I know this is something I’ve written about before on this blog, but as we approach what would have been the weekend of the Pride Parade here in Seattle (and many other cities around the country)—while the world is engulfed in a pandemic, and many protests about police brutality and racial inequality—it is vital to remember that the first Pride was a riot. Or, rather, a series of riots the continued for several nights after that first uprising in response to yet another police raid on a gay bar. No one knows for certain why that night people started fighting back. I think it was simply that a bunch of those trans and gender-non-conforming women of color were simply fed up.
And no, the Stonewall riots weren’t the first time that queers had protested and rioted over police brutality of queer people.
In 1959 in Los Angeles, for instance, there was the Cooper Do-nuts Riot. Cooper Do-nuts was a 24-hour donut shop located about halfway between two of the city’s gay bars. It was a place where queer people often congregated at night. At the time it was illegal in California (and many other places and would remain so for many years after), for a person to appear in public wearing clothes traditionally worn by the opposite gender. Because cops liked having an easy excuse to harass queer people, the gay bars didn’t like lots of trans people and street queens to be inside. Cooper Do-nuts served everyone, so it was always full of not just LGBTQ patrons, but specifically trans people, drag queens, and other very obviously gender nonconforming people. So the cops routine showed up there, demanded to see people’s ID and would arrest anyone whose legal ID showed them to a different gender than how they were dressed.
And remember, at the time, that law meant it was illegal for women to wear pants.
Anyway, in May of 1959 a couple of cops came into the shop, demanded to see everyone’s ID, and then tried to arrest two drag queens, two male sex workers, and a gay man. As at least one of those being arrested protested, the crowd erupted, pelting the cops with donuts, trash, and in some cases hot coffee. The cops fled the scene without arresting anyone. Unfortunately, the cops came back with backup and blocked off the entire street. A lot of people wound up arrested.
In 1966 in San Fransisco the management of a Compton’s Cafe decided they didn’t like how many transgender people were hangin out in their cafe, and they started calling the police to get the customers arrested. This caused the community to organize a picket line outside the cafe. Cops were called to arrest the trans people again, and this time a riot broke out. The windows of the cafe were smashed, along with a lot of furniture and all the windows of the first cop car. Eventually reinforcements came in and the riot intensified, but a lot of the riots were beaten, shoved into paddy wagons, and thrown in jail.
While the riot didn’t inspire a national movement, it did motivate a lot of homeless queer youth and others to join an organization called Vanguard Street Actions which staged various mostly peaceful protests, and over time the city began to try making changes in policy to reduce police harassment of queer people.
On New Year’s Eve 1967, at a Los Angeles gay bar called the Black Cat Tavern, a busy New Year’s Eve party took place. The newspaper accounts later said the party was “hopping” and the crowd was happy. Right up until midnight, when couples all over the bar started kissing to ring in the New Year. And then a bunch of undercover police started beating and arresting those kissing couples. Fourteen people were arrested that night. There was no riot. Some weeks later there was an organized public demonstration, and organizations that were lobbying government officials for LGBTQ rights raised a lot of money for among other things to try to appeal the convictions of some of the arrested same-sex couples. The Advocate, which remains a leading queer news source, was founded as a newsletter as part of the organized protests because of the Black Cat raid.
Seven months later, at another Los Angeles gay bar called the Patch, police raided one night, and started arresting people. The owner of the bar, Lee Glaze, jumped up on stage and got the crowd to chant various slogans and tried to convince the cops to let the arrestees go. When they didn’t work, they did not riot. Instead, Glaze led the rest of the crowd up the street to a flower shop, where they bought every single flower in the shop, and then marched to the police station, handing out flowers and chanting as they went. The protested peacefully outside the precinct until everyone arrested made bail and was released.
One of the protesters was a formerly-closeted pastor (who had been kicked out of the church) named Troy Perry, whose boyfriend (Tony Valdez) was among those arrested. After making bail, Valdez told Perry that his jail experience convinced him that god doesn’t love queer people. Perry decided to stop trying to fit in at the established churches that looked at his queerness as a sin, and to found a gay friendly church, which is how the Metropolitan Community Church came into being.
And then the next year the Stonewall Riots happened in New York City…
So that night at Stonewall wasn’t the first time that queer people got fed up with police harassment and brutality, but it was the first time where the protests and rioting continued for many days afterward. And probably because one of the newspapers that tried to cover the events objectively, The Village Voice, was read by a lot of professional journalists and academics far outside of New York City, is why Stonewall seemed to kick off a more organized fight for LGBTQ rights. Within a year, chapters of the new Gay Liberation Front had opened in many cities around the country, and within a couple more years nearly every college town in the U.S. had a chapter.
Most of the people targeted by the police in all of those incidents were those who were gender-nonconforming and/or not white. The cops harassed any queers that they could, but those were the people who got singled out every time. And in most of the cases they were the ones who get fed up and fought back.
I’m an old, white-bearded, cisgender blue-eyed white gay guy who is college educated and work in the software industry. A lot of people think that the LGBTQ rights movement is about and for people like me. But the real heroes, the first leaders, were the trans women of color. And just as we should never forget that they only gave us rights because queers gave them riots, we should remember that it was those trans and gender-non-conforming people of color who started and inspired the riots by fighting back against police brutality.
I think, but am not entirely certain, that the first inkling I had that any sort of Gay Rights movement existed at all was probably sometime in middle school… so sometime between 1973 and 1975. I remember a film shown in one of my sociology classes that included a very short clip about the extremists in California calling for legal rights for gay men–and it was extremely disparaging.It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I actually saw a Pride Parade, so this was in the mid-to-late 1980s, and at that time the predominant symbol for Pride was a Pink Triangle. The Pink Triangle was originally used by the Nazis in Germany in the lead up to World War II and throughout the war to identify prisoners in the concentration camps who were sent there because they were accused of breaking the laws agains sodomy. Because of the extremely specific ways that German law identified sodomy at that time, this means that the men forced to wear this identifying tag were being accused of having committed sex acts with other men.
In the Nazi camps, the Pink Triangle was not ever attached to women, because Lesbianism was not perceived as being the same category of crime by the Nazis. I could write many blog posts about that, but most of the lesbians who were thrown into the camps were charged not specifically with being lesbian, but with the (rather bizarre to modern readers) crime of not being willing to marry a proper Aryan Man and produce beautiful blond-blue-eyed children for him. Or other things.
The point is, that even though Gilbert Baker created the original Rainbow Pride Flag in 1978 for the San Francisco Pride commemoration, in 1987 when I attended my first Pride Parade in Seattle, the Rainbow was not considered a universal symbol of the LGBTQ+ community. There were one or two rainbows visible in that first parade I attended, but they were lost in the see of thousands of Pink Triangles and scores of Purple Labryses (a symbol many Lesbians adopted at the time). The Rainbow was still mostly thought of as a San Francisco thing at that time.The Rainbow flag spread to other communities over the years between my first Pride Parade in 1987 and the early 1990s. Baker’s original flag had consisted of 8 colors, but for a variety of reasons, Baker agreed to let the flag be simplified to only six colors over the next few years. And that’s what the symbol was during the early 90s when it seemed like all the Pride Parades suddenly began sporting the Rainbow rather than the Pink Triangle. That wasn’t the only change. I should mention that while I attended my first Pride Parade in 1987 and marched as a member of a group for the first time in 1989, I was still mostly closeted until late 1991. This probably skews my memory a bit.
Before I go on with my perception of the history of pride symbols, I should list Gilbert Baker’s original explanation of the meaning of the flag he created. The colors Gilbert chose represented what he saw as pillars of the non-heterosexual community. Hot pink represented Sex; red represented Life; orange represented Healing; yellow represented Sunlight; green represented Nature; turquoise represented Magic; indigo represented Serenity; and finally violet represented Spirit. All of which makes a lot of sense to those of us who spent part of the 1990s as members of the Radical Fairies but might not resonate with a lot of other members of the non-heterosexual community.
Within a year or two of me coming completely out (by which I mean not only that close friends knew I wasn’t straight, but also extended family members and co-workers), I witnessed the backlash against the Rainbow Flag as a symbol for the community. I remember specifically a comedy routine by one specific performer that was circulated a lot called “I Am So Over the Rainbow.” And the first time someone played a recording of it to me (by chance, the man who was my supervisor at my place of employment at the time), the entire thing came across to me very much as a variation of “You kids get off my lawn!” I mean, I know the people in the audience were laughing, and the show was billed as a comedy act, but to me it was One Thousand Percent Bitter Old Queen Whining, and not much humor to speak of.
I should also mention that 32-ish year old me listening to that is where I made a solemn promise to myself that if I ever turned into that kind of bitter queen I would put myself out of everyone else’s misery. I hope that as I am now approached 60 that I have succeeded in not going down that bitter road.
But I should back up a bit…
During the 1980s, as the AIDS Crisis killed thousands of gay people and representatives of the president of the United States and the so-called liberal press laughed at anyone who suggested that people should be concerned with tens of thousands of (mostly gay) people dying, several radical homosexual rights groups rose up, and a lot of them embraced the word “Queer” precisely because it had been a term used to attack us, and also because it was quickly becoming clear that thousands of people dying upset fewer of the bigots than the word “Queer” did.
So in addition to ACT-UP, other radical organizations such as Queer Nation and Q Patrol came into being to fight against the complacency of society about the deaths (whether due to the new disease or from homophobic gay bashers) that most of us experienced during the 1980s and 1990s.
Two more digressions worth noting: during the mid-1990s I was personally involved in arguments within the Seattle Lesbian/Gay Community about whether to add the term “Bisexual” to the official name of the Pride Parade… and then a year or two later whether we should add “Transgender” to the name. I found myself in very heated arguments over both, which really pissed me off. I was well aware that most of the leader of the original Pride Riot (or Uprising or Rebellion) were trans/nonbinary women of color. How could anyone think that trans people weren’t part of the community? And yet a lot of people made that exact argument. And very similar ones for bi people… which are equally absurd.
There have been many variants on the basic Rainbow Flag. The Victory Over AIDS version, for instance, consisted of the Six-color Rainbow plus a black stripe on the bottom. The black stripe represented two things: first, our sense of mourning over all the people who have died of the diseases; but second, it was at the bottom of the flag to represent our hope that one day a cure or a vaccine would be available and end the deaths from the disease.Many flags similar to the Rainbow Flag for various communities within the LGBTQ+ community have been introduced. The Bisexual Pride Flag (pink, purple, blue) for instance, inspired by a symbol that was used by some bisexual people as a variant of the Pink Triangle: a pink triangle and a blue triangle overlapping, with the overlapping area being purple; the two triangle symbols represented a metaphor of those attracted to the same sex, and those to the opposite, and acknowledging that there were those who formed romantic or erotic relations ships with both/either. Then there is the Pansexual Pride Flag (magenta, yellow, cyan), where the three stripes represent masculine, feminine, and non-binary–an overt acknowledgment that the notion of same- and opposite-sex doesn’t cover everything. Or take the Asexual Pride Flag (black, grey, white, purple), where the colors represent no sexuality, and then the grey area between sexualities, and then sexualities that exist in various contexts, and finally the purple represents community which can encompass many different people. Then there is the Transgender Pride Flag, the Non-binary Pride Flag, and the Gender Fluid Pride Flag. Because each of those communities, while clearly being part of the tribe of non-heterosexual/non-heteronormative/non-genderconforming persons, they also experience the world (and discrimination within society) differently than other parts of the broader LGBTQ+ communinity. A couple years ago in Philadelphia another version of the Rainbow Flag was introduced with a brown and black strip added, but this time to the top. There have been many reactions to this redesign. I wrote about my reaction to first seeing this flag on this blog three years ago. The “#MoreColorsMorePride” flag added a black and brown stripe to the top of the six-color version of the Rainbow flag, with the new colors recognizing that black and other non-white queer people experience discrimination differently than white queer people do, and despite the Stonewall Riots being started by queer people of color, they don’t always feel welcome or included in many LGBTQ spaces. In June 2016, Gilbert Baker, the original creator of the Rainbow Pride Flag, met Barack Obama in the White House, and presented him with a framed recreation of the original 8-stripe flag. After the election and then inauguration of Trump, Baker felt that the flag needed one more update, and he hand-stitched a new, 9-stripe version of the flag, adding a lavender strip which he said symbolized Diversity, a concept that he feared was going to be trampled in the age of Trump. Baker died only a few weeks after releasing his new flag.
Others have tried to design variants of the flag which incorporated symbols for more communities who were not specifically represented in the “standard” six-stripe flag. That’s where we get flags such at the Progress Pride Flag pictured at the very beginning of this post. I’m not sure any of those variants will catch on. But then, in the early 80s most queer folks outside of the Bay Area didn’t think the Rainbow would catch on.
Outside my window this year I have three Pride Flags: a recreation of the original 8-stripe flag, the “standard” 6-stripe flag, and the More Colors More Pride/aka the Philadelphia Rainbow Flag. They are all recognizable as the Pride Flag. I suspect that the Rainbow Flag, possibly in many forms, is going to be with us for a long, long time.
Studying history means actually studying it—not looking at statues that were put up for non-historical reasons with misleading if not outright false plaques on their bases. When we remove symbols of racism, colonialism, and genocide, we aren’t erasing history, we are removing propaganda. As I tried to explain when I posted the following on August 22, 2017:
I wasn’t born in the South, but because of economic factors too complicated to go into at this juncture, the small town in Colorado where I was born was inhabited almost completely by recently transplanted southerners. All of my grandparents had been born in former Confederate states, as had most of the teachers at the public school, and the parents and/or grandparents of 95+ percent of my classmates. And even though my father’s job had us moving around to other parts of the central Rockies through most of grade school, because our family attended Southern Baptists churches, I continued to be exposed to certain myths about the Civil War that descendants of Confederate families tell themselves. I was taught that slavery wasn’t the primary issue of the war, for one. I was taught that most soldiers on the Confederate side had been involved for economic reasons, and certainly not because they believed that whites were superior to blacks, for another. And I was taught that just because the Southern Baptist church and many other institutions still advocated for the segregation of that races, that it wasn’t because they still believed that one race was superior to the other.
Each of those statements was a lie.
I was a teen-ager in the 70s when the Southern Baptist Convention finally endorsed desegregation of its churches. And it was as a teen that I learned most of what I’d been taught about the history of our denomination and the Civil War was untrue.
Historically, every state that seceded to form the Confederacy (not just Mississippi a portion of whose declaration is pictured above), explicitly listed either slavery or the superiority of the white race (and some mentioned both), as their reasons for seceding. The infamous cornerstone speech delivered by Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens explained that the foundation of the new Confederate government was “the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”
It can’t be any clearer than that: the primary mission of the Confederacy was the perpetuation of slavery of black people and the entrenchment (nay, glorification) of white supremacy. And Confederate soldiers did not volunteer, fight, and die by the thousands because of some need to preserve the mythical idyllic pastoral culture of the Southern plantation—most of them were too poor to own plantations, for one thing! No, the typical Confederate grunt believed that if slaves were freed, working class whites would surely lose their livelihoods. The collective self-esteem of the white working class was shored up by the explicit statement that at least they weren’t slaves, so while they might have worked hard in exchange for less than their fair share of societal prosperity, at least they were better off than those black folks! The abolition of slavery was then perceived as an existential threat to the white working class. Of course they were willing to take up arms to protect slavery!
In the immediate aftermath of the war, symbols of the Confederacy weren’t displayed publicly. There were memorials erected in a few places to those who died in one battle or another, and certainly individual tombstones were occasionally emblazoned with Confederate symbols, but there wasn’t a stampede to erect statues to the leaders of the Confederacy afterward. For one thing, there wasn’t a lot of pride in having been on the losing side.
The first big rush of Confederate monuments was years after the war ended as Reconstruction officially ended and Federal troops were withdrawn in 1877. Across the former Confederacy, state legislatures started enacting Jim Crow laws, designed to make it difficult or nearly impossible for black people to exercise their right to vote and to enforce segregation of the races. And statues and monuments went up all over the South. The plaques usually talked about the bravery of the person depicted, but there were also language about the nobility of the cause for which they fought. Blacks living in those states, most of whom were former slaves, knew exactly what that cause had been, and the message the statues and monuments was clearly: “white people are in charge again, and don’t you forget it!”
Most of the Confederate monuments were put up in the 1910s and 1920s, coinciding with an increase in activity of the KKK and similar organizations terrorizing blacks. And the next big surge was in the 50s and 60s when civil rights organizations began having successes against some of the Jim Crow laws. The purpose of those monuments was not to honor the culture of the South; the message was still “stay in your place, black people, or else!” A great example of this resides not many miles from my home. Washington territory was never a part of the Confederacy, and the few inhabitants of the state who served in the war did so as part of the Union Army and Navy. A local family, some years after the war, donated land in what would one day become the Capitol Hill neighborhood to the Grand Army of the Republic (which was an organization made up mostly of Union side Civil War Veterans) for a cemetery for Union soldiers. And that’s who was buried there. But decades later, during one of those surges of monument building, the Daughters of the Confederacy paid to have a monument to soldiers of the Confederacy erected in the cemetery.
There are no Confederate soldiers buried there. Not one.
And there are no soldiers’ names engraved on the massive monument. But there it is, erected in a cemetery full of Union soldiers—a monument to the so-called noble cause of the Confederacy.
Now that some communities are rethinking these monuments—many of them extremely cheap bronze statues erected during times of civil rights tensions—other people are claiming taking them down is erasing history. No, taking down these post-dated monuments in public parks and so forth isn’t erasing history, it’s erasing anti-historical propaganda. The other argument that is put forward in defense of the monuments is that “both sides deserve to be heard.” That’s BS in this case, because there aren’t two sides to racism. There aren’t two sides to bigotry. There aren’t two sides to genocide. White supremacy is not a legitimate side to any argument.
When we defeated Hitler’s armies, we didn’t turn around and erect monuments to the government that murdered millions of people in concentration camps. We destroyed their symbols. When we liberated Iraq, we tore down the statues of Saddam Hussein, we didn’t enshrine his image in an attempt to give both sides equal time. Those few Confederate monuments that list off names of people who died are fine (even if a lot of them have cringeworthy language about the cause they were fighting for). Cemeteries where actual Confederate veterans are buried of course can have symbols of the Confederacy on the tombstones and the like. But the other monuments, the ones erected years later? They don’t belong in the public square.
They belong in the dustbin of history.
I’ve written more than once before about how who owe a huge debt to the people who stood up and fought back that night, 51 years ago, at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. Most of the legal rights that LGBTQ+ people have in the U.S. today is thanks to those Black and Puerto Rican queens who fought back, threw bricks, and so forth when the cops raided that bar.
Miss Marsha P. Johnson (which is how she identified herself whenever asked), was impossible to ignore—always appearing in public wearing a flowered hat and flamboyant dresses. Once when appearing in court on a disorderly conduct charge, after the judge asked her what the middle initial P stood for replied airily, “Pay it no mind!” Some early accounts of the Stonewall Riots said she was the one who threw the first brick or the first shot glass at a cop. In interviews she would admit that she threw several things at cops that night, but wasn’t certain she was the first person to throw anything. After the riots, she was one of the founding members of the Gay Liberation Front, and also co-founded the gay and transvestite advocacy organization S.T.A.R. (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries), alongside close friend Sylvia Rivera. A note here about terminology: at the time several terms that would he considered slurs by transgender and gender nonconforming people today were commonly used within those self same communities. At different times Marsha identified herself as a street queen, a drag queen, and a transvestite. But she also always insisted on female pronouns and consistently introduced herself as Miss Marsha. Which is why most of us refer to her as trans.
Silvia Rivera was only 17 and living as a self-described drag queen at the time of the Stonewall Riots. Most historians (and her friend Miss Marsha P. Johnson) agree that she wasn’t at the Stonewall Inn the night of the raid, being at a party at another location that night. Her whole life she asserted that she had been there. And there were others who agreed and said she was the person who threw the first brick at a cop car. She certainly joined the protests and rioting that continued the following nights, and later founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R.) along with Johnson. She was also a member of the Gay Activists Alliance. In a speech she gave at the 1973 Christopher Street Liberation Day Rally (what they called the annual event commemorating the riots for the first several years), she espoused a definition a belief that people such as herself belonged to a third gender.
Stormé DeLarverie was often described as a butch lesbian. Before Stonewall, she had been part of a touring theatre troupe which, among other things, performed a number called, “Who is the one girl?” and audience members seldom guessed correctly that the tall latino “guy” in a tailored suit wearing a false mustache was the one woman in the dance number. She was one of several who resisted arrest the night of the Stonewall police raid. Many witnesses claimed she was the woman who broke loose from the cops before being loaded into one of the waiting paddy wagons several times, to run, get caught, and dragged back through the crowd, each time making the crowd more angry at the cops. Of the events at Stonewall that night, DeLarverie always argued that it should not have been called a riot: “It was a rebellion, it was an uprising, it was a civil rights disobedience – it wasn’t no damn riot.” She remained active in many gay rights groups and activities in the years after Stonewall, but was most often remembered as the self-appointed guardian of lesbians who patrolled the neighborhood at night with her baseball bat to drive off bashers.
Raymond Castro was another Veteran of Stonewall. Because we was not dressed in gender nonconforming clothes, he was not arrested, and was told he could leave. When he realized a friend was being arrested, he went back inside to try to help the friend. This got him arrested and put in handcuffs. He struggled with the cops, managing to knock a couple of them down. This seemed to encourage several other people nearby to start struggling. One of the officers that eventually wrestled him into the truck commented that he was “some kind of animal.” Castro was active in several gay rights organizations in the years after Stonewall.
Miss Major Griffin-Gracy was at the Stonewall Inn with her girlfriend the night of the police raid. She was one of several to fight back. Unfortunately she was struck unconscious during the fight and was taken into custody. Miss Major has been active in a lot of transgender right organizations, civil rights organizations, and in the 80s became active in multiple HIV/AIDS organizations. She was the original Executive Director of the Transgender Gender Variant Intersex Justice Project, which advocates for the rights of incarcerated trans and nonbinary people. And Miss Major is still alive today, still fighting! Her Instragram account shows her at a Black Lives Matter protest earlier this week. She suffered a stroke last year and has a lot of medical expenses, which you can help with by donating here Miss Major’s Monthly Fundraising Circle.
So here we are (at least on this side of the International Date Line) at the fourth day of the month of May, where one of the things that tends to happen on the internet are various references to Star Wars, because of the pun, “May the Fourth Be With You.” So, happy Star Wars Day to those of you who observe it.
The fourth of May has other significance for other people. And we would be remiss not to acknowledge these important events that ought to be commemorated on this day. So:
- On May 4, 1436 Engelbrekt Engelbrektsson was assassinated. Englebrektsson was a Swedish nobleman who led a rebellion against the King of the Kalmar Union, an event which eventually led to Sweden becoming a kingdom of its own. Englebrektsson is considered a national hero of Sweden because his actions gave peasants a voice in government for the first time, creating a Riksdag (a deliberative assembly or parliament) structured so that peasants and laborers would have equal representation with the number of nobles.
- On May 4, 1886, in the midst of a long-running strike, police marched on demonstrators in Hay Market Square in Chicago, Illinois. Someone threw a bomb. The police began shooting randomly. And I really mean randomly, because autopsies determined afterward that almost all seven of the policeman killed in the riot were the victims of a bullet from another officer. Four of the labor demonstrators also died from gunshot wounds, and more than a hundred other people were wounded by either gunfire or shrapnel from the bomb. While May Day parades and demonstrations by labor had been occurring for a few years before this occurred, this event is often credited as solidifying the significance of May Day as a Worker’s Rights commemoration.
- On May 4, 1930, the leader of India’s civil disobedience campaign, Mahatma Gandhi, was taken into custody by the British police for the crime of making salt from seawater. His arrest sparked an upsurge in civil disobedience, generating world wide publicity and incredible pressure on the British to come to terms with the protestors.
- On May 4, 1970, during a protest at Kent State University against the bombing of neutral Cambodia by U.S. military forces, the Ohio National Guard fired on unarmed students, killing four and wounding nine others. In response to this, students at other universities went on strike, shutting down many campuses. The event also was significant in turning more public opinion against the war in Viet Nam.
- On May 4, 1983 the British warship, HMS Sheffield, was struck by missiles during the Falklands War. The excess rocket fuel in each missile ignited, killing 20 members of the crew. The ship’s diesel stores burned for days after the crew had been evacuated. The ship sank while it was being towed in for repairs.
Important historical events, all.
But while two of those occurred within my lifetime, one must remember that I am a white-bearded old man. The median age of the human race is currently 29 years old. Which means that half of the people currently alive on the planet were born in 1991 or more recently.
Which means that none of those events can be considered “current.”
Which isn’t to say that they shouldn’t be remembered, but there isn’t really a good reason that any of those events should be considered more important in history than the others.
Which also means that there is nothing wrong with people sharing a silly pun on this same day.
Regardless, we’re in the middle of a world pandemic. The more people you get wearing masks (and feeling socially shunned for not wearing masks), the more we reduce the spread of the disease. That’s just science. It’s also the moral thing to do.
So, wear a mask. Wash your hands. Keep observing social distancing. Let’s all do our part to keep as many of us alive until there’s a vaccine as we can. Okay?
Saw the above posts on Tumblr and had to comment there. But I had more to say, so here it is.
Reagan Administration’s Chilling Response to the AIDS Crisis – “In other words, the White House looks on this as a great joke?” Short film “When AIDS Was Funny” directed and produced by Scott Calonic..
There are a couple of things to note about those recordings of those press conferences. First: listen to them laugh. They all laughed. The so-called liberal press in 1982 was laughing and joking about fags after one of their colleagues asked a question about an epidemic which, at that time, appeared to kill one-third of the people who got it—because it seemed at the time that most U.S. victims were gay. Second: Lester Kinsolving, the journalist who asked the question (and continued to ask about it for the next several years) was not a liberal journalist. He was highly critical of gay rights activists, who he continued to call “the Sodomy Lobby” for decades after this on his radio show and in his published op-ed pieces. Note at the second press conference he expresses the opinion that the epidemic might be spread through casual contact. He wasn’t asking this question because he felt much sympathy, himself, for the gay people who were dying.
You may notice in that short documentary that Kinsolving is listed in the newspaper clippings as “The Rev. Lester Kinsolving.” Kinsolving was an episcopal priest, and though the U.S. Episcopal Church today is recognized as one of the early denominations to come out in favor of gay rights, in the 1980s no so much.
And modern attitudes in too many places haven’t improved: Police chief suspended for blaming officer’s death from coronavirus on homosexuality and Religious figures blame LGBT+ people for coronavirus.
We’ve called it Veteran’s Day since 1954 — a day to honor those who have served in the military. Our allies still refer to this holiday by its original name: Armistice Day or Remembrance Day. We American’s barely study World War I in public school history classes, and when we do, it seldom includes the whole story: How did the first world war actually end?
November 11, 1918 was the day that the peace accord ending what was then called The Great War. And so each year after we set aside a day to honor those who served, to remember their sacrifices, and pledge to work to prevent wars from happening. At least that’s what we used to say. Since the U.S. came into the Great War later than the other countries, and it wasn’t fought on our country, and the number of our troops killed was a small fraction of the casualty totals of the war, we have never looked at Armistice Day quite the way our allies did. WWII was what loomed large for us, culturally.
In the U.S. this holiday is described as a day to honor and thank veterans for their military service. To me, one of the ways we ought to thank them for their service is to find ways to end wars and bring them home. Unfortunately I get the feeling from certain politicians and pundits that trying to find ways to start even more wars is what they are interested in doing.
I’ve written before about the way we tend to blend our patriotic holidays together. Specifically the misguided practice of everyone thanking people for their service on Independence Day, Memorial Day, and so on. Those holidays aren’t when we should do that. This is the day to do that.
Regardless, if you want to show support for those who served, may I humbly suggest donating to National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. There are, of course, many other fine charities that serve veterans and their families. You can find more of them here: Charity Navigator: Support Our Troops
I used to work for a man who was born on Columbus Day. He said that what he loved most about it was that where he went to school it was a day off, so he and his friends always got to go to the movies or something similar on his birthday. That was one reason that when he founded his own company as an adult that one of the benefits offered was that each employee got their own birthday as a holiday.
I wasn’t significantly younger than he was, but I don’t remember any of the school districts I lived in ever closing school for Columbus Day. Instead, at least during elementary school, it was a day that we would be given lessons that were extremely white-washed about the man who supposedly discovered America—a continent with tens of millions of inhabitants with rich cultures (and often knowing a whole lot more about agriculture the that later European invaders). But Columbus wasn’t even the first person from Europe to land on the shores of the new world!
Native American museum director: Columbus was far from the first to discover America – Scores of cities and a growing number of states are renaming Columbus Day to honor the history and cultures of America’s indigenous peoples.
Maybe since my former boss grew up in New England while my childhood was in Colorado, Nebraska, Utah, Wyoming, and the Pacific Northwest is why his school was closed on Columbus Day and none of mine were. The state-centric history classes I took in Middle School and High School spent a lot more time teaching us other myths about the colonization of the U.S. I learned, for instance, about a “massacre” which had occured in 1878 less than 100 miles from the town where I was born, but not about that fact that first a federal agent had ordered men to plow a bunch of the native american’s prime pasture land, and when they protested, it was the U.S. soldiers who fired on the Native Americans first. It was called a massacre for years because, even though more of the Natives were killed than whites, it was a very small number of those whites who lived to surrender.
Less than a year later a significantly larger army contingent marched all of the Natives at gun point out of the green and fertile region with many rivers and forced them to settle in a desolate desert area where there was virtually no water sources at all.
Funny how those details seldom made it into the textbooks.
I understand why people are reluctant to rename the holiday. It was unsettling when I learned how much I had been being taught was a lie. It is unsettling to realize that the town where I was born, and the surrounding fields and woods and nearby riverbank that I enjoyed exploring and goofing off in when we moved back when I was in Middle School was among the land stolen in that historical event mentioned about. It is unsettling to realize my entire country is built on land that was stolen from peoples that we killed, drove out, intentionally exposed to diseases, whose children we stole, whose culture we mocked and outlawed and then appropriated.
It is not a pleasant set of facts to embrace.
The neat story about brave pioneers settling an “empty” frontier is a much more romantic and uplifting idea than the very messy, bloody, and immoral truth.
I have one other reason why I believe that Columbus Day should be renamed.
Columbus was wrong.
I don’t just refer to the evil things he did to the people he found living in the so-called New World, I mean that not once, even until his dying day, did he ever belief that he had found any land previously unknown to his contemporaries in Italy or Spain. Columbus insisted until the last moment of his life that the islands he had discovered where the Indies, islands off the coast of India. Because of trade routes such as the Silk Road, Europe had been in contact with east Asia including China, India, and so forth for generations before Columbus’ time. He didn’t belief he had discovered continents previously unknown to Europe, he thought he had found a shorter route to lands they already knew about.
So, in addition to being a thief, con man, and mass murderer, Christopher Columbus was an idiot who refused to accept the evidence that was brought forth by many of his contemporaries that the lands he was invading were not India and islands off its coast. For that reason alone, no one with a lick of integrity should be willing to support a holiday honoring the discovery that he denied until his dying breath.
We need to change the name of the holiday. Sooner, rather than later. We’ve started, let’s keep it up: More localities drop Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Joe at Joe.My.God reposts his personal story: That Day: My September 11th Short Story.
I finished a post about a very silly topic which I intended to publish on this Wednesday, and it was only when I was scheduling it that I remembered what the date would be. So I decided to do something else. Way back on the first anniversary of 9/11 I wrote a post on another blog that I eventually reposted here on one of the later anniversaries: “Living for 9/12.” It’s hard for me to muster the scant amount of optimism I caught in that post this many years on, because the terrorists won. We’ve embraced the hate. For 18 years we have whittled away at our own liberty, and have not made ourselves one bit safer.
We have, in fact, made ourselves less safe. The hatred we have embraced has given us a plethora of home-brewed domestic terrorists who continue to carry out the agenda of those 19 shitheads who hijacked those jets and killed 3000 people.
So… what are we going to do about it?
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, often cited as the beginning of the Modern Gay Civil Rights movement in America. It’s a little weird to realize that events which happened within my lifetime are looked on as distant history by a significant number of adults. To be sure, I was only 8 years old with the Stonewall Riots happened—it was the summer between first and second grade for me—and I didn’t hear anything about them at the time. What I do remember being in the national news was mostly the Black Civil Rights movement and the Anti-War Protests.
That was also a summer that I spent with my Grandparents, which meant that most nights I watched the news with my Grandpa, and during the day I listened to the radio, hearing hourly news updates of about 3 minutes duration, and then listening to Paul Harvey at noon. And the impression I had then and over the next couple of years was that there were a very small number of black people who were unhappy about… things. And any equally small number of completely unrelated people were protesting the war in Vietnam because war is bad.
My teachers mostly didn’t talk about any of this stuff until a few years later, and again the attitude was less than sympathetic to either movement. They didn’t go so far as to call the war protesters cowards, like my dad did, or the much worse words he used for the black people, but the overall impression was that people were upset about something that wasn’t a real problem. And, again, it was emphasized that it was a few isolated groups of troublemakers behind it all. Similarly with the Women’s Rights movement and the Native American Rights movements. Each of those things were treated as distinct, unconnected things.
And it only got worse in middle school and high school. By the time I was in high school the U.S. had pulled out of Vietnam and the consensus seemed to be that the whole war had been a mistake, but the people who protested it were still described by many of my teachers as a fringe group that hadn’t really been proven right, but more that their knee-jerk peacenik attitude just happened to coincidentally align with reality. Or something. The woman who taught my high school history class was quite in favor of women’s rights, and had a lot to say about how poorly Native Americans were treated by our society, but seemed to think that the Voting Rights Act of 1964 had taken care of any inequalities facing all other racial minorities.
By high school the Gay Rights movement was at least acknowledge, but none of my teachers (even the ones that many of the students thought might be gay) referred to at as anything but a small fringe group of mentally ill people (almost all of whom lived in California) who wanted their sickness treated a something deserving of special rights. And I do mean all of the teachers. The state-approved text book for my high school health class had an entire chapter on sexual deviancy, and it not only defined all kinds of kinkiness and homosexuality as mental illness, it explicitly referred to it as a single mental illness, in which straight kinkiness would always lead to bisexual and then homosexual behavior which would always progress to bestiality, pedophilia, and necrophilia. Yes, I’m absolutely serious. On the test we had to list all of the stages in the “correct order.” Note that this was in the late 1970s in a state that has been reliably blue for many decades.
But the one thing that all of them still agreed upon was that each of those movements advocating for a better society was a unique, distinct, and totally separate group. Even when I got into college and had not one but two stereotypical uber-liberal history teachers (one always wore turtlenecks, like the other alternated between turtlenecks and ponchos brought back from his summer sojourns into Central America) treated each of those movements as totally autonomous things. They portrayed the Civil Rights movement as solely the work of some African Americans. They portrayed the Native America Rights movement as soley the work of some Native Americans. They portrayed the Women’s Rights movement was solely the work of some women (usually white women). And they portrayed the Gay Rights movement as solely the work of a small group of (white) gay men and lesbians.
The truth was, that the people who stood up to the police and started fighting back at the Stonewall Inn 50 years ago were trans people of color. There were a lot of lesbians of various races in the crowd and some gay men. But most of the white faces in that crowd that night were street kids—the homeless teens kicked out by the families who found their way the New York City and did what they had to do to survive.
And the bigger truth was that all of those civil rights movements and the anti-war movement had a lot in common. There were people who participated in all the fights. George Edgerly Harris III, the young man how put flowers in the gun barrels was a queer man who was part of a radical gay theatre troupe. He went by the name Hibiscus, and became famous for wearing the outrageous drag while keeping a full beard—a look that would later be labeled genderqueer or genderfuck. And in 1967 he joined a protest march on the Pentagon. He was active in the anti-war movement and the Gay Rights movements, obviously, and at different times in life worked with or supported the efforts of the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movement.
Bernie Boston, the photographer who took the “Flower Power” picture, was a photojournalist who covered all of those events, at least one time famously getting into a conflict with some KKK members. And by frequently arguing vehemently with cops or MPs or National Guardsmen when they tried to interfere with the coverage. He was multiracial, of African American, Native American, and Irish American descent, and strangers usually assumed he was black. As a journalist, he was trying to cover the events, not be part of them, but sometimes that line blurred.
Just as Martin Luther King, Jr’s trusted righthand man, Bayard Rustin, was an openly gay man long before Stonewall while he was helping organize things like King’s March on Washington, the New York Bus Boycott, and other events. A lifelong pacifist, of course he supported and worked with the anti-war movement. He argued for making political alliances with other marginalized groups, and was active in the Gay Rights movement, various anti-semitic groups, pro-labor groups, and women’s rights groups.
These are just a few examples. But the thing is that all those fights had both goals and people in common. They were (and continue to be) fighting the forces of oppression in our society. We should all be working together. We should not let people divide us and act as if they are separate fights.
Because nobody is free until everyone is.