On August 23, 1971, Newsweek ran a story with this headline: “The Militant Homosexual.”
Jim Burroway, at Box Turtle Bulletin, has a regular “Today in History” column. That’s LGBT related history, and it’s one of my daily “must reads.” On Tuesday, he provided an overview of that Newsweek article, printed about two years after the June, 1969 Stonewall Rebellion, writing
already that landmark uprising (had) sparked a new burst of gay advocacy which went beyond anything that had gone before. Straight America was scratching its collective head: where did all of these homosexuals come from?
In a four page spread, Newsweek reported:
Within weeks (of Stonewall), the first of scores of militant homosexual groups, the Gay Liberation Front, was formed in New York. The new mood quickly crossed the continent, leading to the creation of similar organizations in Los Angeles and San Francisco. By the first anniversary of the Stonewall incident, the militants were on the march in a dozen cities. By the second anniversary, they were celebrating Gay Pride Week … . The movement already has a book-length history in print and some of its more imaginative propagandists have even begun to speak of a ‘Stonewall Nation’.
Note the descriptive words, like “propagandists” and “militants.” Burroway writes:
As one measure of the surprise this new openness must have engendered, the word ‘militant’ appeared in the four-page article fifteen times. And what the authors regarded ‘militant’ is revealing: they described ‘militants’ coming out to their friends, families and employers; ‘militants’ wanting acceptance; ‘militants’ refusing to accept the APA’s verdict that they were mentally ill (the APA would set aside that verdict two years later); ‘militants’ demanding an end to the ban on federal employment; ‘militants’ starting gay churches and ‘militants’ getting married in them, and ‘militants’ saying it’s great to be gay.
And daring to say that being gay was a good thing was, as Burroway notes, seen by Newsweek as “especially dangerous.” From the Newsweek article:
What all this suggests is a central problem that gay liberation usually chooses to ignore: if the movement succeeds in creating an image of ‘normality’ for homosexuals in the society at large, would it encourage more homosexually inclined people — particularly young people — to follow their urges without hesitation? No one really knows for certain. Dr. Paul Gebhard, the distinguished anthropologist who directs the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University, believes that gay lib ‘will not convert heterosexuals into homosexuals but might encourage those who are going in a homosexual direction to feel less guilty about it.’
Get it? It’s a bad thing for the homosexuals to feel “less guilty.” The article continues
New York sociologist Edward Sagarin takes an even dimmer view. ‘If the militants didn’t say that it is great to be gay,’ Sagarin insists, ‘more adolescents with homosexual tendencies might seek to change instead of resolving their confusion by accepting the immediate warm security that tells them they are normal.’
In some ways the Newsweek story sounds almost quaint, a period of LGBT history that’s foreign to younger generations. But even as polls consistently show a growing support for LGBT equality, there are still people whose views about homosexuality sound very 1971-ish. We’re transitioning, and you can see it in major and multiple ways. However, I don’t think that means we can ignore the still significant anti-LGBT views. It may be tempting to shrug them off, even laugh. But we need to be careful not to minimize the damage that’s still being done. And the work still to be done.
On Wednesday Paul Thornton, in the LA Times, wrote 2012 campaign: Rick Perry and a uniquely anti-gay GOP field?
Could this be the biggest gay-bashing election in recent history? Doubtful, since President George W. Bush set such a high bar in 2004. Quite the contrary: Call me an optimist, but I see such highly publicized gay-baiting as a positive development.
Why? Not so long ago, the virulently homophobic views offered by some candidates were treated almost as viable alternatives to the positions taken by less anti-gay politicians. It was as if all those views came from the same menu of Reasonable Points of View Worth Debating. Now, the radical ideas espoused by Bachmann, Perry, Santorum and others are held up not for genuine consideration but for scorn (notwithstanding the last GOP debate in Iowa).
I think Thornton has a legitimate point, but I also think it’s a mistake to discount the results the widely “scorned” views still have in the lives of LGBTs. In significant ways, Perry comparing homosexuality to alcoholism in his 2008 book, On My Honor, sounds silly. But such words contribute to a still present attitude that sees lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons as “acceptable” targets of judgment. Igor Volsky, at Think Progress writes:
Perry went on to say that he was ‘tolerant toward those who have a different sexual preference,’ but condemned ‘the agenda of radical gay rights groups that want to throw their sexual activity into the face of society … .’
Sort of sounds as if it could be have written in, say, 1971, doesn’t it?
One example of where such thinking continues to have an influence is seen in a Keene News Service piece by Dana Rudolph, LGBT students: Safer this year?:
Anti-LGBT bullying took the national stage last fall after the highly publicized suicides of several teens bullied for being gay or perceived to be. The relentless bullying, many believe, may have been one of the contributing factors in their decisions to attempt suicide, and their deaths led to an surge of anti-bullying awareness campaigns and media coverage.
But will LGBT students entering school this fall be any safer after a year of heightened awareness about the issue?
Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), and David McFarland, interim executive director/CEO of The Trevor Project, the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBT (and questioning) youth, both acknowledged progress has been made, but both also express concerns about what McFarland calls the “continuing … anti-LGBT rhetoric and movement across this country that has a negative effect on young people… . There is greater awareness around this issue, but LGBT students still experience bullying and harassment at an alarming rate.”
The time for militant activism isn’t just history. It’s current reality.
( Photo via BoxTurtleBulletin )