To continue with Gay Pride Month, I am featuring this documentary. Storyline; Transgender teen, Jazz Jennings, narrates this documentary where young people interview a host of LGBTQ elders who came out in different historical eras from the 1950s through today. These inspiring talks give insight into the political and personal changes that shaped the modern LGBTQ movement. The young interviewers get an opportunity to compare and to contrast their “coming out” experience with people who came out during McCarthy, Civil Rights, post-Stonewall, and AIDS eras. In the end, they learn that every generation of activists stands on the shoulders of those who came before and that activism needs to continue even in the light of great social strides.
Subjects include the founder of the first lesbian organization in the USA; a ROTC student who was outed and dismissed during the height of the McCarthy era, a Rhodes scholar who was arrested in Russia for having sex in a hotel; a transgender activist who led one of the first anti-police riots, a small-town girl whose activism began in the heart of the 1960s women’s and anti-war movements; an activist who organized a group of young hustlers to march for change; a lesbian-feminist poet of the 1970s; a man whose politics began in discos and ended in the AIDS era; an ACT-UP activist; a man who changed views of people with AIDS in the Black churches of the South; and a young lesbian whose worldview was forever changed at the first national march on Washington DC in 1987.
Each one of these stories being told is valid and adds to the whole story. Even though I’ve lived through these times, there was so much I didn’t know, especially about the AIDS crisis and the lack of support by government or how McCarthyism both hurt, then helped the gay rights movement. But the activists showed up, are still showing up, and they have much to be proud of and to celebrate, especially given the SCOTUS decision that LGBTQ rights are human rights under the protections of anti-discrimination laws. This was huge!
As there is with any human right controversy, they had the righteous right to deal with also. One woman, in particular, I remember and whom I had distain for from the beginning of her anti-gay rights protest, in the days of Reagan, where even his press secretary, Larry Speakes, laughed about the AIDS crisis. Her name was/is Anita Bryant, who had the support of the likes of Rev. Jerry Falwell whose “Moral Majority” inveighed against giving rights to gay people. Her “Save the Children” campaign was directly related to “save them from the gays” in response to newly passed legislation in the “Metro” and elsewhere. It was this “moral majority” that gave Reagan steam. The march for LGBTQ came to a halt, temporarily. The 70’s were times of protests, from Vietnam, to civil rights, to gay rights. It’s like history repeating itself. EXCEPT, the aids crisis has been contained effectively, and the Gay Rights movement has become the LGBTQ, with our SCOTUS giving them their ERA rights. What hasn’t changed is police brutality which has given rise to BLM. It was the lesbian women who came to gay men’s cause with support and organized help while the Aids epidemic came roaring into everyday life. It touched all populations. They helped educate, provided condoms, and got the medical help they needed. And kept the pressure on Congress to help fund a cure.
It wasn’t until 1984 that the discovery of the virus that caused AIDS and the development of an AIDS test was available. No vaccine came. It wasn’t until a year later before Reagan even uttered the word AIDS, after over 12,000 Americans had died and the virus w as spreading among injection drug users and general homophobic populations.
Young and Old Two Spirits
There is another LGBTQ group called Two Spirits Pow Wow. The native population needed a voice. They faced much discrimination within their communities. Because of their movement, they have been re-educated to their own histories, where “two spirits” was common, meaning men or women felt both male and female. After many council meetings about respecting traditions, they were welcomed to commence with their own Pow Wows opened to All. Dancing is an important tradition as is the drumming circles. Women were not allowed to particiapte in men’s drumming circles until reaching new understandings within communities. Re-educating their past brought them together once again.
Another anti-gay activist was Phyllis Stewart Schlafly, a movement conservative and author. She held conservative social and political views, opposed feminism and abortion, and successfully campaigned against ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Her name comes up a lot because of how she stalled the ERA. In 1957 she played a major role with her husband, in 1957, in writing a highly influential report, the “American Bar Association’s Report on Communist Tactics, Strategy, and Objectives.” The McCarthyism train was their goal and their party affiliation and if your read last week’s column of the Lavender Scare, you know the many deceitful acts McCarthyism spawned. Phyllis died in 2016 of cancer. The Cable movie “Mrs. America,” starring Cate Blanchet is about Phyllis, although much “creative license” was used and not all is factual. I haven’t seen it, but learned that she had a Gay son, who even after he was outed by a gay “friend,” he supported his mother’s campaign’s by getting his law degree, running her foundation and does not support gay marriages. None of her six kids do, but all are well educated and successful in their own careers and They are all Midwest conservatives. Enough said about Phyllis. Her legacy will not be kind to her, either.
LGBTQ rights WON!