Forty years ago today, 28 June 1969, a firecracker was lit under the seats of gay (and when I say gay, I'm talking about the lesbians, gay men, bisexual, transgender, and queer folk -- a/k/a the LGBTQers) New Yorkers who, after years of being raided by the police for trying to assemble peacefully (you know, one of those pesky little First Amendment rights guaranteed to citizens of the United States of America), led mostly by a group of transgendered individuals including such notables as Raymond Castro (who recently reflected back on the miniscule accomplishments made by the LGBTQ community during the past 40 years) and the late Sylvia Rivera, stood up for their rights and fought back in what has been dubbed the Stonewall Riots or, simply, Stonewall.
Most people mistakenly believe that the gay rights movement started with Stonewall and, therefore, that the movement for LGBT civil rights in the United States is only 40 years old. This is, however, far from the truth. In fact, the LGBT civil rights movement can trace its roots back in history more than twice as long: the Society for Human Rights was founded in Chicago, Illinois, in 1924. That's right, 1924. That's 85 years ago. This timeline by InfoPlease shows many (but sadly, not all) of the important milestones in the LGBT civil rights movement.
So where does that leave us now? Quite frankly, not far from where we began. While we now are able to express our love for each other physically in the privacy of our own bedrooms without fear of being imprisoned for as many as twenty years (thank you, Lawrence v. Texas 539 U.S. 558 (2003)--that's right, it was only six years ago that all LGBT folk were finally able to be who they are without fear from being arrested and persecuted by the state. Six--short--years.
Other than that, what else has been accomplished? Well, let's see:
We have Don't Ask, Don't Tell --the policy that allows LGBT folk to serve in the military, as long as they remain in the closet and don't tell anyone. The "Don't Ask" part is pretty much a joke once you get IN to military service, so you basically have to lie and not be true to yourself if you wish to remain dedicated in service to one's country.
We have the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines, at the federal level, marriage to be strictly between one male and one female (or a man and a woman, whichever verbiage suits your fancy). This law effectively makes more than 1,138 federal statutes completely inapplicable to a significant segment of the United States population.
About.com has a great article that they keep mostly up-to-date on the jurisdictions around the world that have some sort of provision for marriage equality. As can be seen from here, Europe completely outpaces the United States' individual states when it comes to marriage equality--never mind the federal government.
And what are we doing about this? Most of the LGBTers in the USA have thrown their support behind one of the two main political parties (the Democrats), neither of which truly has our best interests at heart. Recently, however, I believe there's been an epiphany in the United States LGBT community, and a call for accountability in terms of promises that politicians have been making for decades.
However, much of the leadership in political and mainstream LGBT organizations is still willing to sell our souls, rights, and support to politicians who have little chutzpah to stand up for our rights, to stand up and treat us as human beings, and to deliver the same basic human rights and protections that are afforded the rest of the population.
Take, for instance, this e-mail conversation I had with Alan Van Capelle, Executive Director of the Empire State Pride Agenda (I've edited out the signature sections and some of the e-mail header information):
Forwarded conversationI never received a response from Mr. Van Capelle as regards the last e-mail that I sent to him. What's interesting is that, now that when Senator Smith first gained control of the Senate and the threat of a coup first arose, he still backed Senator Smith (note:this links to a PDF file). If you don't trust the gay media, then just take a look at Mr. Van Capelle's statement. So what happened when the harsh reality was uncovered that Senator Smith ran the NYS Senate exactly in the same manner as former NYS Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-NY)? There was an outcry of silence.
Subject: Senator Smith
From: Peter C Frank
Date: Mon, Jan 26, 2009 at 6:49 PM
To: Alan Van Capelle
I'd like to know the strategy that PA is taking with respect to the fact that Senator Smith has stabbed us in the back w/ regards to marriage equality in NYS (as I understand it, his promise to make marriage equality one of the first things done if the LGBT community would donate tons of money to help the Dems win a majority in the State Senate, which we did, and now that this is done Smith has decided to yield to Diaz's pressures and will not be bringing civil marriage to a vote in the Senate this year) ...
Also, if you can help out with this question: http://petercfrank.blogspot.
Hope all is well and Happy Chinese New Year!
From: Alan Van Capelle
Date: Tue, Jan 27, 2009 at 12:26 PM
To: Peter C FrankFrom: Peter C Frank
The Pride Agenda worked to flipped in two anti-LGBT State Senate seats and replace them with two pro-LGBT Senators. The Majority Leader is on record and has consistently repeated that when we win the votes to pass a bill we have his commitment that the bill will be brought to the floor for a vote. That has not changed. We do not yet have the votes to win but are working hard to get there. We believe it is our community’s responsibility to earn the votes we need to pass a bill.
Your understanding of a commitment regarding campaign money in return for legislation is totally inaccurate.
Our sleeves are rolled up and we are working hard.
Date: Wed, Jan 28, 2009 at 5:41 PM
To: Alan Van Capelle
Cc: Connie Ress
I'm including Connie in this discussion, as I've known her since her beginnings @ MENY. Since marriage is one of her main schticks, I'd like to get her views on this. At some point, this most likely will turn into a blog post by me, so I am advising you now that anything said from this point forward might be quoted by me (I won't quote your last e-mail unless I have your explicit permission to do so). And for the record, the order in which this e-mail is presented is not the order in which it has been written.
An explicit commitment may not have been made but how can you deny the shift in language and attitude that occurred between the beginning of the 2008 campaign season (which I wasn't really paying attention to as I was dealing w/ a lot of personal shit), the end of the 2008 campaign season, and where things stand now?
I think it's very clear that an implicit commitment was made to our community from politicians who were campaigning that if we pledged our support, in terms of time, money, and votes, then they would press to see that marriage was a priority. To me, and I'm speaking in terms of BOTH sides of the aisle here (as you may recall I'm a GOPer but first and foremost I'm an LGBTer -- I <3 href="http://nitestar.gather.com/gay" target="_blank">http://nitestar.gather.com/gay
I've found some articles on the web (I haven't done a thorough search -- just a cursory one) that supports my position. Can you please explain these articles:
news.cfm?newsid=20215456&BRD= 2729&PAG=461&dept_id=568864& rfi=6
news.cfm?newsid=20215456&BRD= 2729&PAG=461&dept_id=568864& rfi=6
blogs/dailypolitics/2008/12/ details-of-a-leadership-deal. html
11062006/news/columnists/(I include this only b/c I've recently moved to Yonkers and Stewart-Cousins is now my State Senator and I don't know her position on marriage) westchester_senate_race_a_ test_of_spitzers_clout_ columnists_fredric_u__dicker. htm
news.cfm?newsid=20237603&BRD=where, and I quote from the article, 2729&PAG=461&dept_id=568864& rfi=6Election Night seemed a sweet victory for the LGBT community here in New York, when Smith, the Senate minority leader for the past two years, mounted the podium at the Sheraton Hotel in Midtown to declare that Democrats had achieved what they had hoped for. At the Fall Dinner of the Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA) one year earlier, Smith, in an exuberant mood, pledged to put marriage equality, already passed by the Assembly and supported by Governor David Paterson, at "the top of the list" if the Democrats gained control of the Senate.
You know, I was all set to accept your explanation until I found the above article. Clearly, Sen. Smith has reneged on his promise, and ESPA and--you in particular--appear to have absolutely no qualms about this whatsoever. If you did, then you wouldn't have responded to me that Sen. Smith is on record for saying that marriage will come to the NYS Senate floor for a vote when it has the votes to pass. Please tell me, exactly how is this different than the manner by which former Sen. Maj. Ldr. Bruno handled things (he wouldn't bring anything to the floor for a vote unless it had the votes to pass, and Sen. Smith is doing the same exact thing with marriage).
I must ask this, and I know I'm shouting, but WHY THE HELL IS ESPA NOT HOLDING SMITH TO HIS COMMITMENT MADE TO ESPA IN 2007????
However, since the recent coup has placed control of the New York State Senate initially with the GOP and now is up in the air (and ironically, the GOP was willing to bring the marriage equality bill to the floor of the Senate for a vote, unlike the power-hungry Senator Smith, who wished only to retain control of the Senate -- control that the LGBT community helped deliver), the Pride Agenda is now crying foul.
And this isn't just happening at the local or state level. Just take a look at the flak President Obama has received for his inaction and broken promises on a number of LGBT-rights issues: his refusal to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, his inaction on repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, and his administration's homophobic rhetoric in support of upholding the Defense of Marraige Act.
One of these days, the LGBT common-folk will come to understand that politicians will do and say anything to get elected, promise the world, or as much of it as one can believe. But once in power, all such promises will become long-forgotten. And the leadership of the LGBT community's major organisations is willing to play right along.
There is only one way that we will achieve our equality: we must stand up and be counted. Only by taking responsibility for our own actions, and holding those we entrust with power accountable, will anything ever happen.
Until then, Happy Pride!
(photo courtesy of AlanNYC / alanhyman.com)