In many cities across the nation, June is LGBT Pride month. As we wind down another Pride Month, yesterday and today — June 27 and 28, 2012 — mark especially important days in the history of being proud of who we are as members of the LGBTQIA(etc.) community.
Judy Garland, the actress who played Dorothy in the film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, has been an icon in the gay community. Garland died on Sunday, June 22, 1969. Her funeral occurred the following Friday, June 27, 1969, 43 years ago yesterday, in New York City. Perhaps not in the best mood after losing an icon (or perhaps indifferent), a number of New York’s sexual minorities went that evening to the secret, mafia-owned, gay-welcoming bar at the Stonewall Inn. As late Friday evening turned into early Saturday morning, police raided the bar. But after decades of passivism, peaceful queer patrons finally responded to the government’s initiation of force against them, resulting in a days-long riot. “Stonewall” quickly became the symbol of the modern gay-rights movement.
Despite the many achievements of LGBT persons in the 43 years since Stonewall, including decriminalizing consensual sexual behavior among adults of the same sex (2003), defeating discriminatory marriage provisions in a number of states (2004), and allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in our military (2011), the legal struggle continues, as the practice of police raiding gay bars has continued well into this century, including, for example, three years ago, when Texas police tried to send a signal by raiding a gay bar on June 27 and 28, 2009, Stonewall’s 40th anniversary.
With that background as context, when I attended San Francisco Pride for the initial time this past Saturday, I was stunned at the near-simultaneous convergence of two things.
First, a friend of mine from Ohio who recently married her husband messaged me and told me that she was coming into the city with her husband and two of their friends (a committed gay couple who have been together for 18 years). She said they’d all be in the city in less than two hours and would like to meet me and my husband. When they arrived, we went into a couple of local watering holes and dining establishments in the Castro neighborhood, a block down from where Harvey Milk’s camera shop once operated (and a neighborhood with its own history of violent clashes between the police and gay people). On the way into the restaurants and bars, I had noticed that some crowd control barricades had been stacked next to each other. Presumably, I thought, Castro would be having its own sort of parade the next day. I was wrong. Upon exiting a restaurant, I saw that the entire neighborhood had been barricaded, with armed police at every entrance point, complete with body checks to ensure that no one brought weapons into the neighborhood.
Second, while we walked around the now-wholly-closed-off neighborhood that had been entirely open just hours earlier, I looked up toward Twin Peaks and noticed a giant pink triangle at the top of the hill, and my heart kind of sank. When Nazis placed people in concentration camps, they identified people by symbols sewed on clothing or etched into skin via tattoos (or both). For example, the symbol to identify Jews was a Star of David. The symbol the Nazis affixed to gay people was a pink triangle. Many people mistakenly believe that the first great institute to study sexuality was Indiana University’s famed Kinsey Institute, but nearly 100 years ago, Berlin, Germany, which was a relatively comfortable place for gays to be in the early 20th century, housed Magnus Hirschfield’s Institut für Sexualwissenschaft from 1919 until 1933, when Nazis ultimately destroyed all of the institute’s books and records on sexuality and started rounding up people to place in concentration camps. Seemingly in an instant, a vibrant and welcoming place for sexual minorities became controlled by weapon-wielding government agents unafraid to use force against people ostensibly surrounded and unarmed.
I’m sure many readers of this column will view the quick construction of the police barricades, complete with weapons checkpoints, and my noticing the pink triangle as two discrete events, but they’re not. And my problem is certainly not with reclaiming the pink triangle as a symbol. Rather, my point is that any time we fight for equal treatment under the law, we’re fighting state-sanctioned bullies. When a gay bar is raided, whether at Stonewall in 1969 or Texas in 2009, that bar is raided by agents of the government possessing the government’s (potentially lethal) force to do the bidding. When we fought to overturn “don’t ask, don’t tell,” we were fighting government: laws instituted by Bill Clinton. As many of us fight to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, we’re again fighting the government (yet another law signed by Bill Clinton). And by supporting a federal constitutional amendment that would tell individuals and states that they can’t allow the recognition of the marriage of two consenting adults of the same sex, Mitt Romney has promised, if elected, to use even more federal-government force against both us and state governments. Failure to comply would result in federal government agents initiating whatever force they wanted to enforce Romney’s wishes.
The government bullying of LGBT people doesn’t stop there. When George H. W. Bush’s administration found evidence of gay teen suicide, school bullying, and HIV among gay youth in the early 1990s, despite the sunk cost to taxpayers, the administration attempted to censor the study’s results and limit its distribution.
Public-school teachers, paid agents of the state, continue to look the other way (or happily participate) when gay students get bullied. Other state agents, such as judges, have said within the past decade that gay people should be institutionalized. Child-welfare agencies have knowingly placed queer kids with foster families who force adolescents to participate in quack “reparative” or religious therapy. And police and prosecutors continue to seek out and punish consenting adolescents for engaging in “sodomy” with each other, despite Lawrence v. Texas.
So as we talk about bullying during Pride season and the anniversary of Stonewall, please understand that the only bullies who can legally initiate, legitimize, and employ force against us when we are otherwise peaceful are the government and its agents. In this watershed election year, perhaps politicians promising more government aren’t best for the LGBT community.
What have you done this month to make you feel proud?
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