Friday, April 05, 2013
44 Years of Gay Militancy
44 years ago, on April 1st, 1969 (no fooling) I founded Homosexuals Intransigent! as a student organization at the City College of New York. (That was then the preferred name. There have since been attempts to replace that with "City College/CUNY", but that effort was not, last I knew, wholly successful.)
Tho I was born (Bergen County) and raised (Monmouth County) in New Jersey, I felt, as a young gay man, that I did not have a future in New Jersey, so moved to Manhattan in June 1965. Within a reasonably short time I volunteered at a gay organization I had heard about while in NJ, in a television documentary broadcast on WNET (Newark's TV station that was later moved lock, stock, and barrel to New York): the Mattachine Society. I answered fones, to give out information about gay bars to locals, and about gay organizations to men more distant from NY.
In August 1968 I refused an unlawful police order to "break it up and move on" when I was talking with (gay) friends on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, and was arrested and carted away in handcuffs behind my back in a taxi commandeered by a cop. I spent the nite in jail, then went to court, pled not guilty by virtue of a constitutional right of peaceable assembly, and was acquitted. Mattachine mentioned my successful challenge to the law in its newsletter, but around the same time, NY's (beautiful) Mayor Lindsay issued an order ending police harassment of gay men on the streets of the city. Whether my successful challenge to the law played any part in that change of policy is an entirely moot point in gay history that I have never seen anyone consider. The end result was, fortunately, the same: NY police stopped harassing gay men on the street. Had they just accepted that order and extended it rationally, things might have developed very differently.
The NYPD did not generalize Mayor Lindsay's prohibition on harassing gay men. At the end of June 1969, less than a year later, the stupid cops raided the Stonewall Inn, a bar at which I had been a regular, with, for the police, disastrous consequences, and for gay men, terrific consequences. I wasn't there, however, because I had gone to California to visit my two sisters, take a couple of summer-session classes at Cal State/Long Beach, then San Francisco State, and try to establish chapters of Homosexuals Intransigent! at both campuses. It wasn't until I had been at San Francisco State for over a week, where I almost got expelled from the dorm for trying to form a chapter of HI!, that I heard about the Stonewall Riots.
All I accomplished at Long Beach State was an article in the student newspaper. At San Francisco State, I didn't get even that much done, but mere weeks after I returned to NYC, a gay student organization was established by, among others, Charles Thorpe (whom I did not meet, in that he attended the regular fall semester, whereas I attended only a summer session). Thorpe came to the brilliant realization that if you mix red, white, and blue (the patriotic colors of the United States), you come up with lavender, then a badge of the gay-rights movement.
Once I got back to Manhattan, I resumed my place (as president of the gay organization in perhaps the largest college in the city) in the most important gay-rights movement on the planet, that of NYC.
In late 1969, many gay organizations met in the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations ("ERCHO"), in Philadelphia, where the Student Homophile League of NYU (a heterosexually organized group (men-and-women-together-now!), thru its female head, Ellen Broidy) proposed an annual march in commemoration of the Stonewall Riots. I offered an amendment to bar a dress code, since prior 'homophile' demonstrations had required jacket-and-tie for men and skirts-and-sweaters for women, but my student organization definitely would not go for that.
Alas, none of us who voted immediately and without discussion to bar a dress code realized that some freaks would use the absence of a dress code to justify going entirely naked, or cross-dressing, or wearing codpieces and nothing else, as to cause the movement, which intended a dignified march that would bring honor and dignity to gay people, to be instead humiliated year after year by freaks who attracted the TV cameras to their freakishness, tainting the entire event.
I don't know that we of ERCHO should accept any blame for that development. We didn't anticipate it, to be sure, but there is probably no reason to think that if we had established a dress code that forbade such behavior, the freaks would have abided by it.
In anticipation of the first March, which was to be held in late June 1970, we of the organizing committee (the "Christopher Street Liberation Day [Umbrella] Committee"; "Umbrella" was deleted from the title after a couple of months) decided to ask all local organizations in the host city, NY, to offer events during the Friday and Saturday before Sunday's noon stepoff to bring in as many people from out of town as we could. We decided as well to call the weekend of events leading up to the March by a single, unifying name. The first thought was "Gay Power Weekend". I didn't like that, so offered instead "Gay Pride Weekend". That was seconded by Jerry Hoose of the Gay Liberation Front, and approved immediately, again without discussion.
That is how the term "Gay Pride" attached to the annual commemoration of Stonewall, then spread out to all things gay — because I wanted people who could not possibly achieve power because they didn't live in a gay mecca, to feel included in events that could nonetheless give them pride. My thought was that power is external; pride is internal. And the internal is much more important than the external.
"Gay Pride" was the perfect antidote to the shame that was then nearly universal among gay people. Every time "pride" was mentioned, it made a tiny bit of difference. Repeated thousands and then tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands, then millions and tens of millions of times, across the entire civilized world, "Gay Pride" eroded the shame and replaced it with self-respect and self-assertion, which at least bordered on actual pride. And that made all the difference in the world as to social attitudes toward homosexuals, not just as regards attitudes on the part of gay people toward themselves and each other.
Mere days ago, however, and just one day after the 44th anniversary of my founding Homosexuals Intransigent!, videos emerged of outrageous behavior by a coach of the Rutgers University basketball program here in NJ, in which not only did he abuse players by throwing basketballs at them, getting in their face, shouting at them, and pushing them, but he also called some of them antigay slurs, including the ever-popular "fairy" and "faggot" — this in the university that was stunned and appalled in 2010, when a shame-dominated student (for whom "Gay Pride" didn't do it), Tyler Clementi, was so horrified at being revealed as homosexual to what he regarded as the whole world, that he threw himself off the George Washington Bridge, my very most favorite bridge in the world, a stunning achievement of mankind, and died. The coach in question lives in Little Silver, where my family lived for one year. I know it's silly to feel ashamed of that, but I am still embarrassed by the coincidence.
That evil coach was not immediately fired, which should have been automatic — a "no-brainer". Instead, there were 'discussions' and 'consideration' of whether he should be fired. It took some 20 hours for the powers that be at Rutgers to terminate the bastard.
On what planet would that coach's behavior have been acceptable? In what RED State would it have been acceptable? (to call a straight kid, a gay slur?; I can easily imagine a Red State approving calling a gay kid by an antigay slur.)
Here we are in a True-Blue State, but the slimeball wasn't fired for almost 24 hours after his absolutely inexcusable behavior was revealed to the entire planet. Has he even been blackballed from coaching ANY team of players younger than, say, 30?
There is a defeatist expression that "The more things change, the more they stay the same." (In the original French, "Plus ça change, plus çést la meme chose.") It takes a long time for a culture to renounce core values. In the United States, for instance, racism is resilient, even tho a black President was elected to a second term. Antigay bigotry is widely denounced, but keeps bouncing back. The human creature is an ugly, despicable beast, which is why the world is filled with crime and violence, be it personal or communal. I have seen all this over and over throughout my 68 years, and I'm disgusted that the human race is, at end, slime. People have to be stopped and corrected thousands of times before they finally change bad habits. And some never will.
In the basketball-coach issue, virtue triumphed, at end, but how could that coach have even THOUGHT that what he was doing was acceptable? It is only the deeply ingrained antigay prejudice of this culture that empowered him to think he could call college kids antigay slurs and get away with it. Now he knows better. But how many kids did he injure with his hurtful words? I'm not even suggesting that the straight athletes he attacked with antigay slurs took them personally, tho some might have thought their "masculinity" or "manhood" was thrown into doubt. Mind you, such concepts are themselves antigay.
A gay man is not one whit less masculine or manly than a straight man. In fact, many gay men see themselves as superior in masculinity and manliness because they don't have to compromise their manhood to accommodate women. We have no pink bathrooms, with pantyhose drying over the shower bar; no ten little cushions on the bed, dust ruffle underneath it, or duvet over it. In fact, many gay men have no idea whatsoever what a "duvet" is.
And of what value will that coach's empty apologies be, to anyone? (Note that I leave him literally nameless in this discussion, because he is to my mind literally not worth mentioning. He is a type, not an individual.) Today I heard a news report that the bastard is to get $100,000 in a kind of severance payment for his 'good service'! WT...Heck? NO! No severance payment / reward! No $100K. Nothing, nothing, NOTHING!
Before I heard about that insane $100K payment, I thought that New Jersey had vindicated itself, sort of, after an inexplicable day or so of hanging back. Still, I wondered, what the heck was the hangup? And who, higher in the chain of command, also needs to go? The overall athletic director? The President of the University? Whoever has to go, has to go. And the sooner the better.
Maybe someday we can say,"The more things change, the more they continue to change." Not yet. Even our loathsome Governor Christie condemned that coach's bad behavior. But Christie still opposes gay marriage. When will he see the inconsistencies in his own behavior, in which he at once condemned the ugly words and hostility that his own legislative behavior has encouraged? Ever? Oust him too.