The recent passage of proposition 8 and the concomitant chest beating by both the LGBTQ community and their allies has masked and important new reality. Only an a-historical people like Americans could have missed the parallels.
If people have any knowledge of Stonewall at all it is a vague recall of a riot by gays in the late 60’s by Gay men. Maybe a passing comment is made on how this was one of the very first blows for sexual freedom in an era that saw much concern for increasing human rights. What is not often remarked upon on his how this particular revolution follows a very common historical pattern. Revolutions almost never occur in periods of grim oppression. The people are just too scared. Revolutions since the 1798 blow-up in France most often occur when oppression follows a period of relative liberality. The other most common cause of revolutions is the military defeat of the national elites by a foreign power.
With Stonewall it was the NYPD’s vigorous enforcement of anti-gay statutes after a fairly long policy of live-and-let-live that sparked the eponymous riots in Greenwich Village way back in early morning hours of June 28, 1969. The general air of Cultural Revolution wafting about in the late 60’s added to the Gay communities demands for recognition.
As the Disco 70’s unfolded the Gay community slowly advanced its markers. It was not easy as early Christianist bigots like Anita Bryant opposed them every step of the way. In the 80’s the Disco ball crashed with the arrival of AIDS. Now the push for recognition of the rights of Gays especially Gay men became a matter of life and death. Organizations like ACT UP got in people’s grills and made them deal with the reality of both AIDS and the Gay Community. With the eighties finally giving in to the 90’s the first wave of gay activism crashed against the hard rocks of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the ascendancy of the religious rights. Gays for the most part left the streets and entered the courts.
It was the courts that handed down most of the major victories in the 90’s and at the turn of the millennium. Again slow headway was gained. Almost every time gay rights were put up to a vote the electorate lashed out especially in the south. Brutal experiences lead the LGBTQ community to stay within the safe political confines of either the courts or reliably liberal urban areas. Cities like San Francisco, New York and Boston became oasis of tolerance in a generally hostile State and national environment. The bible belt became an especially hostile area for Gays to inhabit. In many states the voters or their elected representatives went out of their way to express their homophobia, striping gays of the right to marry or the opportunity to adopt children became a electoral pastime. Many states enshrined their bigotry in their constitution outlawing gay marriage. Some states went so over the top they even tried to find ways to ban not only civil unions but any type of legal ledger main that could stand in for civil unions.
Still there was hope that the more progressive states would lead the way to a more perfect union. State courts in New Jersey and Massachusetts forced recalcitrant legislators to enact laws enshrining gay marriage. The 800 pound gorilla of the states, California was the most recent example of state supreme courts informing the unwashed masses of the idea of equal protection. But what the courts gave the initiative process took away. Voters in California attempted to slam the marriage door in the face of the LGBTQ community. It was the first time the electorate had stripped away a right in the voting booth. It came as a shock because California was thought to be a progressive state.
The initial shock gave way to a deep and abiding anger. When prop 8 supporters attempted to nullify the marriages made possible by the California Supreme Court, the anger turned into rage. Some times the rage was ill directed as with the African American community. Other times it found a justifiable target as with the Mormon Church. The gay community did not appreciate the Latter Day Saints marching in from Utah with all there money to support proposition 8.
What prop 8 did was strip away the deadly complacency in the marriage equality movement. Organizers looked at the vote break down and were appalled. They were expecting that the African American results to be negative, what was hurtful was the deficit in both the Hispanics and even the white cohort. Only among Asians did the Queer Nation find any sympathy. As there was a deep and well organized outreach to the Asian community organizers knew what the job at hand was.
There is a new purpose, a new determination and a new movement building. It is only in its formative stage right now. But make no mistake prop 8 was a clarion call. It has sparked a whole new political activism whose organizational battle cry is “this will not stand!” It is passing strange that a politician with such sensitive antenna as Barack Obama has failed to pick up the first rumblings of the coming political earthquake. Obama’s invitation to Rick Warren, the misogynist that gays love to hate, to give the invocation at the inaugural was politically tone deaf. It angered the progressive movement and it angered the LGBTQ community. Any temporary unity upside seems to be rendered moot by the ruffling of feathers in the progressive base. When one looks at the LGBTQ community Obama’s reach around to Teddy Bear Rick was needless gasoline poured on the fire. The Obama Pollyannas claim that he will set things right by appointing an openly gay man to the Department of the Navy. Fat chance of that. Obama saw what happened to Bill Clinton when Bubba went to bat for Gays in the military. Obama is not going to expend any of his vast store or political capital on Gay rights issues unless and until gays get in his grill about it. Obama does not like conflict and the haters in the Elephant Party are more than willing to provide said conflict on any number of issues but especially anything to do with being nice to the dreaded Gay. President Hope and Change is going to supplying hope to the LGBTQ community, the hope he might eventually do right by them, but all he going to give the Queer Nation is chump change. He has misinterpreted prop 8 as a national unwillingness to go any further on the issue of gay rights.
In the long run this is actually a good thing. Gay activists will soon relearn that the only way they will get any movement on their issues is by organizational push and push back. The best way to do this is finally and truly come out. The message of “I’m here and I’m queer—deal with it” has to be shoved into American psyche not only on a grand political scale but also on a more personal one. Even stone cold Republican political bigots are willing to accept the dreaded Gay in their circle of friends, acquaintances and more importantly their staff once they get to know a Gay person on a individual level. Once people find out that the dreaded Gay is not those goofballs parading around in thongs on pride day, once people find out that the dreaded Gay is actually rather boringly normal, they become more accepting. It is only when people are allowed to hermetically seal themselves against the Gay in fortress like Mega Churches or by disowning their own progeny that they can hold on to their bigotry. To know a Gay person is not necessarily to love them but to understand them and find commonality. Thus, the three main planks of the new Gay movement are outreach, outreach, and outreach. The more boringly normal Gays become the more the general public will allow them to do boringly normal things, like get married.
Thom Hartmann, Air America Radio personality, author, and political sage has literally been broadcast the game plan for many a year. Democracy begins with the individual citizen. It is up to him or her to get active. The only systemic changes in a Democracy occur with an informed, aroused and involved citizenry. The LGBTQ community is about to put the Hartmann proscription in to practice; buckle up it is going to get very interesting.