Friday, June 27, 2003

Reflections on Stonewall 2003

Thirty-four years now – where does the time go to – since the guys in makeup and heels fought back at Stonewall. It’s once again the gay Fourth of July, Christmas and Easter, Pesach and Yom Kippur rolled into one. It’s time to be gay for all of us old farts who don’t make that much of a big deal about being gay anymore. Time to look around and celebrate. Oh yes, and you young folk who think it’s always been this good, you go ahead and party too.

This year, with all the bad news of war and viral terror, it’s been hard to sing and dance. But Stonewall has rolled around and the gods have decided to be kind this week. There’s much to be thankful for.

On the political front, there are some remarkable differences between now and only a few years ago. In 1992, the Republican convention released its pitbulls against gays. W’s people, however, kept the dogs on the leash in 2000, and after Rick Santorum compared homosexuality with bestiality the White House couldn’t try hard enough to distance itself. When John Ashcroft’s “compassionate conservative” Justice Department went back on its word to allow its employees the usual courtesy of marking this month as Gay Pride month, and was forced to eat its words and give in, W kept silent. Six years ago Republicans savaged the appointment of a gay man as ambassador to Luxembourg; W. just appointed a gay man with a live-in partner as ambassador to Romania. All this from an aggressively conservative government.

In the world of entertainment, CBS is putting out a new sitcom starring Nathan Lane as a gay Congressman, and Scott Wittman plants a kiss on the lips of his partner of 25-years (and fellow songwriter for “Hairspray”) Marc Shaiman at The Tony Awards this year, right out there in front of God and everybody. Ellen DeGeneres’s coming out six years ago was the biggest news on television. These days, Frank Rich of the New York Times reports, the boycott of Disney for its pro-gay stance is a total flop and Richard Chamberlain “declared he was gay to widespread yawns.”

That lovely country up north where “the Mountie always gets his man” has just taken step three for gay marriage. Step one was all the Scandinavian countries, who allowed their own gay citizens to marry but no non-citizens and without adoption rights; step two was Holland and Belgium, who allowed marriage for its own citizens and anybody from countries like Scandinavia where it was allowed – and accepted adoption rights. Canada says there is no reason to deny the right of citizens and non-citizens alike to determine for themselves what they will call a marriage, and of course they should be able to raise kids in a loving family.

For gay people in America, however, it was yesterday when the Berlin Wall finally came down. For seventeen ugly years since police walked into a house and caught two guys in flagrante and the Supreme Court of the day, in Bowers v. Hardwick, said gays had no right to have sex even in their own home, gays have dreamt of the freedom people have in other countries to love and be loved and have that love recognized and accepted. Not in the U.S.A. Until yesterday.

Yesterday, the Court, with a majority of 6 to 3, declared that “Bowers was not correct when it was decided, is not correct today, and is hereby overruled.” The new ruling, in Lawrence et al v. Texas, might have been merely a resounding victory, but the decision of the court to base their decision on a critique of separate laws for gays and straights, which Bowers upheld, makes it a stunning victory, opening the possibility of full civil rights for gays once and for all.

I remember some thrilling moments over the years, the election of Harvey Milk and the defeat of the Briggs Initiative in California, the election of gay mayors in Berlin and Paris. But seldom have I wished I might have been in and up close on something as much as this. The New York Times report had the information tucked in with the details of the case that “by the time [Justice Kennedy] referred to the dignity and respect to which he said gays were entitled, several were weeping, silently but openly.”

Me too. Except when I’m dancing in every room in my house.

Happy Stonewall Anniversary everybody!

June 27, 2003

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