All too often I see comments like this one in the WGLB diary today:
So when is your march? (8+ / 0-)
Justice in this country does not come easily. Jim Crow sure did not end in two years. It was decades of blood sweat and tears.
What surprises me is that not only are such comments made but they are often recc'd. I am not trying to single out that user. I am merely using that comment as one example.
Quite often, even gay people don't know their own history, so I am not blaming straight people for not knowing it. On the other hand I do blame straight run institutions for not fully incorporating gay rights history into the mainstream curriculum in our public schools, and universities, or in the American media.
The commenter I cited is not alone in believing that the gay rights movement is something new. Nor is he alone in believing that there hasn't been blood, sweat, and tears shed in the fight for gay rights. In fact, openly gay ESPN columnist LZ Granderson once implied that the gay rights movement as a novel thing.
He presumed that gays have been banned from the military for only seventeen years, for example. While DADT has been in place for only 17 years, the military's ban on gays appears to have been in place since this nation's founding.
This is how poorly educated most of us are about gay rights. Granderson even strongly insinuated the almost insane position that gay people have only been discriminated against since the 1960s. It shocks me that a gay person could believe such things. While I agreed with the overall point of Granderson's article, I was dismayed by his ignorance of gay rights history, and the oppression that gay people faced for most of human history.
A few years ago California legislators made a move to guarantee that gay history would be part of California's education curriculum. The effort failed in the face of a veto threat from Arnold Schwarzeneggar. But it isn't all the Governator's fault. Many gay friendly people that I knew didn't understand why we should "discuss sexuality" in classroom and balked at the idea. The above comment, LZ Granderson's uninformed views, and others like it show us exactly why we need to educate the populace on gay history.
The gay rights movement didn't begin 2 years ago, ten years ago, twenty years ago or even the 41 years ago that is usually attributed to. There was a lot of action and activity that had taken place for over a century before the Stonewall Riots of June 1969.
I was going to begin a diary series today called "All the gay research you need to know." However, I will put that off for brief history lesson on gay rights.
So here, in brief, is gay rights history:
Karl Heinrich Ulrichs is seen as the father of the modern gay rights movement. In the 1860s he fought for reform of sexual laws, and was the first person to understand that homosexuality wasn't a function of immorality but of a sexual identity. Ulrichs, like many early gay rights supporters believed that gays were effectively a third sex. Although that view would later be dismissed by gay rights activists it was the first attempt to understand homosexuality as an inborn biological trait and not merely the result of immoral choices. He coined the term "urning," which is derived from Uranus. An explanation from Wikipedia:
The word itself alludes to Plato's Symposium, a discussion on Eros (love). In this dialog, Pausanias distinguishes between two types of love, symbolised by two different accounts of the birth of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. In one, she was born of Uranus (the heavens), a birth in which "the female has no part". This Uranian Aphrodite is associated with a noble love for male youths, and is the source of Ulrichs's term urning.
Ukrichs wrote a manifesto on the rights of Urnings. Here is an excerpt:
The Urning, too, is a person. He, too, therefore, has inalienable rights. His sexual orientation is a right established by nature. Legislators have no right to veto nature; no right to persecute nature in the course of its work; no right to torture living creatures who are subject to those drives nature gave them.
The Urning is also a citizen. He, too, has civil rights; and according to these rights, the state has certain duties to fulfill as well. The state does not have the right to act on whimsy or for the sheer love of persecution. The state is not authorized, as in the past, to treat Urnings as outside the pale of the law.~ link
This was written 150 years ago. Got that? Not two years ago. Not 10 years ago. Not 20 years ago. Not 40 years ago. But 150 years ago.
Ulrichs also developed the first known usage of the word "homosexual."
Ulrichs' writings influenced the advocacy for sexual freedom and gay rights by the English poet and socialist philosopher Edward Carpenter. Carpenter believed that homosexual love was more egalitarian as, in his view, it broke down, not only gender boundaries, but class boundaries as well. In his Intermediate Sex, written at the turn of the 20th century, Carpenter wrote:
"Eros is a great leveller. Perhaps the true Democracy rests, more firmly than anywhere else, on a sentiment which easily passes the bounds of class and caste, and unites in the closest affection the most estranged ranks of society. It is noticeable how often Uranians of good position and breeding are drawn to rougher types, as of manual workers, and frequently very permanent alliances grow up in this way, which although not publicly acknowledged have a decided influence on social institutions, customs and political tendencies." ~ link
This was written more than a century ago.
The next figure in the gay rights movement is Magnus Hirschfeld. Herschfeld was a physician and a sexologist. He was an outspoken advocate for gay rights. Beginning in the late 19th Century Hirschfeld founded the Scientific Humanitarian Committee with the aim of defending gay rights and working to repeal the infamous Paragraph 175 that would later be used in Nazi Germany to round up and send gay men to concentration camps. Hirschfeld 's Scientific Humanitarian Committee was remarkably successful in gaining prominent members of German Society to sign a petition against Paragraph 175. The signatories included Albert Einstein, Hermann Hesse, Thomas Mann, and Richard von Kraft-Ebbing. He gained over 5,000 signatures.
His efforts to repeal Paragraph 175 ultimately failed with the rise of the Nazi Party, but until the Nazis took over support for repeal was growing in Germany.
Hirschfeld was also one of the first gay rights activists to consider the idea of outing prominent opponents of gay rights to show the hypocrisy of those in power (eat your heart out Mike Rogers). Hirschfeld also wrote and acted in the first film to ever feature a gay character, Anders als die Andern.
Hirschfeld was also a feminist. He advocated for the decriminalization of abortion, and the rights of female teachers and civil servants to marry.
This was all between 80 and 100 years ago.
But let's continue. In 1924, here in the United States the first known gay rights group, the Society for Human Rights, was founded in Chicago. It was founded by Henry Gerber who was inspired by Hirschfeld's Scientific Humanitarian Committee.
It was the first recognized gay rights organization in the United States, having received a charter from the state of Illinois, and produced the first American publication for homosexuals, Friendship and Freedom. A few months after being chartered, the group ceased to exist in the wake of the arrest of several of the Society's members. Despite its short existence and its small size, the Society has been recognized as a precursor to the modern gay liberation movement. ~link
For those who speak of African-American religious homophobia, it is important to note that one of the first supporters of Gerber's organization was an African-American pastor:
An African American clergyman named John T. Graves signed on as president of the new organization and Gerber, Graves and five others were listed as directors. ~link
Gerber was also a gay in the military:
When the United States declared war on Germany, Gerber was given a choice: be interned as an enemy alien or enlist in the Army. Gerber chose the Army and he was assigned to work as a printer and proofreader with the Allied Army of Occupation in Coblenz. He served for around three years.
How SHR was destroyed:
Gerber and Graves decided to limit SHR membership to gay men and exclude bisexuals. Unknown to them, SHR vice-president Al Weininger was married with two children. Weninger's wife reported SHR to a social worker in the summer of 1925, calling them "degenerates". The police interrogated Gerber and arrested him, Graves, Weininger and another man; the Chicago Examiner reported the story under the headline "Strange Sex Cult Exposed".
Also, in those days in the US all publications that advocated for gay rights were deemed obscene, so Gerber's work was particularly courageous.
Gerber's short-lived but important work influenced the formation of the Mattachine Society. It was founded in 1950. The Mattachine Society was founded by Harry Hay who heard of Gerber's work while cruising (is sex and politics ever truly far apart?). Hay explained the name for the society thusly:
One masque group was known as the 'Société Mattachine.' These societies, lifelong secret fraternities of unmarried townsmen who never performed in public unmasked, were dedicated to going out into the countryside and conducting dances and rituals during the Feast of Fools, at the Vernal Equinox. Sometimes these dance rituals, or masques, were peasant protests against oppression — with the maskers, in the people’s name, receiving the brunt of a given lord’s vicious retaliation. So we took the name Mattachine because we felt that we 1950s Gays were also a masked people, unknown and anonymous, who might become engaged in morale building and helping ourselves and others, through struggle, to move toward total redress and change.
The Mattachine Society was affiliated with the Communist movement in the US so in many ways it was even riskier and more dangerous than Gerber's group. The organization once had over 2000 members. It was large enough that it led to congressional hearings by Congressman Dowdy with an aim of revoking the license of the Mattachine Society of Washington. Congressman's Dowdy's efforts failed and the license was never revoked.
Additional info and criticism of the Mattachine Society in this comment here.
The Mattachine Society led to the formation of One, Inc which was a gay rights group that formed in 1952. It published One Magazine beginning in 1953. It was the first known openly gay publication in the US and it was sold openly on the streets of Los Angeles. Unlike previous gay rights groups One admitted women. One also helped the Daughters of Bilitis publish their magazine, a lesbian publication, the Ladder that published monthly between 1956 and 1970.
Edit from the comments:
the Compton's Cafeteria riots in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco were another important moment in our history that most of us don't even know. Three years before Stonewall, transgender patrons who were frustrated by police harassment finally exploded into violence, and what's especially remarkable is that they won: after the riot, the city of San Francisco created a position of "liaison to the homophile community" in order to deal with issues like harassment, entrapment, etc. And that leads to one of our community's first and most important straight allies, Elliott Blackstone.
for more on the Compton's Cafeteria riots see rserven's diary here.
The Stonewall Riots
The Stonewall Riots didn't get ton of media coverage in the US. The New York Times only ran a few short paragraphs about them. In fact, it even suppressed photographs from the incident until recently [slideshow and article here].
But the news spread rapidly throughout gay communities in the US, and it emboldened gay activists in the country. All previous efforts were about merely trying to win "hearts and minds" by educating the populace.
The riots weren't planned. They were spontaneous. Gays, lesbians, and transgendered people simply had enough. It was a case of one police raid, one act of police and societal harassment too many. It was the gay communities "I am mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore!" moment.
From the New York Times:
It was on the night of June 27, 1969, that a routine police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a Christopher Street hangout for gays, run by the Mafia, prompted not cowed obedience from the customers but uncharacteristic fury and outrage. It was not unusual for the police to raid gay bars, and they did so regularly, to arrest transvestites and harass the customers. What made the raid of the Stonewall Inn unusual is that the gay and lesbian patrons spontaneously fought back, tossing beer cans, bricks and anything else in reach at the police officers, who responded by beating many of the protesters and arresting dozens of others.
Just why Stonewall's patrons fought back is anybody's guess now. Some say it was the heat of the night. Others say it had something to do with the death of Judy Garland five days before in London. Whatever the reason, patience had run out.
More protests followed in the days after the raid, marking a cultural shift at a time when few people were willing to be publicly identified as homosexual. In the aftermath of the melee, gays and lesbians left closets, never to return. At the end of the decade that had witnessed marches on Washington on behalf of civil rights for blacks and protests against the war in Vietnam, gay pride was born. Its time had arrived.
There's one part of that quote that might seem preposterous. The idea that the death of Judy Garland led to the desire for gays and lesbians to fight back seems bizarre. But it really isn't so far fetched. Judy Garland was more than a gay icon as we know them today. Judy was loved more deeply by gay men than any so-called icon since. And while the riots weren't set off directly by her death, gay men were in a period of deep greif and mourning. In one way, the police raids that night sent a signal to some gay people that they couldn't even mourn in peace, and without harassment.
The uprising was inspirited by a potent cocktail of pent-up rage (raids of gay bars were brutal and routine), overwrought emotions (hours earlier, thousands had wept at the funeral of Judy Garland) and drugs. As a 17-year-old cross-dresser was being led into the paddy wagon and got a shove from a cop, she fought back. "[She] hit the cop and was so stoned, she didn't know what she was doing — or didn't care," one of her friends later told Martin Duberman, author of the history Stonewall.
Whatever the case, what began that night was so unusual, so unexpected that the police were caught unaware:
Later, the deputy police inspector in charge would explain that day's impact: "For those of us in [the] public morals [division], things were completely changed ... Suddenly they were not submissive anymore."
The riots didn't just make an impression on gay people at the time:
In addition, Mr. Carter wrote, some nongay activists from radical leftist organizations had descended on the Village, impressed by the riots as an example of resistance to authority. ~link
Then there was Harvey Milk.
Hopefully many of you have seen the movie based on his life simply titled Milk. If you did, you know that Harvey Milk was a charismatic, flamboyant, and inspirational political leader who stood, first and foremost for gay rights, but also for all, as Milk put it, "the Us's" that were outcast from society, who were demeaned and belittled by society, who were simply not given a fair and just opportunity. gay, , or anywhere in between. In short, Milk was quite the kind of politician we'd all be clamoring for here at DailyKos. He supported and worked with unions, for the poor, African-Americans, hispanics, the elderly, the disabled, the poor, and anyone underprivileged and under-appreciated.
He successfully fought back against the vicious Briggs Initiative:
California Proposition 6 was an initiative on the California State ballot on November 7, 1978, and was more commonly known as The Briggs Initiative. Sponsored by John Briggs, a conservative state legislator from Orange County, the failed initiative would have banned gays and lesbians, and possibly anyone who supported gay rights, from working in California's public schools. The Briggs Initiative was the first failure in a movement that started with the successful campaign headed by Anita Bryant and her organization Save Our Children in Dade County, Florida to repeal a local gay rights ordinance.
Harvey Milk was instrumental in fighting the measure, and opposition from Ronald Reagan helped defeat it.
Milk was the first openly gay politician elected to office in California when he was elected to San Francisco's Board of Supervisors, and he was the first openly gay politician elected to office in a major city in the US. Milk used his office to pass a ground-breaking gay rights ordinance that the New York Times called the most stringent in the nation.
Milk was assassinated by former supervisor Dan White along with Mayor Moscone on November 10, 1978. As an example of just how easy it is to get a jury to nullify in a case with a gay victim, Dan White claimed the crime was the fault of eating too many Twinkies in what has become known as the Twinkie defense, and White was found guilty of only "voluntary manslaughter" and was sentenced to less than eight years in jail. Gays and ethnic minorities were banned from the jury.
That injustice led to the White Night Riots.
When it was announced over the police radio in the city, someone sang "Danny Boy" on the police band. A surge of people from the Castro District walked again to City Hall, chanting "Avenge Harvey Milk" and "He got away with murder". Pandemonium rapidly escalated as rocks were hurled at the front doors of the building. Milk's friends and aides tried to stop the destruction, but the mob of more than 3,000 ignored them and lit police cars on fire. They shoved a burning newspaper dispenser through the broken doors of City Hall, then cheered as the flames grew. One of the rioters responded to a reporter's question about why they were destroying parts of the city: "Just tell people that we ate too many Twinkies. That's why this is happening." The chief of police ordered the police not to retaliate, but to hold their ground. The White Night riots, as they became known, lasted several hours.
Later that evening, May 21, 1979, several police cruisers filled with officers wearing riot gear arrived at the Elephant Walk Bar on Castro Street. Harvey Milk's protégé Cleve Jones and a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, Warren Hinckle, watched as officers stormed into the bar and began to beat patrons at random. After a 15-minute melee, they left the bar and struck out at people walking along the street. The chief of police finally ordered the officers out of the neighborhood. By morning, 61 police officers and 100 rioters and gay residents of the Castro had been hospitalized. City Hall, police cruisers, and the Elephant Walk Bar suffered damages in excess of $1,000,000.
That takes us only to 1979. That's not two years ago. That's 31 years ago, and as you can tell, this fight for equality has been going on for over a century and a half.