This will be our year.

Posted on June 20, 2009
Filed Under Book Review, Deep Thoughts | 323 Comments

June is a special month for my neighborhood:  Chelsea.   In an annual migration, the circuit boys have landed here for the month, en route to Provincetown, Fire Island and points beyond.  This ephemeral splash of beauty is enhanced by the occasional appearance of long-lost acquaintances–acquaintances I’d long thought were dead.  The experience is quasi-religious: a virtual resurrection.   No, he didn’t die.  He just moved to California.

But something else is going on this June.  Quite simply it is the collective feeling that our community–and our people–may be on the cusp of historic change.

To celebrate Gay Pride Month, I am re-reading David Carter’s classic:  Stonewall:  The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution. And this time I am particularly impressed by the similarities between 1969 and 2009.

“Maybe this could be our year.”  Earl Galvin quotes gay men saying to each other as the year 1969 approached.  This was more than just a saucy reference to the last two digits of that year.  Mr. Carter describes a palpable sense of anticipation in the gay community.  In late 1968 WBAI began broadcasting the first weekly radio program on the subject.  Then Time Magazine published its first cover story on the subject.  The then-new Broadway hit show, Hair, had numerous gay-positive references.  And Mr. Carter even describes how in mid-1968, a psychic, went on Johnny Carson’s show and predicted that “…within a few years exclusively homosexual communities would spring up throughout the country.”

So while the nation was feeling the beginnings of a cultural shift on the subject of homosexuality, day to day life for gays and lesbians was extremely difficult.  If Mr. Carter were not such a meticulous writer, it would be easy to forget just how bad it was for gays in early 1969.  LGBTs were routinely arrested and this would almost certainly lead to immediately losing your job.  And make it difficult for you to find work again.  So while Americans were watching Peter Sellers make gay-positive statements in the hit movie, I Love You Alice B. Toklas, gays were still being rounded up in bars, forced into “paddy wagons”–on their way to ruined lives.  Meanwhile, the only mainstream gay organization, Mattachine, was supine, compliant with the powers that be and unwilling to ruffle anyone’s feathers in the pursuit of gay rights.

Fast forward to 2009.  Rachel Maddow has her own nightly television show.  Ellen Degeneres has her own daily television show.  The Academy Awards turn into an infomercial for gay marriage.  Jodie Foster comes out as a lesbian.  And Chastity Bono comes out as a man.

To quote that late sixties television ad:  “You’ve come a long way baby!”

And yet:  gays and lesbians are still being drummed out of the military in a cruel and dishonorable way.  In most of the country LGBTs can still lose their jobs because of who they are.  Violence against LGBTs is still a serious problem.  And in no part of the United States do LGBTs have full marriage rights.

And what about our gay leaders?  Compliant, supine.  Barney Frank has proven himself to be so compliant to the Democratic Party Establishment that he no longer can be called a gay leader.  Why?  Because yesterday he announced that he approved of the language of the Obama Administration brief in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act.  Among other things that brief compared gay marriage to incest.  The language was so offensive that The New York Times called it  A Bad Call on Gay Rights.  So much for Mr. Frank’s “leadership.”  But this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.  It was Barney Frank’s “leadership” that enabled the passage of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell “compromise.”

And what about the Human Rights Campaign?  Well, the best you can say about its leader Joe Solmonese is that he has followed; not led.  Two weeks ago, Jason Bellini ran a piece in the Daily Beast. It alleged that Mr. Solmonese had cut a deal with the Democratic Party Establishment.  Put simply the deal was for the HRC to keep quiet about getting rid of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell until “sometime next year.”  HRC called the story “an outright lie.”  And Senator Schumer’s office also denies the story.  I personally have no idea if there is any truth to the story.  Mr. Bellini claims the story is multi-sourced, but more than one person can get a story wrong.  That happens.  The problem for me is this:  the story has the ring of truth.  Whether or not there was a formal deal cut with Democrats, Mr. Solmonese seems to have behaved that way.  He didn’t express any impatience with the administration and even defended it in vague terms: “They’ve got a vision.  They’ve got a plan.”

The Obama administration’s Defense of Marriage Act brief changed everything.  In particular:  David Mixner’s response to it. Mr. Mixner’s eloquence and also his call to LGBTs to stop giving money to the Democratic Party alarmed the Establishment.  And even Mr. Solmonese issued a statement against the DOMA brief. This must have made it a bit awkward for him when he showed up at the White House for the Same Sex Benefits Memorandum signing a few days later.

Am I the only one thinks that President Obama’s signing looked like it took place in a bunker?  The president began it with the question:  “Get everybody in?”  The implication:  bolt the doors quickly lest David Mixner, Cleve Jones or (God forbid)Michael Petrelis shows up to tell us what he really thinks.

How did this happen?  This should have been a joyous occasion.  It should have had a huge contingent of leaders of LGBT organizations, LGBT bloggers and LGBT press.  And it should have taken place in the first month of his administration.

How could this efficient, intelligent administration mess up with the gays so badly?  Let me offer three observations:  First Barack Obama comes out of Chicago politics.  Gays don’t figure as strongly politically in Chicago as they do in, say New York.  For most of my lifetime the city has been run by the Daley family which is relatively conservative culturally.  Second, President Obama’s chief of staff is Rahm Emanuel.  Mr. Emanuel referred to then-President Clinton’s historic meeting with Gay leaders in the Oval Office as “pandering.”  And he pushed for Bill Clinton to come out for the Defense of Marriage Act even before the bill was drafted.  In short, Mr. Emanuel is not a good gate-keeper for the gays.  Third, and this is the biggest point, but also the hardest to convey:  Things are moving very fast.  Faster than anyone could have seen when President Obama took office five months ago today.

Two and a half months ago, I read an article in The New York Times on gay marriage legislation in New England. Included in the article was the phrase “Six by twelve.”  The lofty goal was for gay marriage to pass in all six of New England’s states by the year 2012.  Well, as of today five of New England’s states have gay marriage.  And Iowa has gay marriage too.  No doubt about it:  the movement for equal rights is going faster and faster.

Meanwhile in that bunker-like setting at the White House, the laughter seemed nervous as President Obama cracked half a joke.  Maybe our “leaders” are a little nervous right now.  Maybe they should be.  Because the leaders I’m following right now weren’t in that room in the White House.  In particular, I’m following Cleve Jones who has called for an October 11 March on Washington. Many don’t think it can be done so quickly.  I say to them:  “Yes we can.”

This will be our year.

David Carter’s Stonewall:  The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution is published by St. Martin’s.

Click here for my BlogSpot review.


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