“History isn’t something you look back at and say it was inevitable, it happens because people make decisions that are sometimes very impulsive and of the moment, but those moments are cumulative realities.”
—Marsha P. Johnson, trans and gay rights activist who may have thrown the first brick at Stonewall.
We don’t know which way things will break tomorrow. Oh, we know some things. The pussy-grabber will declare himself a winner and claim that any news to the contrary is because of voter fraud. We also know that we’ll have an unprecedented voter turn-out (because early voting has already matched or exceeding all voting from four years ago in many places).
Four years ago, I was not prepared for Hillary to be one of those candidates who won the popular vote but lost in the Electoral College. I knew that Trump would be a disaster. I knew things would be horrible. I cried.
It wasn’t despair. Oh, yes—I was extremely sad and more than a bit afraid, that’s true. But mostly I was disappointed and angry. I was angry that people who claimed to love me were crowing in celebration after he won. That some were repeating the most racist and homophobic wishes of his base. I was angry at the enablers of evil who still, four years later, argue that voting for a third party candidate doesn’t make them responsible for every bad thing—including every single U.S. COVID death—that has happened since that evil, incompetent man was inaugurated.
Four years later I’m still disappointed and angry at a lot of my fellow citizens. Angry at the people who told me I was overreacting four years ago. Disappointed that even though worse things than I was predicting back then have happened again and again, many of them still scold me for encouraging people to vote Blue No Matter Who. Angry at the cynical people who have capitalized on the moronavirus and his destructive, evil, nihilist administration. Angry at the media for acting as if this is all just a game between equally valid viewpoints.
I’ve had a small number of people tell me to stop being angry. Calm down, they say. Reason can win out, if you just give it a chance, they say.
And they are wrong. I’ve known that they are wrong since I was in elementary school. Because one of the masterpieces of science fiction/fantasy taught me this profound truth:
“Stay angry, Little Meg,” Mrs. Whatsit whispered. “You will need all your anger now.”
—From A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeleine L’Engle
Evil is not conquered by politely asking it to discuss things reasonably. Evil is conquered by people unwilling to back down, be cowed, or be silenced.
I first read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time in the fall of 1969, when I was nine years old. I know because I remember the enthusiastic conversation I had with my first third-grade teacher. It just so happens that about four months before that, the Stonewall Riots had taken place in New York City. I didn’t learn about Stonewall until many, many years later. But one of the queer people who rose up that night to fight back against the police brutality that gay, lesbian, and trans people had endured for decades was Marsha P. Johnson. Ever since I learned about her, Marsha has been one of my heroes. And though I suspect she never read A Wrinkle In Time, I think she would agree with Mrs. Whatsit.
“We want to see all gay people have a chance at equal rights , as straight people in America. We believe in picking up a gun, and starting a revolutionary if necessary.”
—Marsha P. Johnson
Whatever happens tomorrow—even if Biden wins, and the Dems increase their majority in the House, and the Dems flip the Senate, and if we take majorities and gubernatorual races in states that have previously been red—it isn’t the end of the fight. It’s just the beginning.
I’m staying angry. I’m ready to do what it takes to carry the fight forward and win it.
Are you with me?
Of course they did. Because that’s what they do. They inflict violence on people they perceive have no power, and that they believe will lose any we said/cop said scenario. They almost always escalate. It’s a version of the old “if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” Police academy training primes them to assume that everyone not wearing a badge is just someone waiting for an excuse to attack them, and they only tools they believe they can rely on are violence and the complicity of their fellow officers.
If they were serious at reform they would look at those federal cases, we see that in the eyes of the law, cops are just crime accountants, not crime fighters. Their only obligations are to observe and record the aftermath of crimes, not prevent crimes, and not even to arrest criminals if they don’t want to.
So what we need is a Law Enforcement Act. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed various kinds of discrimination under an argument that while the Constitution guarantees basic civil rights, it doesn’t always spell out what those rights are. Though the Tenth Amendment does say that powers not specifically delegated to the federal government in the Constitution belong to the States and to the People. And the Fourteenth Amendment says that no person can be deprived of the equal protection of the law and that citizens can’t have their rights abridged has often been interpreted as affirming that people are entitled to rights not spelled out elsewhere. That was most of the legal justification of the Civil Rights Act: at attempt by Congress to define what some of those unspecified rights are, and to provide a framework for the enforcement of both enumerated and unspecified rights.
The Law Enforcement Act could extend that framework, though the points I suggest such an Act must have can be read right out of one ennumerated right from the First Amendment, and one part of the Fourteenth.
Lots of people claim all sorts of things are protected by the First Amendment, and I don’t want to get into that debate. For this purpose, I’m going to stick to the text. One of the rights specifically mentioned in the First Amendment that most people forget about is the right “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” My proposed Law Enforcement Act would define the following things as part of that right to petition the Government:
- The right to sue individual police, police departments, and local and state governments which fund those police departments for failure to protect ordinary residents, or for police misconduct that harms a person or deprives them of property, or for wrongful death. In other words, repeal limited immunity.
- The right to require public hearings for police misconduct allegations, and a right for ordinary residents who make such allegations to appeal any findings of the misconduct hearings to a civil authority outside the police department.
- The right to demand judicial review of clauses of police union contracts which in any way impede those aforementioned rights
- the right to have any property seized through asset forfeiture returned (and in the case of cash, with interest) unless there is a conviction by a jury of a crime related to said assets. (I would prefer that asset forfeiture be outlawed completely, but I know that’s not going to happen.)
Next, turning to the Fourteenth Amendment, one of the rights that it forbids States from infringing is “the equal protection of the laws.” And so the act should spell out the equal protection includes:
- An obligation of the police to protect all persons within their jurisdiction.
- Any State the fails to enact laws that protect the rights listed in the Act shall be denied all federal monies for any current or future program to support law enforcement.
There are a lot of others things that Act ought to have, but if we can just get the right to sue the police and government over misconduct and failure to protect citizens, the stick of all those lawsuits is going to force police reform.
Let’s change topicsSince the surprisingly pro-LGBTQ pro-trans Supreme Court ruling about employment discrimination, I have heard and read a lot of queer folks incorrectly saying that the Court found employment discrimination about queer folks unconstitutional. No. The ruling was not about constitutionality. It was a statutory interpretation ruling. It was a logical recognition that discrimination against LGBTQ people is a form of sex discrimination. The ruling could probably be undone by the simple passage of a law of Congress that “clarifies” the meaning of sex discrimination in the earlier law.
Now, as long as the Democrats control at least one house of Congress, that isn’t likely to happen. And, heck, if you noticed how few Republican Senators put out a spirited criticism of the ruling, reflects the reality that a large majority of voters support the ruling, so support for such a bill is likely soft on the Republican side.
However, religious freedom is explicitly protected in the Constitution, so we shouldn’t be surprised if, before the Court adjourns for the summer, one of those so-called Religious Freedom cases doesn’t walk much of that ruling back (Like Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru which was just argued last month). And whether it does or not, we can expect a lot more attempts to invalidate our lives in the name of religion.
I had several ideas for today’s post, but the craziness of fitting a week’s worth of work into four days so I could take Friday off got in the way.
So I decided maybe I should just repost this, originally posted on 21 June, 2018.
Pride means love and survival—confessions of a joyful fairy
I’ve been to a lot of Pride parades and festivals since attending my first in 1990. One year I participated in the San Francisco Pride Parade one weekend, flew back home to Seattle where I marched in our parade the following week, and then in August I found myself in Vancouver, British Columbia where I hadn’t realized it was going to be their Pride Parade. San Francisco’s was like so gigantically larger and brasher than any other I had ever seen, while Vancouver’s was small but very enthusiastic.
The reason for the parade, ultimately, is to declare our existence–our survival in a society that is less than welcoming. We’re here. We’re your daughters, your neighbors, your sons, your co-workers, your friends, your siblings, or your parents. We’re not mysterious creatures lurking in seedy clubs–we’re the guy sitting across from you on the bus reading a book, or the two gals sitting in that next pew at church, or the pair of guys in the grocery store discussing how many hot dogs to buy for the cookout, or the grey-haired guy trying to read a label on a bottle of cold tablets in the pharmacy, or that kid on the skateboard going past your bus stop, or that guy sipping a coffee at Starbucks, or that gal a couple table over at the same coffee shop laughing at something on her computer.
We’re real, we’re everywhere, and we have hopes and dreams and worries just like you. We’re not asking for special rights, we’re asking for the same rights you take for granted. We’re asking to live our lives as openly as you live yours.
I enjoy watching the parade to acknowledge that survival. I cheer while watching the parade to express my admiration, support, and love for all of these survivors.
I cheer for people who are being brave and marching in their first parade; we see you and welcome you to the tribe.
I cheer and applaud so that those whose families rejected them and told them never to come back will know they have another family, and we’re clapping for them right now.
I cheer so that group of teen-agers (half of them straight and there to support their bi, gay, lesbian, and trans friends) will get the recognition they deserve.
I cheer the older couples walking together holding hands; we see your love and we celebrate how long you and your love had endured.
I cheer the younger couples walking hand in hand; I wish I had felt free to do that at their age, but I hope they have a bright future.
I applaud and cheer so that the trans* gals and trans* men know they are seen for who they are and we think they’re beautiful, wonderful, and I am proud to call them brothers and sisters.
I cry when I see those who are carrying a photo or wearing the name of a deceased loved one; we see your loved one and share your grief.
I cheer for PFLAG so that straight parents who have spent countless hours explaining to friends and relatives that their queer kids have nothing to be ashamed of, and yes they are very happy, and no those things you’ve heard or read about their health and lifespan are all myths will know their efforts are appreciated by the whole community.
I clap and cheer and laugh and cry as the parade goes on and on showing how big and wonderful and diverse and amazing our community is.
The very first Liberation Day Parade in New York City, was a protest march on the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots (the first Pride was a riot). People were afraid of what would happen at the first march. Only a couple dozen people showed up at the starting point, with their protest signs. But they marched. And all along the announced route of the march, the sidewalks were lined with people. Street queens, and trans people, and gay men and lesbians and queers of many other stripes.
And then completely unplanned thing happened. As the small group of marchers went by, queer people and supporters started stepping off the curb and joining. By the time the marchers reached the Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park, the crowd numbered in the thousands.
It has been a tradition of Pride Parades ever since, that spectators step off the curb and join the march.
So when I march, there comes a point where I do that. I have cheered and applauded and made sure that others were seen. I have witnessed their love and courage and unique style. Until it is my turn to join the march. To be visible. To declare by my presence in that throng that I am queer. I’m here. And I will never go back into the closet.
Laws have frequently been used to target minorities and marginalized people who are not doing what most people would think of as criminal activity. When writing about the origins of Pride Month, I often mention that before the early-to-mid-seventies it was illegal for a woman to wear pants in public. This seems crazy to most people now, and it sometimes came as a shock to people back then, but there it was.
Other laws sound more reasonable until you understand how they were actually applied. For example, in 1968 the Nixon campaign committee came up with the idea of the War on Drugs as a way to target two groups which opposed all of Nixon’s priorities: black people and those opposed to the Vietnam War. Many years after the fact, Nixon domestic policy chief, John Ehrlichman, explained it:
“You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities,” Ehrlichman said. “We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
Long before that loitering laws were used to harass anyone that the powers that be found undesirable. Loitering was usually defined as “a person simply being in a public place for no apparent reason.” In 1972 the Supreme Court ruled that loitering ordinances and vagrancy ordinances were unconstitutional for two reason: they were so vague that a common citizens couldn’t be sure what behavior constituted the crime, and police were able to arbitrarily enforce it on people who were poor, members of minorities, and so forth.
Historically, the laws were almost always used to target minorities.
The Supreme Court ruling led many jurisdictions to replace the ordinances with so-called “loitering plus” laws. These were ordinances supposedly didn’t make simply being in a public place a crime, but rather being in public for various nefarious purposes. And one of the most popular in the late 80s and 90s were so-called “drug loitering” laws. These laws allowed police to demand ID and to perform personal searches on anyone who was in public and behaving in a way that made the cop suspect that maybe they might possibly be trying to buy or sell illegal drugs. Common activities that could get you arrested under these laws were such horrible criminal acts as: looking at the cars driving by on the roadway, waving at someone, appearing to be trying to make contact with other pedestrians on the sidewalk.
And the sad thing is that even though people tried to appeal these laws to the Supreme Court, it hasn’t accepted such a case for review in decades.
The City of Seattle passed one of these laws back in the 90s. I donated money to a campaign that tried to appeal the low through the courts. When that didn’t get anywhere, I donated money and even volunteered to phone back for a campaign that tried to get an initiative on the ballot to repeal the law. We didn’t succeed.
Year after year people brought forward evidence that both the drug loitering ordinance and the prostitution loitering ordinance were disproportionately used to target black people and gender-non-conforming people, the laws stayed on the books. A few years ago a new city attorney was elected he ceased prosecutions on the two laws precisely for those reasons, but it didn’t really solve the problem, because the next city attorney could just start filing the charges again, and cops would know they could start harassing people in the name of those laws again.
Finally, the laws have been repealed: Seattle City Council Repeals Loitering Laws – The council has voted to repeal two loitering ordinances, which they say had racist origins and disproportionately targeted minorities.
This is a direct result of the Black Lives Matter protests still going on in the city. So we’ve made a teensy bit of progress!
There are many other problems to address. The biggest problem is that virtually all politicians and most common people believe that myth that police forces protect the public from crime. Statistically, they don’t. Of the most common categories of property crime (burglary, larceny, auto theft), only between 13% to 22% of those reported result in an arrest. And those percentages have been so low, that by best estimates, less than 29% of burglaries and larceny are even reported—that means fewer than 4% of such crimes are ever solved!. Heck, fewer the 70% of car thefts are reported to police!
Only abut 38% of rape cases reported to police are cleared (and a laughably even tinier percentage result in any conviction). And since only 25%-40% of sexual assaults are even reported to the police, again we’re looking at fewer than 10% leading to an arrest. Only about 60% of murders are ever solved.
Meanwhile, through abuse of asset forfeiture laws, law enforcement agencies steal far more from the people in their communities that all the burglaries and other robbery categories combined!
There are many reasons for this. One is that in most police departments across the country, the units tasks with investigating robberies and sexual assaults get the lowest budgets, and for various reasons even then, they are the departments most likely to be understaffed (as in, fewer officers actually working in those divisions than is budgeted for).
And then there are the cultural issues. K.L. Williams is a former police chief who now runs the Institute of Justice and Accountability, trying to reform police training (among other things). He sums up the police culture problem this way: about 15% of officers will do the right thing no matter what. And approximately 15% percent of officers will abuse their authority at every opportunity. The remaining 70% could go either way depending on whom they are working with.
At first glance that might not seem too bad—only 15% of cops are abusing their authority, right? But with 70% willing to look the other way and even cover up for the bad cops, that means that it’s 85% of cops who are bad, nut merely 15%. And surveys of cops have shown that a clear majority of cops admit that most of the colleagues routinely look the other way and often help cover up misconduct by other cops.
It’s just just that systemic racism, homophobia, and misogyny leads policing to victimize, rather than protect, minorities and marginalized people—those things combined with police attitudes about the public in general and anyone they perceive as being worth even less than the public means that queer (especially gender-non-conforming) and trans people have been oppressed, harassed, and abused by police forever. And as the article above explains, race, perceived ethnicity (not always the same thing), and perceived immigration status simply amplify that.
Which brings us full circle back to the trans women of color who threw the first bunches, the first bricks, the first shot glasses, that started the Stonewall Riots.
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.
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.
Sometimes a headline sends you into a weird internal spiral remembering traumatic moments, such as: A babysitter was caught on video slapping a boy for being a “gay a** b**ch” & his family went to war – For once, there’s a happy ending.
When I first saw the headline, I didn’t see the subhead about the story having a happy ending. Instead, I found myself reliving the times as a kid that I was teased and/or punished for acting wrong—and usually not understanding what I had done that was so wrong. For instance, I loved singing along to music played on the radio, my parents’ records, or the TV… and sometimes the reaction from family and friends was encouraging. And other times I would get teased or yelled at or even spanked for my antics. And to me there wasn’t a clear difference between the times that my dancing and singing would make people happy and the times when I would get called a sissy or freak or pussy.
The first time I remember anyone calling me a faggot was when I was nine years old… and it was a teacher who did it. He wasn’t my regular teacher. The school district I had just transferred to had elementary students spend a few hours each week doing fairly simply physical education activities under the supervision of a secondary teacher. We were lined up in the gym waiting to be taken back to class one day, and music was playing from somewhere. I don’t remember why, nor do I remember what the song was that was playing, but I recognized it, and I was doing jazz hands and bouncing to the music while singing along when the teacher walked up, grabbed my arm, and (at least how I perceived it at the time) yelled in my face to ask whether I was a little girl or a little boy?
I stammered back that I was a boy. And he shook me and growled, “Then stop acting like a faggot!”
When our regular teacher arrived to collect us, the phys ed teacher explained that I was in trouble because I had been acting up and distracting the other students. So for the next several days I wasn’t allowed to go outside for recess. I had to stay in the classroom with my head down on my desk. I was told that I needed to spend the time thinking about how bad it was to distract other students from lessons.
None of which made sense. The lesson was over. We were standing in line. Absolutely no education was going on, we were just standing in line waiting for our regular teacher to come get us.
That’s not even the worst of it. Because the phys ed teacher had called me a faggot, and it wasn’t a word I was familiar with, I asked my regular teacher what it meant. And I got in trouble even more for saying “dirty words” in the classroom. But I was just quoting another teacher!
It was only a month or so later when a Sunday School teacher gave me my very first own dictionary, and one of the words I eventually looked up in it was faggot. And in that dictionary the word is defined as “a bundle of sticks, twigs, etc bound together used for fuel etc.” Which didn’t help at all. How was me singing along to music acting like a bundle of sticks?
To get back to the story linked above, when it says “The child was participating in a viral “Savage” dance challenge with his sister. He looks longingly at her as she continues to dance.” I really understand that part about looking on longingly as others were allowed to do what I couldn’t do. It wasn’t always gender-based, which is what made it so hard for me to figure out what I was doing wrong all the time.
The end result was that those of us who didn’t conform to gender stereotypes—whether due to sexual orientations, or gender dysphoria, or simple statistical variance—all found ourselves crashing and burning between various metaphorical Scylla and Charybdis with neither map nor compass nor guide to see us through.
Which means that many over us spent years waffling between extremes around our own identity. Which brings me to another headline: Queer Rock ‘n’ Roll Legend Little Richard Is Dead at 87. Some versions of the blog post that eventually became this one started after I saw the first story a few daya ago about the death of Rock star Little Richard.
Little Richard was an extremely flamboyant rockstar whose stage persona inspired a large number of performers ranging from James Brown to Prince. At different times in he career he flirted with being out; other times he blatantly admitted to his queerness—for example when he said that “if Elvis is the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll than I am the Queen” as well so the several times he described himself as “omnisexual.” Unfortunately, at many more parts of his career he denounced gay/lesbian people, and transgender people, and referred to parts of his own life as a struggle against sexual sin.
I went through several drafts this weekend of a post about him… and then I found the blog post that covered most of my points more succinctly than I had been able to:
Although rock ’n’ roll was an unabashedly macho music in its early days, Little Richard, who had performed in drag as a teenager, presented a very different picture onstage: gaudily dressed, his hair piled six inches high, his face aglow with cinematic makeup. He was fond of saying in later years that if Elvis was the king of rock ’n’ roll, he was the queen.
…Little Richard will always represent a sad existence to this once-closeted gay boy of the 1970s and ’80s. If it had just been my own self-loathing that made me feel embarrassed for him then I would only fault myself. But his clear struggle between his faith and his sexuality — at one point he became a preacher and more recently he denounced gay and transgender people as “unnatural” — represented everything that is wrong with organized religion, and I found his willingness to go along with it humiliating for everyone concerned. Still, you have to believe that the joy his music brought so many people is something that will be remembered far longer than the harm he caused so many LGBTQ people — himself included — during his 87 years on planet Earth.
When Little Richard appeared on various musical variety shows during the 60s and 70s, he represented a painful contrast. Part of me loved his stage persona and performance, but another part of me was deeply ashamed, because while I was still struggling with my own sexuality, he was clearly far outside of the acceptable boundaries of gender expression. Yet I still identified with part of what he was doing.
It wasn’t until many decades later that I learned that the original version of his first top forty hit, Tutti frutti referred to the kind of black gay man who wanted to be sexually dominated by other types of men. When he decided to record the song, he cleaned up the lyrics, but there were whiffs of the meaning that carried through, nonetheless.
I guess what I’m saying is that part of me understands why Litte Richard was never quite brave enough to come out and stay out. While another (much smaller) part of me understands why he had so much trouble negotiating his shame. But the greatest part of me remains deeply disappointed that he kept retreating back into self-loathing.
Little Richard, Tutti Frutti:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
This divide, or course, exists on a spectrum. The beliefs of most people within the community fall somewhere between the extremes, but, enough are on one side or other of the middle that arguments happen. For instance, I’ve been accused of being an assimilationist because Michael and I got legally married once we were able to do so, and I watch football. I’ve also been called out in the other direction because I wear earrings, the color purple, rainbows, and call myself ‘queer.’
The tension between these two ideas plays out in many (and sometimes weird) ways—and not just within the community. There are still plenty of people (straight and not), who insist that LGBT+ rights advocates should be civil, and politely make their case about why we deserve equality. They wrongly insist that the radical approach never works. They completely ignore the actual history of the movements: decades of work by so-called homophile organizations in the U.S. and Europe politely advocating for decriminalization—always careful for the men to dress in suits and ties, and the women to were skirts and blouses—and never making any progress. It was the riots by drag queens, transgender people of color, and the like that finally made any change happen at all.
Yes, the other approach works well for raising money and countering backlash to each step forward. So both approaches have their place in the long running battle for equality.
Which isn’t to say that only the non-conforming people matter, or that there is some sort of meaning to the question of whether one person is gayer than another (despite some people trying to drag that distinction into some political races this year), it’s mostly a recognition of the old proverb that the “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Both kinds of LGBT/queer person are valid and just as “gay” as the other.
In the last few years as a small number of mostly-gender-conforming male professional athletes have decided to come out of the closet, you see various media people calling them trailblazers whose bravery will somehow make it easier for non-heterosexual kids to be themselves. Ignoring that fact that the actual trailblazers were blazing those trails for many years. It’s not the macho professional male athlete coming out in the twenty-teens who is leading the way, they are trailing far, far in the dust behind the femmy boys and glittery street queens and butch dykes and trans people of all types who led the way at Stonewall and in the years immediately following. And as has been demonstrated many times, no matter how unthreatening, conventional, and mainstream non-heterosexual people are, as soon as they dare to come out of the closet someone is ready with the slurs and attacks.
The two philosophies I mentioned at the beginning (Assimilationist/Radical) roughly map to two distinctive kinds of experiences many queer people lived through growing up:
- Some of us never fit in. We were bullied by classmates (as well as adults) for the way we talked, or the way we walked, or the things we expressed interest in.
- Others blended in so well that when they eventually did come out, people who knew them when they were younger express genuine and emphatic shock.
Make no mistake: neither kind of kid had it easy. The ones who did blend in realized, at some point, that they were different, and they lived in just as much fear as those of us who couldn’t figure out why we were constantly being called all those homophobic slurs. Both kinds internalized homophobia leading to feelings of self-loathing.
Those of us who couldn’t blend in are somewhat more likely to focus on trying to make society more accepting of all differences, while those who did blend in seem to be more likely to think our goal should be to convince straight people that we are no different from them.
But it isn’t an exact correlation.
I’m saying all of this for context. Now, let’s move on to my point: any time in the last few months that I have criticized the policies and statements of presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg I get accused of saying he isn’t gay enough. As if that phrase even means anything. That’s not what’s happening. My beef with Buttigieg is very few of his statements about policies would sound amiss coming out of the mouth of 2016 Republican presidential candidate, Jeb Bush. Most wouldn’t sound amiss coming out of the mouth of 2012 Republican nominee, Mitt Romney.
Mayor Pete is not a progressive politician. He doesn’t advocate positions that I believe will move us forward. At best, his detailed policies look to undo most of the harm Trump has done, and otherwise only promise to not to let things get much worse.
We can do better than that.
Now, I have some theories about why he doesn’t see how harmful late stage capitalism is to most working class and middle class people of every gender, orientation, and race. And I have some theories on why many of his responses as mayor to issues related to marginalized communities were tone deaf or outright dismissive. The quickest summation is: he is unaware of how the privileges he has had (being a man in our society, being white, having university-educated parents, being from a family well-to-do enough to send him to private school, and then to Harvard, and yes, being the kind of gay who can pass for straight when he wants) has protected him from the problems those less fortunate have had to deal with.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t think he’s gay enough. That does means I don’t think he is either self-aware enough nor empathetic enough to be a good president.
Frequently, Bisexual Awareness Week is the same week as my birthday, so I had been planning a post about bi-erasure, the importance of bi visibility, and so forth for next week. Then I saw a link on a newsblog that this week is it.
I often quote the study completed by the Centers for Disease control in the early 90s whose conclusions included the line, “Americans would rather admit to being heroin addicts than being bisexual.” I’m not bisexual, but my husband is. A lot of people leap to the conclusion that because he’s a man married to another man that he is gay. He’s not. A have several other friends who are bisexual who have ended up in long-term relationships with opposite sex partners and people assume that that means they are straight. They aren’t. And that’s just one aspect of bi-erasure.
One of the reasons I take bi erasure a bit personally is my husband: I love him, and being bisexual is part of who he is. It’s not that I only love his “gay half” (as if that even existed), I love all of him. Because he’s awesome.
I have to admit that another reason I take it personally is because I owe bisexual people an apology, because I’m one of those gay guys who—during the time I was struggling with coming out of the closet—lied and said I was bi. I was lying to myself at least as much as I was lying to anyone else, but it was a lie. It wasn’t a transitional phase on my way to being gay. The complicated forces of internalized homophobic and the tremendous social pressure that defines adulthood, in part, on getting married to a person of the opposite sex and starting a family cause us to do some stupid things. And unfortunately, the existence of exclusively gay or lesbian people who falsely identified as bisexual for a time while struggling with their identity contributes to another aspect of bi-erasure.
Bisexual (and pansexual) visibility is important. There are people out there—many of them young people—who aren’t out yet. They may be struggling with even understanding what their sexuality is. And the more examples they can see of adults of all sexualities — bi, pan, ace, gay, lesbian, queer — the more they will know that they aren’t alone and that they can have a future full of love.
And that means that the rest of us in the queer community need to do what we can to make our bi+ siblings feel welcome in queer spaces. If someone tells you they are bi, believe them. Don’t argue with them. Don’t tell them that they may feel differently later. Recognize that they are trusting you with information that makes them vulnerable, and be the kind of ally you wish your straight friends and family members had been for you when you came out.