our eventual extinction. And yet, I see no reluctance on the part of nature or God to replenish our ranks, even in the face of pogrom and plague. Religious leaders from Savonarola to Kevin Swanson to any number of rabbis, mullahs, and would-be messiahs are out to kill us all. The Nazis used us as fodder for their “medical experiments” and killed thousands of us (a gay veteran of the Wehrmacht I once knew said that you could double the numbers on all the memorials and have a conservative estimate of all the people who really died while gay under the Nazi regime). And Marxist-Leninist regimes from Stalin to Castro were murderously homophobic. AIDS killed us by the hundreds of thousands. And yet, here we still are. There are as many of us now as there always were, and always a new generation comes out. This will continue so long as straight couples (and now not so straight couples) continue to have gay babies.
Gay liberation is on the march around the world, even in the Muslim world in the face of unimaginable threats and violence. Expectations continue to rise throughout the world. Gays and lesbians, trans folk, queer folk of all kinds in every corner of the earth continue to discover themselves, find each other, and to struggle for their freedom and dignity. This continues even in such hostile regions as Eastern Europe, central Africa, and the Middle East. The cause of gay liberation makes inroads into religious communities of all kinds, even in the gay hostile Roman Catholic Church all the way up to the current occupant of St. Peter’s throne. Even among communities of Evangelical Christians, there are small movements for gay acceptance. That they exist at all is significant.
The light of Liberty goes out in the USA as it rejects democracy for fascism, as the corporate oligarchy that rules over us and writes our laws keeps us all pacified and obedient in a low wage high cost economy that puts us all in debt. Some clergy eagerly look forward to riding shotgun with the police to force everyone to stick to the straight and narrow as they define it. Soon, we may take up the Chinese practice of assigning everyone a “social credit rating” that tolerates no deviancy.
But liberty is a hard thing to give up once it’s been tasted. That toothpaste will not go back into the tube, even with violent force. Gay Liberation will continue to expand even if it must do so underground and once again under a constant threat of violence. In our future police state, it will be the deviants who keep the light of Liberty burning, even if in secret. Far from the rot of democracy and Western civilization, we are instead its canaries in the coal mine. So long as we are safe, then so is everyone else, so are democracy and liberal values. The tyrant slaying lovers Harmodius and Aristogeiton remind us that we played our part creating Western civilization and democratic values. We who are frequently scapegoated include those who publicly and courageously demanded Liberty and paid for it with their lives (hello Fanny Ann Eddy). We who are always seen as weak brought down a dictator’s minions (hello Willem Arondeus) and even saved the world (hello Alan Turing). Thus always to tyrants who threaten us. Defending Liberty is up to all of us, but for LGBTQs it is especially urgent.
Harmodius and Aristogeiton, the Tyrannicides
Marty Robinson and Tom Doerr during a Gay Activists Alliance
occupation of Nelson Rockefeller's campaign headquarters in 1970.
Photo by Diana Davies.
Photo by Diana Davies
Marsha P. Johnson, photo by Diana Davies.