Sunday, July 01, 2007

War! What Is It Good For?

Three days ago, we marked the 38th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and the beginning of the radical gay rights movement. For those who don't know, the Stonewall Riots began in response to a police raid on a gay bar called The Stonewall Inn in New York's Greenwich Village neighborhood. Police raids on gay establishments were very common then as was police harassment and entrapment of gay people. The Stonewall Riots and subsequent riots throughout the country mobilized gay resistance to widespread, systemic oppression and discrimination and transformed the gay movement from an underground, legalistic movement to one based on direct action.

Its role in actually changing the situation for gay people was, like the race riots of the Civil Rights movement, very limited. The riots alerted the gay community to the need to fight back and alerted the mainstream to the fact that gay people would no longer passively accept oppression. Its effectiveness in doing that is unquestionable.

Like the Civil Rights movement, however, the real progresss in the condition of gay people was born of nonviolent direct action. After the riots, the newly radicalized LGBT community used marches, political lobbying, petitions, and lawsuits to challenge discriminatory laws and to fight for laws that would protect the rights of gay people.

The centerpiece of this new movement, however, was visibility in the personal and public lives of gay people. Through "coming out," activists began to draw attention to the ordinariness and diversity of the LGBT community, which crossed all lines of gender, race, religion, class, occupation, education, etc. In addition to coming out in private and in public, the gay community pushed to change the representation of LGBT people in the mainstream media and to create positive images through gay-created media. Unfortunately, much of this visibility came about in part through the AIDS epidemic.

Our visibility and the challenge that poses to the stereotype of gay people as some amorphous "other" disconnected from humanity has radically transformed societal attitudes about sexual orientation and the nature of discrimination. However, there is a long road ahead as we face the resurgent right wing and its far too successful campaign to bar LGBT Americans from full equality before the law.

As I think about all that we've gained and how different my life is from the lives of those who came before me, I can't help celebrating just a little bit. As my friends and I love to say, "Butch Up!"


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