Wednesday, June 26, 2019
Wednesday, June 26, 2019
A Milestone in the Moral Revolution: 50 Years After the Stonewall Rebellion
This week marks the 50th anniversary of what is now understood to have been one of the major moral turning points in the history of the United States of America. On June 28th, 1969, police in New York City's Greenwich Village raided a gay bar, but what made history on this date 50 years ago is the fact that the patrons of the bar began to protest. They fought back. It led to what was described as a riot, a rebellion. The Stonewall Rebellion, as it is known, is now dated as the beginnings of what would become the Gay Rights Movement in the United States.
In its retrospective coverage, including an entire special section in this past Sunday's edition of the New York Times, the paper declared, "In June, 1969 the police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, as they had done before. This time though the patrons pushed back.” By 1969 much of the sexual revolution was already in motion. The development of the oral contraceptive allowed for the separation of sex and procreation. We also saw at the end of the 1960s the development of so-called no fault divorce, which meant the redefinition of marriage. By 1969 there were already stirrings in the United States of political protest to normalize homosexuality. They were very unambitious protests at first. The basic claim was that there should be a decriminalization of homosexual behavior.
The Gay Rights Movement, as it began in 1969, was almost entirely a white, gay male phenomenon. Of course, it has become far more diverse and its impact far more wide reaching. It's actually hard to exaggerate the moral and sexual revolution brought about in the wake of Stonewall. Nonetheless, in that special section of the New York Times from Sunday, Moisés Kaufman, a major, gay literary figure in the United States, wrote an article in which he wrote about a dangerous euphoria. He wrote, "One of the most important achievements of the Stonewall Uprising was that it began a radical redefinition of the character of the LGBTQ person in the popular imagination. In 1969," he wrote, "homosexuality was still defined as a mental illness by the medical profession, and same sex sexual relations were a crime in 49 states." He continued, "The uprising showed the world a new image of our community. We were no longer willing to hide in closets in silence and shame. We would take to the streets and demand to be full citizens."
He continued, "Within months several activist groups, like the Gay Liberation Front, the Gay Activist Alliance, and the Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries were formed.” Within just a year activists in New York had established that city's first gay pride march. Later marches were held in Los Angeles and Chicago, and by now they are basically a part of the civic life of most major American cities, and for that matter many smaller American cities as well. Reflecting on the last 50 years, Kaufman writes, "Today the building that houses the Stonewall Inn has earned a listing in the National Register of Historic Places." He then summarizes, "Homosexuality has been decriminalized nationwide. Lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals are able to serve openly in the military. There's federal hate crime protections, and AIDS have become a chronic illness, as opposed to a fatal one, at least for those with access to healthcare. We have marriage equality, and a gay man is making a serious run for the presidency."
He continues, "In this context the celebration of the 50 year anniversary of Stonewall may feel euphoric, but is euphoria the right attitude for this moment in time?", he asks. "It is always tempting, when writing the history of minorities, to focus on the victories," but then Kaufman warns that there are victories not yet won. He goes on to call for specific actions. He then writes, "The greatest battle being fought in the hearts and minds of Americans is between the enlightenment ideals that gave birth to our democracy and the autocratic and repressive views that threaten progress.” That's an amazing single sentence paragraph. What he's saying there is that any opposition to this moral revolution represents ideas that are antithetical to the democratic ideals of the United States, and furthermore they're described as repressive views that threaten progress.
This article serves as a reminder that the LGBTQ revolution is not nearly finished, at least in the demands of the activists being made. He writes, "If the last 50 years of transformation and triumph brought about by our movement has taught us anything, it is that we can indeed bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice. This movement has changed the lives of the LGBTQ community," he writes, "but it has also changed the way the entire nation thinks and feels about homosexuality and about the entire spectrum of gender identity and sexual orientation.” He then asks the question, "How can we use what we've learned in these 50 years to combat the current turn towards autocracy?"
This was actually the lead article in that special section on the 50th anniversary of Stonewall and coinciding with Gay Pride Week in the New York Times. What this tells us is that the gay revolutionaries, or right now those who are arguing for an expanded LGBTQ Revolution, are not hardly satisfied with the moral and social and political gains they have made. This points to the fact that the movement is actually truly far more revolutionary than most Americans yet recognize. In a later article in that special section, this time by Jeremy Allen, the issue was, as the headline says, “Chasing the Millennial Dream: Marriage Equality Offers a Future Few of them Envisioned.” But then he asks, "Do they want it?" That turns out to be a fascinating question.
Documented in this article celebrating Gay Pride Month and the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, within the context of celebrating the fact that same sex marriage has now been legal in all 50 states for the last four years—that's right, four years—Allen then goes on to indicate that gay Millennials are not marrying either at the rate of older generations in the last four years, nor as compared to heterosexual Millennials. The LGBTQ rights movement demanded same sex marriage and its legalization as a demand of normalizing homosexual relationships, but it turns out that many Millennials actually aren't the marrying kind, not LGBTQ Millennials. Allen notes that same sex marriage was made the law of the land only four years ago. He then points to America's now most famous same sex male couple, married couple, Pete Buttigieg and Chasten Buttigieg. Allen then says that they, "Belong to the first generation of LGBTQ people free to marry nationwide at the same age as their straight counterparts. 29.8 years is the median age for men, and 27.8 for women, according to the 2018 Census."
Allen then writes, "The speed and complexity of these events are not lost on other LGBTQ Millennials, a generation born between 1981 and 1996. The arrival of marriage equality," he writes, "has allowed them to consider a future they could not have envisioned as children, but what this future looks like remains unclear." Later in the article Allen write, "While it will take some years to see what the LGBTQ Millennials do about marriage, current data shows they aren't marrying at the same rate as their straight counterparts."
He then affirms the fact that this is still a basic, divisive issue among gay men in LGBTQ culture. It's a divide between those who saw marriage as a way to normalize homosexuality and those who feared that same sex marriage would do exactly that." He cites Zack Stafford, age 29, the editor and chief of the LGBTQ publication, The Advocate, who asked the question, "What people are saying is that it's still like you can be gay, but not queer.” Allen then summarizes, "This distinction speaks to a historical chasm in the LGBTQ community between those who chose to minimize their difference and those who celebrated it."
But this then takes us to an article published in the Washington Post, also celebrating the anniversary. This article is by Nathaniel Frank, author of the book, Awakening: How Gays and Lesbians Brought Marriage Equality to America. But then Frank points to a basic issue that then and now divides gay America, in particular homosexual men in America, even more fundamentally, white, homosexual men in America. They were the ones who were the primary focus of the gay rights movement when it began in 1969. That movement has been divided from the very beginning between two different wings. One might be described as the assimilationist wing, the wing that said that what homosexuals need to do is to assimilate with the larger culture, to look normal, and those on the other side who were the liberationists, arguing that the whole point of gay culture was to revolutionize the entire society, to break down even institutions they saw as patriarchal, oppressive institutions, such as marriage, to upend the entirety of sexual morality. The last thing they wanted was a gay version of straight, married conformity.
Frank writes, "This month's 50th anniversary of Stonewall, the Greenwich Village uprising that launched the modern LBGT Movement was always going to be complicated. What may seem like a straightforward chance to celebrate progress actually masks a fault line that has divided our movement since its start, whether our goal is equality or liberation, a fight for the right to be treated like everyone else or the freedom to be authentically ourselves." He then asks the question, "Do we seek belonging in the world as it is, including the military, marriage, and parenting, or the chance to transform the world by throwing off repressive norms into a place where all of us, queer and non-queer alike, can be more free?" He cited gay intellectuals, such as Martin Duberman, who saw marriage as conformist, exclusionary, and conservative.
Frank reminds us of an article published in 1989 in the gay magazine, Outlook. The title of the article: “Since When is Marriage a Path to Liberation?” As Nathaniel Frank explained, "These activists didn't just want to create alternative communities for queer people. They aimed to remake society around the novel social arrangements they cherished, addressing human need and desire through broad community structures, rather than monogamous nuclear families." But the bigger point made in this article is that even though the gay rights movement translated much of its energy, successfully so, into gaining the legalization of same sex marriage, and even though that appeared to many gay intellectuals to be a conservative term, he would argue it didn't actually turn out that way.
He wrote, "The LBGT movement, including the push for marriage equality, has also helped upend repressive attitudes about sex, establishing non-marital sex and sexual behavior once thought perverse as largely uncontroversial.” That is one of the most important sentences I have read in the major media in a very long time. Here you have an activist and a public thinker in the LGBTQ community saying, let's face it: gay marriage is not just about normalizing homosexual behavior. It's about upending the entire moral system of sexuality. It's about a sexual revolution that in his words "established non-marital sex and sexual behavior once thought perverse as largely uncontroversial.” That's absolutely astounding, and it's also absolutely right. It points to the fact that what we have experienced, even though many people don't want to admit it, is a rather complete moral revolution when it comes to human sexuality.
You can't have same sex marriage. You can't claim that you've redefined marriage and say it will have limited effects. It will have massive, unlimited, continuing, moral effects, continuing even now. Using the language of queer the way the activist community now uses it with pride, Nathaniel Frank wrote, "Stonewall's legacy isn't just about making queer people look more like everyone else. It's also perhaps more mutinously about making everyone else look a bit more queer.”
Putting it in a different way, from a Christian worldview perspective, we have to understand that when you open the gates that have held back sexual behavior, you're not only going to authorize or make legitimate certain sexual behaviors, but over time sexual behaviors you couldn't imagine setting loose in society. That's the process we're seeing right now.
The Past is Prologue? The LGBTQ Revolution is Nowhere Close to Over
But next, we turn to the fact that there are two very interesting articles in recent days about this conflict in the LGBTQ community, as it came down to two different pride parades, or will come down. Corey Kilgannon, reporting for the Time, tells us, "It will be a two mile long celebration of gay pride filled with thumping music, elaborate corporate floats, costumed dancers, and millions of spectators lining the route. As the marquee event of this year's sprawling World Pride Festival in New York City, the June 30 Pride March is meant to be an uplifting show of unity on the world stage, but," he writes, "behind the scenes there is discord. A segment of the gay community that has long participated in the Pride March has complained that the event has evolved from a political protest into a bloated parade, a frivolous party that is over-regulated and too commercial." He continues, "In recent months these dissidents have organized a competing procession for the same day called the Queer Liberation March, modeled on the first gay rights parade that came in the wake of the 1969 Stonewall Inn Rebellion."
So, now we see that this basic division in the LGBTQ community is resulting in the fact that New York will have not one, but two different pride marches, but they are very different. As the article makes clear, the first of these marches, the major pride march that will take place on the 30th, is a festival of normalization driven by major forces in the society, including, most importantly, major American corporations. We've talked often on The Briefing about how a moral revolution is eventually fueled by corporate interests who see it as very much in the interest of their brand to be seen as leading the revolution, cheering it, celebrating it, buying floats, sponsoring the parade event itself. The event has indeed become quite commercial. The New York Times tells us that the major pride march will have 160 floats. “Corporations pay on a sliding scale,” we are told, “that ranges between $10,000 and $35,000, and non-profits also pay up to $2050 a piece.” There are not only official sponsorships. There are also official products, including of course the mandatory T-shirt.
Of course looked at from a moral revolution perspective, this is just another indication of how successful the revolution has been, but that's the problem, according to some of the activists, the liberationists as opposed to a assimilationists. The liberationists say, "We have not yet brought the revolution completely to be. We must press on, and we much transgress." A major series of articles along the same lines in the Washington Post included an article entitled, “Corporate Allies,” by Thomas Roth and David Paisley. They write about corporations “that have embraced and supported their own LGBTQ employees, reached out to earn business and loyalty from LGBTQ customers, and through advertising helped normalize LGBTQ people and LGBTQ families for mass audiences.”
Again, this just underlines how major American corporations became major engines of this moral revolution. The article calls out, actually celebrates, some of these corporations. The reporters tell us about the fact that back even in the 1990s and 1980s brands, such as Absolute Vodka and Subaru, "made subtle nods to the LGBT market." Then the authors tell us, "In subsequent years same sex couples were featured in bold marriage equality support messaging, and they are now seen often as families with children in national commercials for Target, Chevrolet, Coca-Cola, Honey Maid, Campbell's, Apple, and many more.” The next sentence, "The societal and political whiplash is hard to fathom.”
But this article also makes clear how the revolution was itself continually rebranded. The reporters wrote, "Gay morphed into gay and lesbian in the late 1990s, then the GLBT in a move to include bisexual and transgender community members that still prioritized gay men, to LGBT, and to LGBTQ and beyond.” The issue, by the way, is the fact that when the term was first invented as GLBT, it was later claimed that that prioritized gay males, thus L was put before G, LGBT, and then Q was added. But the most ominous words in this sentence are the final two words. That comes down to “and beyond,” as in LGBTQ and beyond. According to these moral revolutionaries that list of letters is not nearly complete.
Hollywood’s Moral Messaging to Mainstream America: The Entertainment Culture and the Gay Rights Movement
But next, while we're thinking about this revolution and how it happened, we also have to look at the fact that another of the major engines was the entertainment community. This takes us to the current edition of Entertainment Weekly, a special double issue that's entitled, “Special LGBTQ: 50 Years of Gay Pride.” In the column by editor, Henry Goldblatt, we read, "So, what does that have to do with Entertainment Weekly?", “that” meaning the Stonewall Riots 50 years ago and the anniversary today? Goldblatt responded, "Since its founding in 1990, Entertainment Weekly, or EW, has been a champion of the LGBTQ Movement." And he went on to say, "In 2015 we started publishing an annual LGBTQ issue. It's been incredibly well received by you, as well as the industry. Our 2017 cover featuring RuPaul won an award from the American Society of Magazine Editors."
But then the interesting twist continues in the editor's statement in Entertainment Weekly. This is sold in supermarket checkout lines. This is supposed to be mainstream America, but this tells us, more than anything else, about how Hollywood sees mainstream America or will message to mainstream America and try to instruct mainstream America about what we are supposed to think about this moral revolution. I refer to the fact that we saw arguments that in the long run the gay rights movement authorized and gave permission for various forms of sexual activity in relationships that had been considered perverse. One is mentioned in this editor's column in a way that I will not mention here on The Briefing. Instead, the editor then celebrates the fact that this perversity is now made into, well, a major Hollywood production that it features on page 50 of the magazine. So, America, you are now told what it is that you are not only to tolerate, but to celebrate in Entertainment Weekly.
Reparations for the Gay Community? The Next Leap in the Logic of the Sexual Revolution (and American Politics)
But then we turn to an article published recently in the New York Times. The author is Omar G. Encarnación. He writes, again, about the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, and then he writes, "With a surprise analogy, the United States has taken its most significant leap yet into gay reparation or policies intended to address the legacy of state-sanctioned repression of homosexuals." He continues, "Although relatively new to the United States, gay reparation has been debated and legislated around the world for close to two decades. It is a logical progression in the maturation of the gay rights movement." He continues, "Having largely secured rights once thought to be virtually unattainable, especially same second marriage, gay activists, especially in western democracies, are turning their attention to addressing the historical legacies of homosexual repression."
Encarnación then writes, "Although there is no one size fits all model when it comes to gay reparation, countries have taken three distinct approaches. The most common is moral rehabilitation, which entails a formal apology by the state and the expunging of criminal records of those convicted of a homosexual offense. There's also financial compensation,” that's the usual word we would note for reparations these days, “for loss of income and pensions. Finally, there's a truth telling or official report on past wrongs that incorporates steps for reparation. These are not mutually exclusive approaches. In fact, as recent experience has shown, they are often pursued simultaneously or sequentially.” The main point to be made here is that we are watching a moral revolution turn back on the very society that it sought to revolutionize, now even demanding reparation.
This is an article published in the New York Times, and it's not the only article of its type. We're watching right before our eyes a quantum leap in the moral revolution that we've observed over human sexuality and marriage, and of course morality. But then we have to note something else. On June the 22nd at 7:57 PM, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts tweeted, "It wasn't until marriage equality became law that gay and lesbian couples could jointly file tax returns. So, they paid more in taxes. Our government," said the senator, "owes them more than $50 million for the years our discriminatory tax code left them out." She concluded, "We must right these wrongs.”
Let's consider what we're looking at here. First of all, it tells us something political. It tells us about how a major candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination hopes to stake out a little ground that might be unique or at least unique for a few days, or minutes, or seconds in the current race. The second thing it tells us is that when we are looking at this kind of moral revolution, group after group, having experienced liberation from moral repression, is going to come back and demand financial, and social, and moral reparations. This is a pattern we're going to see over and over again. And consider also the fact, if we're talking about equality as defined in this article, even when you're talking about same sex marriage, that doesn't include even many in the LGBTQ community, not even in theory. How would Senator Warren's logic be extended to them?
But finally, we're also seeing on this issue the fact that what we are observing is that deep, cultural chasm that separates Americans not only over politics, but over far more fundamental issues. You might say that you can now divide Americans between the kind of people for whom Senator Warren's proposal makes some kind of sense and the kind of people for whom that proposal is absolute nonsense. One other little note, I want to go back to that article in the New York Times by Omar G. Encarnación. He writes, "But if history is any guide, gay reparation faces an uphill struggle in the United States. After all, American society is still debating the merits of reparations for slavery." His next sentence, "Moreover, although polls reveal that the issue of gay rights no longer divides the American public, it remains salient to Republican Party. Not surprisingly, social conservatives who control the party's social agenda have already attacked the idea.”
Well, you have to wonder where the editor was in this particular article. How can you make the statement in the one hand, in the same sentence, that polls reveal that the issue of gay rights no longer divides the American public and then talk about the very public outraged at the suggestion? That is not only a contradiction, it's journalistic nonsense, but it's the kind of nonsense that points to the messaging that the mainstream media wants to send us. The American people is absolutely over the issue of gay rights. All the American people are for it. If you're not for it, then you're out of step with the American people. Now, wait just a minute. That includes tens and tens of millions of Americans, but wait just a minute. You really don't count, because you're on the wrong side of the question.
In the first half of this sentence you might say the reporter decided to count the Americans he wanted to count. As for the Americans counted on the other side, he now counts them as the opposition, but if you have opposition, guess what? The country is divided on the issue. But my guess is on the specific issue of reparations for LGBTQ Americans, there's really not going to be much division. I'll predict right now that even though Senator Warren has made this proposal, it's not likely to find its way into the 2020 Democratic National Platform. But that's not to say it will not eventually. The way this moral revolution is turning, it might show up there quicker than you would think.
But one final thought as this edition of The Briefing comes to a close, on the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, as America is commemorating Gay Pride Week, and as same sex marriage is being held up as such a revolutionary achievement, just consider the fact that when most Americans think of marriage, they still, still think of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. They may do so for reasons they do not understand, but we do, going back to creation, the image of God, and the moral conscience that God has given us. The fact is that when you use the word “marriage,” the average American still intuitively thinks of a man and a woman. In the end, there is no power on Earth that is going to be able to reverse that.