Fifty years ago, starting in the 1960’s, activists and Pride events had tremendous purpose: we were literally fighting for our families, for our rights, for our lives. “Pride was more than a march – it was a manifesto,” said Boston Globe’s Renee Graham in her article today. She adds, “With 21st-century progress came complacency. Of course, activists were always hard at work, but Pride began to feel as docile as a picnic. … It was as if we’d gained our rights, but lost our spine.”
We need our spines again. Pride this year, to continue to quote Graham, “should be flush with anger against an administration that author and activist Michelangelo Signorile called ‘a who’s who of LGBT opponents.’ Even when Trump visited Saudi Arabia last month, he spent more time curtsying than criticizing that nation’s ultra-conservative leadership for its stance against homosexuality, which is punishable by death. …Now we’re faced with Trump and his homophobic Cabinet. Vice President Mike Pence favors “religious freedom” laws that promote discrimination. As an Alabama senator, Attorney General Jeff Sessions received a zero rating on LGBTQ issues from the Human Rights Campaign. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos last month refused to say whether she would withhold federal money from private schools that discriminate against LGBTQ students. And Trump’s 2018 budget is proposing deep cuts to HIV and AIDS prevention. …First Daughter Ivanka Trump, who claims to be a persuasive voice on social matters in her father’s administration, is not our ally. States are still pushing so-called “bathroom bills” that endanger the lives of transgender people, while gay men are being detained, tortured, and murdered in Chechnya. Meanwhile, the Trump administration is doing nothing.”
In 1987, ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) told us that Silence = Death. Today feels as frightening as it didn back then. It’s not enough for the LGBT community and our allies to attend Pride events this year: we must be visible and out and loud and strategic and powerful in this politically hostile climate.
We have much work to do. We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re not going to allow our rights to be eroded under a regime of fools. Persist and resist, friends!
Today in LGBT History – June 4
1971 – Nearly two years after the Stonewall riot, a group of men and women from the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) walk into the New York City Marriage License Bureau carrying coffee urns and boxes of cake. Their purpose: to hold an engagement party for two male couples and to protest the “slander” of City Clerk Herman Katz who had threatened legal action against same-sex “holy unions” being performed by the Church of the Beloved Disciple which had a largely gay congregation.
Early gay activists were cultural radicals, because only radicals would have done what they did or dared to stand up at that moment in history. That’s important to bear in mind as the cultural history of the gay-marriage fight is written — gay marriage was not an idea gay conservatives invented in the 1980s and 1990s, though men like Andrew Sullivan and Jonathan Rauch have done extraordinary work since then within conservative circles to build, if not a bipartisan constituency for legalizing same-sex marriage, at least some highly visible bipartisan support for it. But gay marriage was always on the agenda, from the very beginning of the post-Stonewall gay-rights movement, when gays were still criminals under the law in many states and designated by the psychiatric profession as suffering from a mental disorder. Homosexuality was removed from the DSM in 1973 — the same year Maryland enacted the first state ban on same-sex marriage in response to the new agitation. A real movement for gay marriage could only became possible once other legal and cultural battles were won. A 1971 gay marriage test case lost every appeal it went through until the Supreme Court declined to hear it in 1972, citing a lack of a “substantial federal question.”
In the 1980s, AIDS became the focus of the gay community’s activism. And the state laws criminalizing gay sex were not struck down, finally and by the Supreme Court, until 2003; that same year Evan Wolfson started his Freedom to Marry group. For cultural and strategic reasons, the early gay-rights movement made its priority changing other widely held anti-gay views and laws — including the right to serve openly in the military, which became a major issue as early as 1975, when decorated Vietnam veteran Leonard Matlovich appeared on the cover of Time for his lawsuit against the military ban.
The symbol for the GAA was the Lambda, the lower case Greek L, meaning justice. In the early 1970s, graphic designer Tom Doerr selected the Greek letter lambda to be the symbol of the New York chapter of the Gay Activists Alliance. In December 1974, the lambda was officially declared the international symbol for gay and lesbian rights by the International Gay Rights Congress in Edinburgh, Scotland. The gay rights organizations Lambda Legal and the Lambda Literary Foundation derive their names from this symbol.
The best resistance is to speak OUT!
(Historical information obtained from a variety of sources including QUIST at facebook.com/quistapp, Back2Stonewall.com, Lavender Effect, Arron’s Gay Info, All Things Queer, RS Levinson, and/or Wikipedia. If you wish to edit an item or add an item, please send an email to me at email@example.com. Thanks!)