Monday, June 29, 2009
You’ve probably never heard of it. And even if you have odds are it’s because of recent token media coverage now that Obama has decreed June to be Pride Month, and for a month people act like they care about the homos. But if you haven’t heard of it, don’t feel bad. I didn’t know what the hell a Stonewall Inn was until about a year ago when I happened to come across it on Wikipedia while combing through articles, following one link to another. Nobody told me about it in school, my mother never brought it up despite being a child of the age, you get the idea. I knew who Stonewall Jackson was, but I doubted and still doubt his name bears any relation to the place in New York City.
To make a long and complicated story short and neat in the interest of time and space, the Stonewall Inn was, 40 years ago yesterday, the start of the gay rights movement in the United States and much of the world. New York’s Finest had taken to raiding gay bars under the auspices of enforcing the law, but the queerbaits at the Stonewall unexpectedly showed some resistance. The NYPD quickly lost control of the situation, and for five days a community shouted out their collective window and proclaimed they were mad as hell and they weren’t going to take it anymore (seven years too early I know, but the line fits perfectly). Exactly a year after the riots on Christopher Street the community held the world’s first gay pride parade, marching from the Stonewall Inn to Central Park.
Now, four decades removed from the riots where do we find ourselves? Everything those couple hundred pissed off queens could never have even dreamed of, for one. For a civil rights movement that started such a short time ago, the gay community has made truly remarkable progress. Prior to 1969, coming out anywhere was a formal request to be disowned by your parents and/or fired by your employer. While “the heartland”, Central and South America, Africa, the Middle East, and huge swaths of Asia still have a long way to go, at least there are places on this planet where gay people can be somewhat accepted by other people and where the wandering can find refuge.
The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, South Africa, and Canada are currently the only five countries on the planet where same-sex marriage is legalized without restriction. The marriage debate is an easy one nowadays to coalesce the whole gay rights movement into. It happens every day. And while the right to marry is certainly a very important one it would be irresponsible to assume the marriage issue is the only stain left unwashed.
In Ohio, I can be fired from my job effective immediately if my employer decides she doesn’t like queers. In Florida, if my landlord feels the same way he can kick me out of my house for no other reason than that. In Jamaica I can be beaten and harassed by police officers. Half a world away, I can be tortured, mutilated, raped, hunted and killed–legally or otherwise–for daring to be myself. But no LGBT person anywhere is immune from rejection by so-called friends and family. Old habits die hard, and it’s easy to say you accept gay people before your son or daughter, or even spouse comes out to you. Several people I know learned that the hard way, and it’s something I am legitimately afraid to face. I don’t know if people are born gay or not, but I can say with absolute certainty that it is not a conscious choice.
It’s always amazing how much things change and how much they can manage to stay exactly the same. Our current president promised to be a “fierce advocate” of LGBT rights. He promised to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, opening the doors for the United States to eventually become #6 on the previously mentioned list. Infamously, he has taken no action against DADT and his administration defended DOMA in court using the Bryantesque comparison of homosexuals to pedophiles. Simultaneously, he declares June to officially be Pride Month as if that’s supposed to make amends. The notion of a homophobic federal government sanctioning “Pride Month” reeks of the tokenism of Black History Month immersed in White History Year. And it’s disgusting.
Bob Dylan once asked a world, “How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?” Like the black civil rights movement, and like the process of coming out for every LGBT person, there is no definite end but death. So long as there are gay people and straight people, institutionalized discrimination will always be something to struggle against. The point of the gay rights movement is not to reach some sunshiney, saccharine promised land. The point is to be free to live and love as we see fit. It’s that simple. A freedom to be yourself is not just an American right, it’s a human right. If a handful of broke, homeless, slightly drunk queers can stand up on a lonely New York night and spark a cultural movement, imagine what millions can do.