Sunday, October 10, 2010

LGBT History Month: A look at gay rights - Part I - through 1989.

Although homophobia and heterosexism is persistent, pervasive and not going anywhere anytime soon, strides in gay and lesbian rights are being made (not so much for trans-rights).  Here is a look at some gains over the years, although certainly not all of them.  Since oppositional forces to sometimes help spur positive change, I've noted some of the more infamous events.  My source is Rachel Kranz and Tim Cusick's Library in a Book: Gay Rights (2000).  Almost all wording is directly quoted or paraphrased. Bracketed text is my own words.

1924: The first US gay rights group, the Society for Human Rights is founded in Chicago, but soon disbanded when the wife of a member reports the group to police.

1948: Kinsey puts out that famous 10% number in Sexual Behavior in the Human Male.

1950-1954:  The McCarthy witchunts to ferret out homosexuals in the government, military and other areas.  Thousands of men and women lose their jobs.

1951: The Mattachine Society is founded in Los Angeles.

1955: The first US lesbian organization, Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) is founded in San Francisco by Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon.  In 2004, Del and Phyllis become the first same-sex couple to have their marriage recognized by a government entity.

1961: Illinois becomes the first state to decriminlaize private homosexual acts between consenting adults.

1964: The Socity for Individual Rights (SIR) is founded in San Francisco.

1965: The first gay rights protest in US history occurs when seven gay men and three lesbians picket the White House.  It goes largely unnoticed due to the 20,000 anti-war protestors gathered that same day at the Washington Monument.

1968: The Metropolitan Community Church is founded by Rev. Troy Perry.

1969: June 27th: Judy Garland's funeral coincides with the riots at the Stonewall Inn.  The gay civil rights movement begins in full force.

1970: The Lutheran Church opposes state sodomy laws and supports anti-discrimination legislation for gay men and lesbians.

June 28th: The Christopher Street Liberation Day march commemorates the Stonewall riots.

1971: NOW adopts a policy making the oppression of lesbians "a legitimate concern for feminism."
Idaho repeals then reinstates sodomy laws, making homosexual acts a felony.

1972: East Lansing, Michigan adpots the first ordinance outlwaing discrimination against gay men and lesbians.

1973: The American Psychiatric Association removes homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.

Lambda Legal is founded in New York City.

Rubyfruit Jungle is published.

1974: Bella Abzug introduces the first federal Gay and Lesbian Civil Rights Bill.

Combahee River Collective holds its first meeting in Roxbury, Massachusetts.

1976: The US Supreme Court upholds the sodomy laws of the State of Virigina.

1977: Dade County, Florida passes an ordinace forbidding discrimination based on sexual identity.  Anita Bryant, former beauty queen and orange juice spokesperson, launches a campaign that results in the repeal of the ordinance.  The anti-gay rights movement begins in full force. [I remind readers here of Ms. Bryant's eminent qualifications.]

Harvey Milk wins a seat on the San Francisco board of supervisors, becoming the first openly gay person to be elected to the government of a large US city.

1978:  The Briggs Initiative, which would have allowed gay and lesbian teachers or any teacher who referred positively to homosexuals to be fired, is defeated.

San Francisco has the largest Gay Pride parade in history - 250,000 to 300,000 marchers, parttly in response to the Briggs Initiative.

Harvey Milk is killed by Dan White.

1979: The Moral Majority is founded by Jerry Falwell.

Stephen M. Lachs becomes the nations's first openly gay judge in California.

Dan White is convicted of manslaughter, enraging San Francisco's gay population and the White Night riots erupt.  Dan White will be released form jail in 1985 and commit suicide.

The first national gay and lesbian civil rights march on Washington draws more than 100,000 participants.

1980: The Human Rights Campaign is founded. [For all the good the classist lapdogs do now.]

1981: The CDC reports a new disease it calls GRIDS (gay-related immune deficiency), that later becomes known as AIDS.  [Many papers report about the "gay cancer" spreading.]

Larry Kramer and other activists form the Gay Men's Health Crisis, the first group to respond to AIDS.

The "Family Protection Act" is introduced, which would deny Social Security, welfare, and veterans' benefits to gay people or those who propose that homosexuality is acceptable.

1982: Wisconsin has the first statewide gay and lesbian civil rights bill go into effect.

Philidelphia establishes the first high school for gays and lesbians.  In 1985, New York City establishes the Harvey Milk School for gays and lesbians.

1984: The virus causing AIDS is discovered by scientists at the Pasteur Institute in France.

Berkeley, California becomes the first city to extend domestic partnership benefits to gay and lesbian employees.

Wigstock holds its first festival.

1985: New York City passes a gay rights bill fourteen years after its introduction.

1986: The Supreme Court upholds the right of states to make laws prohibiting sodomy and other private sexual acts between consenting adults in Bowers v. Hardwick.

1987: Barney Frank becomes the first congressman to voluntarily announce he is gay.

ACT UP shuts down Wall Street, protesting the cost of AIDS drugs. ACT UP introduces a more militant approach to AIDS and gay rights activism.

Almost 650,000 lesbians and gay men participate in the 2nd March on Washington, which has the first display of the Names Project quilt.

1988: The District of Columbia passes a gay rights ordinance, but Congress votes to deny funding to the district unless the ordinance is revoked.

1989: [In Cincinnati, the city art museum is indicted and prosecuted for violating obscenity laws in its Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit which features photograph potraits of men in sadomasochistic and homoerotic poses and activities and some nude photos of children.  In 1990, the museum director and staff will be found not to have violated obscenity laws by a jury, but this incident allows Jesse Helms to spearhead an attack on the NEA, which has chilling effects on arts funding.]

A New York Court of Appeals rules that a gay male couple can be considered a "family" where housing rules are concerned, allowing a surviving spouse to continue to enjoy his partner's lease.

The San Francisco City College establishes the first university department of lesbian and gay studies in the US.

Part II: 1990-2000 coming soon!

Saturday, October 09, 2010


With the recent spat of suicides and bullying incidents that have been focused on or associated with gay or gay-identified individuals, I've had the opportunity to engage in a tremendous amount of discussion about homophobia.  And, not surprisingly, there are different perspectives and understanding of what homophobia is, what is looks like, how pervasive it is, and what the effects of homophobia are.  Certainly a discussion that covers all of these bases well would constitute volumes and is well beyond my scope.  However, I would like to briefly describe my perspective and understanding.

Informing my understanding of homophobia is Dr. Beverly Tatum's definition of racism in her seminal work "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?"  Tatum (1997) first distinguishes between racism and prejudice.  For Tatum, racism is "a system of advantage based on race" (p. 7).  It goes beyond personal prejudices, "personal ideology" in Tatum's words; rather it is "a system involving cultural messages and institutional policies and practices as well as the beliefs and actions of individuals" (p. 7).  Even when individual people in the dominant group (white or heterosexual) aren't in positions of power or actively act against the interests of black or gay people, they still benefit from the systematic advantages for their group.

Tatum cites Peggy McIntosh's well-known article "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" (p. 8) wherein McIntosh details the advantages to being white in every day life.  At minimum, such advantages include the ability to be around people like you at almost any time, to speak with authority and not be questioned by people sharing that identity, being certain that unfavorable institutional practices or decisions by people in authority aren't made because of my identity, no need to question if any negative interactions were because of that identity, and so on. Oppression does not have to be overt and/or hostile - it does not have to be prejudicially based - to effect its force.

Tatum makes note that this definition is "antithetical to traditional notions of an American meritocracy" (p. 9).  While we may not like to bust the myth that all men are created equal, "notions of power or privilege" must be addressed (p. 9).  Tatum also interrogates the interests of those who resist such a definition of racism (and by implication all "isms") :   by not understanding "whose interests are served by a 'prejudice only' definition of racism,...the system of advantage is perpetuatued" (p. 9). She later distinguishes between passive and active racism: failure to interrupt a racist joke would be an example of passive racism while telling such a joke would be an active form (p. 13). 

Although not the sum of her arguments, I will finish highlighting Tatum's definition with her caveat: "It is important to acknowledge that while all Whites benefit from racism, they do not all benefit equally.  Other factors, such as socio-economic status, gender, age, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, mental and physical ability, also play a role in our access to social influence and power" (p. 12).

So, using Tatum's definition, I define heterosexism as systematic advantage based on sexuality or sexual orientation.  Homophobia, for me, is the fear or hatred of non-heterosexual people or the philosophy that such people are morally corrupt or psychologically abberant.  Homophobia, in my mind, informs heterosexism in almost every instance and is the larger problem.

There are people who may be heterosexist without being, or meaning to be, homophobic.  Non-homophobic heterosexism may show itself in such ways:
  • Asking if you have a significant other (this is both nosey and heterosexist)
  • Assuming your significant other is the opposite sex of you
  • Social events that presume only opposite sex couples will attend
  • Marketing that targets couples and only show opposite sex couples
  • The ability to find a community or group of straight people anywhere at almost any time
  • The ability to see representations in any form of media of (well adjusted) heterosexual people (in stable, healthy relationship or sexual active in a socially acceptable way, or...)
  • Ability to enter a locker room and not have others presume you're interested in their bodies
  • The ability to easily find, read, hear or otherwise access the history and contributions of heterosexuals
  • Forms with forced choices such as  "married, single, divorced" that don't recognize the validity or existence of different forms of same-sex relationships might be non-homophobic
  • Some individuals who say "that's so gay" (although the phrase is rooted in homophobia, some may say it in ignorance of the implication)
And so on...

Listing non-homophobic heterosexist manifestations is actually pretty difficult, because so few of them exist. Even the last two examples must come with the caveat that it is difficult, if not impossible to tell, if they are products of homophobia or simply a heterosexist society.  I will briefly mention that a specific brand of homophobia impacts straight-identified men as well: sissyphobia.  This is a more direct expression of the misogyny that underlines homophobia.  A fear, hatred, or dislike of men who have effeminate characteristics or personalities betrays the hatred of women that is the basis for homophobia.  I heard a rabbi once say that "homophobia is a room in the greater house of misogyny" and I firmly believe this.

I've been inclined in my discussions to use blatant examples of the pervasiveness of homophobia, but homophobia manifests itself in the smallest of interactions and assumptions, just as heterosexism does.  Still the homophobic, active oppression of gays and lesbians is a major force in society today.

Homophobia manifest itself in some obvious ways; here are just a few:
  • National and global religious leaders frequently make speeches regarding the evils of homosexuality.
  • National and global religious leaders often talk about some perceived agenda homosexuals persue to destroy traditional societal institutions and roles.
  • National, locals (and sometimes global) politicians claim that homosexuals are unfit for certain jobs, especially those around children.
  • National and local politicians and national and local religious leaders and organizations advocate and advance anti-gay legislation, including opposing legislation that would protect homosexuals from being fired and denied housing or medical care because of their sexual orientation.
  • National and local politicians and national and local religious leaders and organizations oppose legislation that would allow same-sex couples hospital visitation rights or the ability for same-sex couples to make financial and health decisions for their significant others.
  • National and local politicians and national and local religious leaders and organizations oppose legislation that would allow same-sex couples who seek the legal rights, responsibilities and protections that a civil marriage provides to have access to the same rights and protections they enjoy.
  • National and local politicians and national and local religious leaders and organizations oppose legislation that would allow same-sex couples to adopt children, advancing the idea that a child in foster care or an orphanage is better off than with a loving gay or lesbian parents.
  • Religious and secular leaders of all levels promote the idea that homosexuals are (more likely to be) child molestors /pedophiles and/or seek to convert people, but especially children, to homosexuality.
  • Religious and secular leaders of all levels promote research that does not meet well-established scientific criteria or backing to advance lies and falsehoods about gays and lesbians.
  • Religious leaders of all levels promote that homosexuality is a sin that is worse than any other sin simply by the amount of attention they devote to it compared to all other sins.
  • National religious leaders have declared that homosexuals are responsible for 9/11, Katrina, and other disasters that have befallen the United States.
  • National and local politicians and national and local religious leaders and organizations have found legislation that would establish anti-bullying regulations because they believe such legislation would silence their abusive depicitions of homosexuals.
  • Gay and lesbian military service members are not allowed to express or share their feelings for their significant others or their sexual interests, unlike their heterosexual counterparts, who may do so with impunity.  Debate over repeal of DADT often centers around the implicit idea that gay service men (in particular) will be sexually predatory on or inappropriate with their heterosexual peers. 

I could go on, but the picture is clear and obvious to anybody who pays the least bit attention to these things.  But some of these are all too easily dismissed as being uttered by clearly fringe individuals or organizations and that they don't impact the day-to-day lives of gay and lesbian people.  But homophobia is more insidious and dangerous than obvious attacks on gays and lesbians. 

Homophobia is deadly because on a daily basis, it causes some people to:
  • Lie about their lives to continue to live and/or associate with their family and/or friends.
  • Be thrown out on the street without money because they come out to their family when young.
  • Be sent against their will to ex-gay ministries or psychotherapy to "cure" their sexuality.
  • Be ostracized from religious and other organizations they have been members of all their life.
  • Be unable to find other positive representations of other gays and lesbians.
  • Be unable to find people in their community who will be supportive of them.
  • Be rejected by some family members, even if other family members are supportive.
  • Be rejected by some friends, even if others are supportive.
  • Be told that they are "okay" but can't bring their significant other around children (because it would be too hard to explain).
  • Be told they are loved, but are still going to hell or are sick/perverted/etc.
  • Be fired or not hired for jobs they are qualified for because they are gay/lesbian or appear to be.
  • Be unable to find someone to date or otherwise establish a romantic and/or sexual relationship.
  • Be unable to find someone who can understand the issues being gay or lesbian causes for them.
  • Dress to fit in rather than how they would prefer to dress.
  • Not be trusted around children.
  • Enter into unfulfilling opposite-sex relationships in order to "fit in" or because that it what they've been taught is ideal.
  • Cheat on their opposite-sex spouse because their sexual and emotional needs can't be met.
  • Be called names by people who disapprove of their identity.
  • Be assumed to be the expert of and for all gay and lesbian people.
  • Wonder whether disclosing they are in a same-sex relationship will result in some negative repercussion.
  • Wonder if publicly holding hands, hugging, kissing or other appropriate display of affection with their same-sex other will result in violence or other negative repercussion.
  • Prevent some people from publicly displaying affection for fear of such repercussions.
  • Wonder how new neighbors will react if you disclose you are gay or lesbian.
  • Strategize and wonder about places (states and cities) where it is safe and supportive to live as a gay or lesbian.
  • Speculate and keep on guard for areas where one must move into, whether it is safe or supportive or not.
  • Plan their career around professions that are generally accepting of gays and lesbians.
  • Look only for companies that will not discriminate against their sexual orientation and/or offer benefits for same-sex couples.
  • Wonder if other people speak negatively about them when they are not around.
  • Wonder if other people judge their same-sex relationship differently than heterosexual relationships.
  • Wonder if decisions made against them by authorities were because of their sexual orientation.
  • Wonder if they were pulled over by a police officer because they have a pro-gay or gay- identifying sticker on their car. (Or fearing they will be, do not put one on their car.)
  • Wonder if a negative interaction with another person was because of their sexual orientation.
  • Worry that they will burn in hell forever.

Not all gay and lesbian people experience these things, but most of us do experience some of them, to varying degrees.  I have personally experienced many, if not most, of these.  And certainly the list is not comprehensive or halfway complete.

As Tatum mentions, our other areas of privilege mediated the degree to which homophobia and heterosexism impacts us.  An older, white, middle income, highly educated, Protestant male like me may experience any or all of those impacts, but have enough power and privilge through our other identities to deal with those, or most of those, issues.  A young, Hispanic, lower middle class woman who is lesbian may experience them much more profoundly and deeply because she does not have the support systems or financial or other resources to off-set their impact.  And so, she may be forced to live in a community where she must hide her true self and forego a romantic relationship in order to sustain herself and simply survive.

Regardless of one's other privileged identities, these things, big and small, to take a psychic toll. It can wash over some like a raging river or slowly wear on others, eroding them like a stream does a rock over time.  Being able to be in communion with those who understand and who are supportive and loving can help counteract a lot of this, but not all.  For those who do not have such connections or those who may be too young to know how to get out or lack the experience to counterbalance homophobia, it may be a sudden drowning experience.

Why we can't address only bullying; we must address homophobia

The tragic situation of Tyler Clementi has received special attention lately for several reasons, but I suspect mostly because he is one in a recent string of suicides with young gay or gay-perceived people who were bullied. I also think he has received particular attention because of the sensationalistic nature of how it happened  In other words, people think: "it happened at a college!"; "it could happen to anybody!"; "sex was broadcast on the internet!"  The believed sacred and protective bounds of the white tower have been violated; who among us might be the next victim?  Why, this could even happen to straight people!  Clearly, I am tempted to make a case that it receives attention despite the fact that it happened to a young gay man; other more overtly homophobic acts of bullying are receiving less attention than Tyler's case. A possible explanation is that media and its consumers believe that those were just some poor fags and I don't have to worry about them because I'm not one.

For those who are emphasizing the homophobia involved in the Rutger's case, I don't think most people are trying to make a martyr out of Tyler, but rather to use his case as one in a series of examples of how homophobia impacts people.  From the facts that we know, I would say that we can't tell if the webcam broadcast was done because Tyler was having sex or because he was having sex with a man.

I think it's largely irrelevant. The act was a form of bullying and invasion of privacy. That needs to be addressed. Period. We need to quit making excuses for bullying ("boys will be boys" etc) and address the fundamental unacceptability of bullying. (For more on this particular point, see Kate Harding's excellent profanity-laced post.)
What needs to be understood, however, is how a pervasively homophobic society adds a crushingly oppressive element that results in some young people being unable to handle the bullying. Although suicide is not a rational choice, the conditions under which many of these kids are taking their lives are cruel and inhumane and they likely see no recourse, no hope for escape.

There was a study done on North Korean POWs that implicates the denial of “the emotional support that comes from interpersonal relationships by using “self-criticism” and the “withholding of all positive emotional support “(Rath, 2005). Those POW camps had the highest death rate in US military history despite the relatively little use of physical torture.

So, imagine if you can that you are a young gay person who is being bullied. You have people directly telling you that you are worthless: you are worth only abuse. Even if that abuse isn’t directly tied to your sexual orientation – you have a society where on a daily basis you receive negative messages about your worth. Politicians and religious leaders on a local, national, and global scale talk about your moral depravity – your assurance to go to hell – and that during your time on earth you aren’t worth basic civil rights (job protection, housing protection, protection from bullying) and they’ll actively fight to deny you those rights.

On top of that, you may not be able to tell family, friends, teachers, counselors, or ministers about your sexual orientation because those people believe - from the messages they’ve heard – that you’re sick. Your family might throw you out – it happens frequently – or they might try to “cure” you by forcing you to go through psychotherapy or worse, ex-gay ministries. Friends and trusted authorities may also reject you.

So, you’re isolated, with nobody to turn to, and few, if any, resources. You’re isolated, you’re being constantly criticized about your identity and your future prospects seem bleak. You are, in fact, a POW of a homophobic society. At this point, suicide could seem pretty fucking rational. You’re already in hell; why not take your chances with the next life? It could only get better, right?

Bullying in all forms and for any reason must be stopped.  But homophobia is what contributes to making an irrational choice seem rational. We must not and cannot deny the power that homophobia exerts on young people not being able to endure the bullying.