The gay rights movement has generated a number of people I'm happy to call heroes. Some of you may disagree with my choices. Activists, to be effective, sometimes have to get down and dirty. It's not a job for angels.
But there are times when you stand back and look at what some people have accomplished, and you marvel at their stamina and their single-minded sense of purpose.
Barney Frank comes to the mind when you think of gay people in politics. He was there longer, spoke louder, fought harder for gay rights than any other politician I can think of at the moment, all the while never forgetting that he represented all the people of his Massachusetts district. Barney illustrates the point that even monkeys fall from trees. He came out against taking Prop. 8 to the Supreme Court, for example. But he was calling the shots as he saw them, and there is a difference between a hero and a saint.
Larry Kramer earned a place in lgbt history some time ago now for his wake-up call in his Tony Award winning The Normal Heart and his founding of the Gay Men's Health Crisis and Act Up. (He married his partner while in intensive care, just this past July 25, by the way.)
There are so many others worth mentioning – Cleve Jones, Harvey Milk, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, some by their actions, some by their steadfast quiet insistence they would not be put down. Tony Kushner and Dustin Lance Black go into that category for their work in the theater, bringing truth to thousands who might have missed it otherwise. Frank Kameny for his push to get homosexuality removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychological Association. Bayard Rustin, better known for being Martin Luther King’s right hand man, one of them, and the organizer of the March on Washington when his “I Have A Dream” speech went down in history.
Hardly an exhaustive list, or even a representative one, necessarily. Just people who came to mind today. I mention them in passing because I was profoundly moved this morning when a friend sent me a link to a letter written by Stephen Fry to the British prime minister urging him and the International Olympic Committee to take action to stem the virulent homophobia let loose in Russia by former Prime Minister, now President Putin.
Fry has used his position as public personality to speak out for gay rights before, but he gets extra kudos, in my book, for the timing on this one. Fry illustrates my point that activists do not always come from a band of angels. He spent three months in jail for credit card fraud as an adolescent. Moral of that story: pick yourself up and move on!
Not long after reading his letter to Prime Minister Cameron and the Olympic Committee, I also came across a notice in the gay press that Fred Karger is testifying in Iowa against the National Organization for Marriage, the organization run by conservative catholics Brian Brown and Maggie Gallagher to halt same-sex marriage rights. A most unlikely candidate for hero status in my book, Karger was once campaign adviser back in the day to Reagan, Bush I, and Ford. More recently he ran on the Republican ticket for president. To make a point, obviously, not to win. All of us, though, get to go where we go in our youth. The lucky ones wake up and smell the coffee. Running for president does not make a hero, in my view, but when you see what Fred Karger did in confronting the Mormons here and here for their participation in the effort to remove the right for Californians to marry, you too may begin to see him in a totally different light. And to see even more how a dog with a bone works, have a look here at the work Karger has done to document the shady ethics of the NOM organization.
Then there is Scott Rose. Scott Rose is the nom de plume of journalist Scott Rosenzweig. Another out-in-front, down-and-dirty, dog with a bone. My first reaction to him was like my first reaction to Larry Kramer. Too much. Too over the top. But then slowly but surely it sank in that this is the gay liberation movement’s greatest strength, people like Scott Rose, Fred Karger and others working at the second rank of activists, people whose names are not quite as well known, people who actually get things done. (To see the impact he has had on the folks on the right, click here, for example.)
Since I entered retirement I no longer work late into the night on some cause or on a task that just has to be done. How easy it is to sit back and let others do it, pull the plug, put on the earphones and surrender to beautiful sounds, or grab a book and escape into the world of literature.
When the Regnerus study was first published, I joined many others in expressing horror at its misrepresentations, its weakness as a research study, and at the prospect it would be touted by the religious right as “the real story” of kids raised by lesbian and gay parents. I blogged about it a couple times, here and here. And then I moved on. Scott Rose, on the other hand, tracked the story and made sure it got the attention it deserved. You can tune into his articles in a number of ways. Many of them appeared in LezGetReal.com, a wonderful little site from Vermont, including what I believe is his latest, an article on how Russia is (mis)using the Regnerus Study to foster its current policy of demonizing the criminalizing gays in Russia.
There are a lot of hard-working people out there. I don’t use the word hero lightly.
But these guys are some of my heroes.
Fred Karger (picture by Don Kelsen and McClatchy Newspapers may be subject to copyright)