Posts Tagged ‘Stonewall’

LZ Granderson’s Shaky Defense of Obama

July 17th, 2009 No comments

Yesterday, ESPN journalist LZ Granderson wrote a provocative opinion piece for CNN, taking the gay community to task for its criticism of Obama. While he makes some valid points, overall the piece is disjointed, unpersuasive, and borderline irresponsible.

First, what he’s right about: Like white society in general, the white gay community has not exactly been welcoming of African-American gays. For social and historical reasons that are perfectly understandable, many black gay men more readily identify with their community of color, not of sexual orientation. Thus, they mostly remain enthusiastic about, and uncritical of, Obama. Granderson is also accurate to write that the history of the gay rights movement is much shorter than that of the civil rights movement.

But as to this latter point: So what? It’s not a contest. And Granderson seems to be equating Stonewall to the beginning of gay oppression, rather than to the beginning of the end of it. He writes:

“The 40th anniversary of Stonewall dominated Gay Pride celebrations around the country, and while that is certainly a significant moment that should be recognized, 40 years is nothing compared with the 400 blood-soaked years black people have been through in this country. There are stories some blacks lived through, stories others were told by their parents and stories that never had a chance to be told.”

This is dangerous and wrong. It can’t go unchallenged. Why is Granderson comparing the 40 years since Stonewall to the 400 years of black oppression? This makes no sense on its face. The oppression of blacks didn’t start at the dawn of the civil rights movement, and the oppression of gays didn’t start with Stonewall. That event represents a turning point (perhaps, but even that point is too easy), but for millenia there have been “stories that some [gays]  lived through, [and] stories that never had a chance to be told.” As for “stories…told by their parents” — even more than blacks, gays were isolated and cut off from any stories that might have affirmed their existence.

Again, though, it’s not a contest. I make my point only to illustrate the pernicious character of the “Rank That Oppression” Game. The two situations are different, making comparisons parlous. More importantly, Granderson misses one of the central insights of the civil rights movement: All oppression is connected. If some black gay men are giving Obama a complete pass, they’re missing that point as surely as Granderson is. Are they  thinking about their brothers in the military who live in fear of being exposed and kicked out, or of those who don’t even bother enlisting? Are they thinking about black lesbians raising children who could benefit in tangible economic and social ways from the repeal of DOMA or the full marriage equality that he-who-must-not-be-criticized opposes?

And speaking of African-American lesbians, they’re left out of Granderson’s story. It seems he wants to give a pass to Obama and to other black men, but to one else. White gays are accused of singing the blues without “living them.” This is just as offensive as whites “blaming” African-Americans for Prop 8. Enough.

This is identity politics at its least appealing. But don’t take my word for it. Read the article.

What Happened in Fort Worth?

June 29th, 2009 No comments

It would be unwise to draw hard conclusions before all of the facts come out, but this looks bad. This past Saturday night, a gay bar in Ft. Worth was raided, and the reason given by  the Ft. Worth police department for the raid — an alcohol inspection — seems flatly contradicted by some of the facts; including the presence of several “paddy wagons” on site to cart off arrestees. One guy is in the hospital with what increasingly looks like a life-threatening brain injury.

Read the whole article (it’s long but very informative), and this one, too. That this  happened exactly 40 years after Stonewall is a dismal reminder that the struggles for equality and basic humanity continue. This story (both the specific one and the more general one) will continue to develop.

(h/t Chris Geidner at Law Dork)

Stonewall’s Progeny

June 28th, 2009 No comments

On the 20th Anniversary of Stonewall, there are any number of great places to find an account of the uprising that began on June 28, 1969, and lasted for some two weeks. I especially recommend Nan Hunter’s typically excellent post, which includes a bunch of useful links and an extended quote from the great writer Edmund White, whose pulsing account of events she quotes extensively.

I want to make a different point, though. Several years ago, a good friend of mine in Michigan was expressing his frustration with well-to-do, polite gays — almost exclusively white men — who cared little about the rights of people more on the fringe than they were. Here of course he was referring to gays and lesbians of color and gender non-conformists (including but not limited to the transgendered community). His admonition to the polite class: “If it’s not safe for the most outrageous drag queen, it’s not safe for you, either.”

Well, yes and no. In a theoretical sense he was right, because the oppression of any group enables the oppression of another; dehumanization and essentialist thinking are easily transported to new contexts, so that the group safe at the first pogrom might not survive the next. Here’s a brief comment that gets right at it from one of the readers of Pam’s House Blend:

“We are all gender transgressors in the eyes of society, either by loving the ‘wrong’ gender, or living as the ‘wrong’ gender. Pretty simple. But I’ve had arguments with boneheaded gay friends who insist ‘those people’ are ruining ‘our’ cause.

“It’s all one cause, people.”

Yet my friend’s admonition often fell on deaf ears, because the privileged class isn’t often on the receiving end of the worst kind of discrimination. Their efforts to maintain the status quo with the “tweak” of formal equality are less threatening, and more $1,000-a-plate-fundraising-dinner friendly, than the messier demands for the social equality that alone lead to good public health and welfare outcomes for transgendered people and other true outliers.

The other point my friend might have made is that the LGBT movement as we know it today simply would not have existed without the reckless courage of those same outliers; people still too often shoved to the margins in the march to formal equality. Having the least to lose and the most to gain, these radical queers sparked the revolution that today has the rest of us comfortably within the social mainstream. And they didn’t start in June of 1969; the transgendered community, working outside the sticky cocoon of a double identity that sheltered many more “passable” gay and lesbian folks, had augured Stonewall with an uprising of their own, four years earlier — in Philadelphia, at a place called “Dewey’s.” Kathy Padilla discussed this event, and provided a sketch of earlier TG visibility, as Pam’s guest blogger.

Because of these ground-breaking — doubtless trembling — efforts, we can argue with seamless confidence today for the full measure of legal equality that is surely soon to come. Even the Obama DOJ’s awful brief defending DOMA underscores rather than contradicts the point; a generation ago, the homophobic cant that the brief recites would have passed, unchallenged. Today it is a major embarrassment for the Obama Administration, which has been forced to respond by agreeing to meet with gay legal advocacy groups before filing the government’s brief in the other DOMA case, due in the Fall.  That’s progress.

And for those of us who congratulate ourselves for being “out,” it’s worth thinking today about the forefathers/mothers who made this possible; even easy, in some cases.

It’s often and accurately stated that the LGBT rights movement doesn’t have a true leader. But we do have pioneers, and Stonewall is an apt time to both remember them and the deep lessons of their courage.