Thoughts on Michael Bronski's new booki, A Queer History of the United States by Billy Glover and others

From William A. Percy
Jump to: navigation, search

Billy Glover's thoughts:

I think most people will know my thoughts on this book and complain that I spend too much time trying to defend and get credit for ONE Inc/magazine and the Homosexual Information Center. The truth is that apparently most people writing and speaking on the issue of homosexuality and the community and movement spend their time, either because they are incompetent and/or unethical, trying to hide the work of the most important organization, people and publication in the movement for the first decade.

It is hard to understand the motive behind this truly queer effort. It comes from people of all political persuasions/proclivities, Michael Bronski being only the most rent example. It takes deliberate effort and determination to say the word Mattachine, and skip to the Daughters of Bilitis with only a later mention of the lawsuit over the right to publish the first movement publication, ONE Magazine. Bronski takes pains to give readers/students a long list of celebrities, books, and even goes so far as to take time and space to give the first name of a writer and then his new name, yet sees no reason to mention the most important writer/journalist/editor in the movement for the first two decades, one honored by the organization of gay and lesbian journalists in their Hall of Fame-Don Slater.

He never mentions the most important person-perhaps because he was on the West Coast- who did for the subject and movement's history what Bronski has tried to do on the East Coast and in this book. Has he never heard of Jim Kepner or seen his work? It is still available in another part of the movement he ignores, the glbt libraries/archives, in this case that of Dorr Legg and Jim Kepner's parts of the first movement archives/library, ONE Institute, now at the library of USC.

He does cover some early publications, spending a lot of time on male physique magazines, yet never mentions the first effort to combine that type of publication with the serious types such as ONE, DRUM, and never mentions the most successful national publication-again from the West Coast, Advocate.

I have said often that while the success of the effort to change the nation's view on homosexuality is owed to the few brave founders and the people who slowly started to join the effort, which led from only one group to hundreds and hundreds of publications, covering all aspects of the issue of homosexuality. And while I and others have said that other events and people also indirectly contributed to our success, I doubt many serious scholars would say that it was the media/celebrities, closeted authors, etc who actually are the ones who got the world to hear us and the movement was several decades old before any such people joined and came out of the closet. Yet most of the book implies that the famous did it all, since he devotes 3/4 of the book to naming them. It is truly a queer view of this subject that gives more mention of _____________than to a man or woman who devoted their abilities and lives to get equal rights for us.

While the title of the book is about queer history, that would not be valid with out the movement. All of the drag balls and famous closed movie stars did nothing to gain us our rights. It may be important to know that there were drag queens in early America, but that has no connection to the "how we got to where we are today," as one quote says.

This civil rights movement is the only one that is well documented. It started in Los Angeles in 1950 with a secret organization, early Mattachine, and became public in 1952 as ONE, Inc, and produced the first public, national publication in January of 1953, ONE Magazine. No "history" can ignore thee facts. What "thinking" ignores this and gives page after page to celebrities who may or may not even be homosexual?

Bronski is giving us his version or understanding of history. But those who know better have a duty to correct him. For instance, why does he say Dr. Evelyn Hooker's work had no affect on the psychological and psychiatric community. While he documents well the vicious anti-homosexual almost religious views of people like Bieber and Bergler, he ignores those who did start educating the world on the truth, such as Dr. Blanche Baker, whose work with ONE is documented?

He is an educator, yet gives no notice of the educational work of the movement started by a respected educator, a professor of education at USC, who set up ONE Institute. And how is it that his only reference to the main person behind this, Dorr Legg, is only mentioned as the "author" or editor of a book he credits, not as a primary source but a secondary source, as if he has no knowledge of the book except because some other writer mentions it (Homosexuals Today)? And is Legg identified as the co-founder, with Don Slater, Dale Jennings, et l of ONE? No, only as a co-founder of a minor group (Knights of the Clock), and the only possible explanation of this distortion of Legg's importance is that Bronski did not want to credit ONE, but did want to cover early interracial groups.

And in that vein, he bewilders any one acquainted even a little with the history of this cause by mentioning the takeover-killing off of the founders of early Mattachine, the original mattachine- and crediting it to woman, Marilyn Riegers, and never mentions the main person, Hal Call. To further distort the history he mentions the LIFE magazine article on the movement in 1964 and covers the sexy gay bars part but ignores the picture of Hal Call and Don Slater (creditied as being editors of 2 serious publications)-making LIFE give a more balanced view of the movement than he does.

While Bronski says others will wonder why he mentions some people and groups and not others, that gives no excuse to present what is supposed to be the record of how homosexuality and the movement got to where it is today without mentioning the largest glbt organization, the Metropolitan Community Church, and its main founder, Troy Perry. It may be something to discuss, but most people would say that having several well attended "marches on Washington" was a very visual if not important event in the history of the movement.

The philosophical part of the subject he over-covers, wit Plato, Emerson, Locke, and he rightly places their thinking as affecting both movements, that of our nation and our movement. He sees the parallel between bigots' views on slavery and homosexuality, and the problem it is for those who want to make the Constitution a perfect document and the same for the Bible.

He rightly sees wars as having an affect on where individuals live-leaving the controls of small towns, etc. An issue i don't see is one I think is important, since he mentions the legal aspects and court decisions on sexuality and race, and there is a question as to how much good those cases have done-meaning that if a law is needed, pro or con, you may have lost your cause. It is interesting to consider the results of some decisions on the nation, such as how fast we got change after Brown vs. Board, and Roe vs. Wade, and if the abortion issue is settled, and has Brown even now been successful-and on the other extreme, it is important to know why there was silence after Lawrence vs Texas. (Could it be that the movement had laid the groundwork for public acceptance of the decision?)

He rightly says that a decision on birth control changed the legal and practical view of sex, separating it from reproduction. And that Loving Vs Virginia has relevance to our issue of marriage.

And it is good to have him point out that some of the idols of americans of the old days, the By Scouts, Tarzan, were actually racist and anti-gay.

He gives Kinsey credit, and (I think rightly) implies that the anti-homosexual effort of people like Anita Bryant actually seemed to win a battle, but in reality they have lost the war.

I dont agree that the hippy or Beats did that much for our cause. He, as it happened in the real world, increaes the speed as he goes from the coverage of possible homosexuality from 1400s to a fast listing of the many people and events since 1990, and after Stonewall. (GLF, GAA)

He does seem to not give Frank Kameny credit for his work against the psychiatric guidelines, but for the sexy slogan gay is good. He rightly concludes that the more successful our cause has become, the greatr the backlash as the bigots realize that they are on the defensive and their lies are no longer working.

He seems to say that AIDS did not harm our movement, even though we lost so many good people. he points out that in this decade we are finally starting to deal with the aspect of homosexuality that was always the most important-children. Yet he never credits such efforts as COLAGE, GLSEN, PFLAG, The Point Foundation, etc. He does says rightly that tv and movies are now pro and not anti-and GLEE and Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are almost doing the work of the movement now. Welcome to these "Mattachines" of today.

But the old discussion of which is worse, sins of omission or commission apply. Bronski does both, thus giving a slanted an unbalanced of the subject while he might have wanted to finally give us view of the context of how we got where we are. Fortunately we have the lgbt media, which he also ignores, with good newspapers in every major city, along with glbt centers in those cities.

More from Billy Glover

I agree, and if the reader knows that, he/she can then know the context. And I have personally been at some event etc and when it was covered later either I disagreed with what the other person says happened, or, worse, I had forgotten or not been aware of what the other person saw or head.

And early on I was told that the difficult thing about knowing what or who actually made a difference in a cause, etc, is hard as we may learn years later that some other reason was why our side won-some unknown person or event tied in and made the difference-but our efforts also played a part. It is would be good for future historians to know all possible scenarios.

But in the part of this movement I was in, i never had a worry that one person sought credit or money above others-the problem was what priority was most important. This applies in Bronski's book-he I think does say what we believe, that marriage was not as immediately important as ending the sodomy laws. But in the case of ONE, which everyone is tired of hearing, but i think is important generically, one of the main co-founders wanted to push education, and did, and the other wanted to educate but thought that local education was not as important as national-meaning the magazine could reach more people. The sad thing is that when a third person came along and actually gave us the money to do both, the first man (Dorr Legg) sought to control it all and pushed Don Slater and anyone connected with the magazine out and Reed Erickson didn't know what was going on. And in fighting the Don Slater part of ONE, Dorr used up the very money he wanted to do his education-it all went for legal fees. Our side didn't have many so we were able to continue till both were dead and their work along with Jim Kepner is now saved in two archives-ONE (Dorr and Jim's) at the library at USC) and the Homosexual Information Center (Don's) at Cal State Northridge along with Vern & Bonnie Bullough's Sexual collection. (An irony is that Don is a USC graduate.)

I doubt many people want to go into the philosphocial issues but historians and academics need to.

From C.Clark

You are, of course, correct.... however Mr Bronski is not the only gay historian to write from his personal point of view... I learned this very well while doing research for a series of magazine articles on gay leather history back in the early 1990's. Very often I had to read two or three books on a specific subject, (example, the Hellfire Society of London) to find as near as possible what was really going on from the historian's differing points of view.

Oh course writing history from a personal point of view seems to be an occupational hazard in all history...

charlie clark


On Tue, May 24, 2011 at 2:50 PM, billy glover <billygloverhic@hotmail.com> wrote:

Michael Bronski is only the most recent "educator" to try to tell us about homosexuality in America. But he takes deliberate effort and determination to say the word Mattachine, and skip to the Daughters of Bilitis, thus "deleting" from history the most important and first public movement organization and publication- ONE, with only a later mention of the lawsuit over the right to publish ONE Magazine. Bronski takes pains to give readers/students a long list of celebrities, books, and even goes so far as to take time and space to give the first name of a writer and then his new name, yet sees no reason to mention the most important writer/journalist/editor in the movement for the first two decades, one honored by the organization of gay and lesbian journalists in their Hall of Fame-Don Slater.


He never mentions the most important person-perhaps because he was on the West Coast- who did for the subject and movement's history what Bronski has tried to do on the East Coast and in this book. Has he never heard of Jim Kepner or seen his work? It is still available in another part of the movement he ignores, the glbt libraries/archives, in this case that of Dorr Legg and Jim Kepner's parts of the first movement archives/library, ONE Institute, now at the library of USC.

He does cover some early publications, spending a lot of time on male physique magazines, yet never mentions the first effort to combine that type of publication with the serious types such as ONE, DRUM, and never mentions the most successful national publication-again from the West Coast, the Advocate.

I have said often that the success of the effort to change the nation's view on homosexuality is owed to the few brave founders and the people who slowly started to join the effort, which led from only one group to hundreds and hundreds of publications, covering all aspects of the issue of homosexuality. And while I and others have said that other events and people also indirectly contributed to our success, I doubt many serious scholars would say that it was the media/celebrities, closeted authors, etc who actually are the ones who got the world to hear us and the movement was several decades old before any such people joined and came out of the closet. Yet most of the book implies that the famous did it all, since he devotes 3/4 of the book to naming them. It is truly a queer view of this subject that gives more mention of Tab Hunter than to a man or woman who devoted their abilities and lives to get equal rights for us.

While the title of the book is about queer history, that would not be valid with out the movement. All of the drag balls and famous closed movie stars did nothing to gain us our rights. It may be important to know that there were drag queens in early America, but that has no connection to the "how we got to where we are today," as one quote says.

This civil rights movement is the only one that is well documented. It started in Los Angeles in 1950 with a secret organization, early Mattachine, and became public in 1952 as ONE, Inc, and produced the first public, national publication in January of 1953, ONE Magazine. No "history" can ignore these facts. What "thinking" ignores this and gives page after page to celebrities who may or may not even be homosexual?

Bronski is giving us his version or understanding of history. But those who know better have a duty to correct him. For instance, why does he say Dr. Evelyn Hooker's work had no affect on the psychological and psychiatric community. While he documents well the vicious anti-homosexual almost religious views of people like Bieber and Bergler, he ignores those who did start educating the world on the truth, such as Dr. Blanche Baker, whose work with ONE is documented?

He is an educator, yet gives no notice of the educational work of the movement started by a respected educator, ( Merrit) a professor of education at USC, who set up ONE Institute. And how is it that his only reference to the main person behind this, Dorr Legg, is not as as the "author" or editor of a book he credits- not as a primary source -or cofounder of the organization that published the book but, instead, Legg is identified only as a co-founder of a minor group (Knights of the Clock), and the only possible explanation of this distortion of Legg's importance is that Bronski did not want to credit ONE, but did want to cover early interracial groups.

And in that vein, he bewilders any one acquainted even a little with the history of this cause by mentioning the takeover-killing off of the founders of early Mattachine, the original Mattachine- and crediting it to a woman, Marilyn Riegers, and never mentions the main person, Hal Call. To further distort the history he mentions the LIFE magazine article on the movement in 1964 and covers the sexy gay bars part but ignores the picture of Hal Call and Don Slater (creditied as being editors of 2 serious publications)-making LIFE give a more balanced view of the movement than he does.

While Bronski says others will wonder why he mentions some people and groups and not others, that gives no excuse to present what is supposed to be the record of how homosexuality and the movement got to where it is today without mentioning the largest glbt organization, the Metropolitan Community Church, and its main founder, Troy Perry. It may be something to discuss, but most people would say that having several well attended "marches on Washington" was a very visual if not important event in the history of the movement.

The philosophical part of the subject he over-covers, with Plato, Emerson, Locke, and he rightly places their thinking as affecting both movements, that of our nation and our movement. He sees the parallel between bigots' views on slavery and homosexuality, and the problem it is for those who want to make the Constitution a perfect document and the same for the Bible.

He rightly sees wars as having an affect on where individuals live-leaving the controls of small towns, etc. An issue I don't see is one I think is important, since he mentions the legal aspects and court decisions on sexuality and race, and there is a question as to how much good those cases have done-meaning that if a law is needed, pro or con, you may have lost your cause. It is interesting to consider the results of some decisions on the nation, such as how fast we got change after Brown vs. Board, and Roe vs. Wade, and if the abortion issue is settled, and has Brown even now been successful-and on the other extreme, it is important to know why there was silence after Lawrence vs Texas. (Could it be that the movement had laid the groundwork for public acceptance of the decision?)

He rightly says that a decision on birth control changed the legal and practical view of sex, separating it from reproduction. And that Loving Vs Virginia has relevance to our issue of marriage.

And it is good to have him point out that some of the idols of americans of the old days, the Byo Scouts, Tarzan, were actually racist and anti-gay.

He gives Kinsey credit, and (I think rightly) implies that the anti-homosexual effort of people like Anita Bryant actually seemed to win a battle, but in reality they have lost the war.

I don't agree that the hippy or Beats did that much for our cause. He, as it happened in the real world, increases the speed as he goes from the coverage of possible homosexuality from 1400s to a fast listing of the many people and events since 1990, and after Stonewall. (GLF, GAA)

He does seem to not give Frank Kameny credit for his work against the psychiatric guidelines or his historic fight with the federal government-now being celebrated-, but for the sexy slogan gay is good. He rightly concludes that the more successful our cause has become, the greater the backlash as the bigots realize that they are on the defensive and their lies are no longer working.

He seems to say that AIDS did not harm our movement, even though we lost so many good people. He points out that in this decade we are finally starting to deal with the aspect of homosexuality that was always the most important-children. Yet he never credits such efforts as COLAGE, GLSEN, PFLAG, The Point Foundation, etc. He does says rightly that tv and movies are now pro and not anti-and GLEE and Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are almost doing the work of the movement now. Welcome to these "Mattachines" of today.

But the old discussion of which is worse, sins of omission or commission apply. Bronski does both, thus giving a slanted and unbalanced of the subject while he might have wanted to finally give us A full view of the context of how we got where we are. Fortunately we have the lgbt media, which he also ignores, with good newspapers in every major city, along with glbt centers in those cities.

Lee Mentley:

Billy; only so many people know what you know..., people write what they know and what they want to concentrate on as their issue...!

You need to write your book because no one will ever satisfy your perspective on the history of those you are interested in and hold dear.

Stop looking outside yourself and turn to your own memories..., even if you need to tape the conversation and have someone else transcribe...! You will end up a lot happier...!

HRH Lee Mentley Walk Like An Egyptian...! FREE Bradley Manning

Stephanie D:


Dear Billy;


Your points are well taken and I agree. The majority of points made by most modern authors is short-sighted and steer around the important issues that made the gay rights movement what it was.


But on the other hand some authors tend to wax rhapsodic about those times and not take into account the reality of the hardships, the short-comings of the actual players involved in the drama of the events and wind their theorems so tightly that if you pulled one string it would come apart like a cheap tapestry.


It’s difficult indeed to wind the thin road that goes down the middle of those two choices.


If you wish to read an excellent book about the Mattachine then I might suggest “Behind the Mask of the Mattachine: The Hal Call Chronicles and the Early Movement for Homosexual Emancipation” by Dr. James T. Sears. It’s well written, exact in its history and Jim always researches his subject matter to exhaustion before he writes his final draft. I admire him among all others for his writing and historical skills. I wish that I had the opportunity to sit in on one of his college classes before he went off to pursue other business interests. He’s a fascinating individual to know and I value my friendship with him.


You might revue his book?


Meanwhile, I was wondering if I could print your review of Michael Bronski’s book in LGBT-Today? I would be honored to be allowed to and you could fill-in the four letter words. I would print them; obscenity and all.


I hope you enjoy “Behind the Mask of the Mattachine”.


Stephanie Donald


Billy Glover:


I think most people will know my thoughts on this book and complain that I spend too much time trying to defend and get credit for ONE Inc/magazine and the Homosexual Information Center. The truth is that apparently most people writing and speaking on the issue of homosexuality and the community and movement spend their time, either because they are incompetent and/or unethical, trying to hide the work of the most important organization, people and publication in the movement for the first decade. - Show quoted text -



Here, here!


David McReynolds:

The only reason I'm sending this "to all" is in the hopes (perhaps vain) that I can be kept out of this particular list. It might help if folks just assumed I was straight, even though in fact I'm queer.

The discussion of ONE and the origins of the gay liberation movement bores me to tears. I want no part of it. It is very much like reading a discussion among Trotskyists as to what went wrong in the Soviet Union, at which meeting in Moscow (or Petrograd) Lenin or Trotsky made certain historic mistakes that permitted Stalin to win. That discussion bores me - it is a century ago. ONE, Mattachine, et al, are nearly as ancient.

I'm concerned with the fact we have a high unemployment rate. I'm concerned with the fact we are waging wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and perhaps in Libya. I'm concerned that Obama has authorized the same kind of torture and secrecy which Bush began.

Way down on my list of concerns is the role ONE played. Way down below that is my concern with gay marriage (yes, yes, I'm for it). And way way way way down the list is ending "Don't Ask Don't Tell" -- I'm more interested in tackling the issue of war itself.

I don't mean to offend anyone, but I do think Lee is right, Billy, that you need to write your own history. I won't read it and I don't expect you to read a history of the Russian Revolution or the works of Gandhi. Each of us, in the short time we have on this earth, has our tasks, or chooses our tasks. The history of the gay liberation movement is not of enormous interest to me, even though I'm part of it.

I'm trying to back out of this list. Please.

Obama is sending robot missiles to kill people in Afghanistan. When, Billy, will that engage your concern?

Peace, David McReynolds


Wayne Dynes:

I both agree and disagree with the points that David McR. has made in his characteristically articulate posting. Unemployment, our appalling wars, and the abridgment of civil liberties are indeed issues of transcendent importance. They affect every citizen in this country--and a great many people abroad as well. In my experience, however, the system is rigged so that most of us can have no impact on what happens. In the early years of the administration of George W. Bush I belonged to a large Internet group, most of whose members were gung ho about attacking Iraq. Together with two other dissidents in the group, I hammered away over and over again against the invasion. Two or three people said that we had changed their minds, but that was not enough. Now the antiwar movement--with all due respects to David--has gone into hibernation.

What happens is that a small coterie of two or three thousand people in Washington DC, Harvard University, and a few other power centers simply decide what our policies will be. They then instruct their stooges in the media to promote these policies, and it's a done deal.

I'm sorry if this sounds cynical, but the ideal of Good Government, in which an informed citizenry would rationally determine the policies our government would follow, is a mirage. That is not the way most things happen in this country, which is emphatically not a democracy.

It seems that we are making progress on LGBT issues, though. As I foresaw twenty years ago, getting gay marriage has been a long, hard slog. But we are getting there. Gay marriage and an end to DADT are clearly things that we should have. I feel less commitment regarding the cause of trans people, but change is happening there too. So it comes down to what is, realistically, possible.

As David Thorstad rightly points out, the American gay movement was not the first; it certainly does not stand alone. But it has one characteristic that is special, and that is that it succeeded as part of a whole phalanx of social-change efforts, with the civil rights and women's movements at the forefront. Taken together, these social-change movements have in fact been of transcendent importance: they have improved the country in ways few of us old timers (I was born in 1934) could begin to imagine when we were in our teens. This process, and its continuation, is in fact of transcendent importance.

As I have noted before, I differ with Billy concerning the importance he ascribes to certain Southern California activists. But the overall process was of great importance. I have not read Bronski's book, but if he tends to reduce the matter to a parade of celebrities and physique magazines, well, that is not helpful.

Best, Wayne

Wayne Dynes:

In a review published online in Slate, the British gay journalist Johann Hari basically praises Bronski's book, citing a number of odd fact from earlier centuries. Then he parts company. Here is the end of Hari's review:

"My view—since reading Andrew Sullivan's masterpiece Virtually Normal when I was a teenager—is that the point of the gay rights struggle is to show that homosexuality is a trivial and meaningless difference. Gay people want what straight people want. I am the same as my heterosexual siblings in all meaningful ways, so I should be treated the same under the law, and accorded all public rights and responsibilities. The ultimate goal of the gay rights movement is to make homosexuality as uninteresting—and unworthy of comment—as left-handedness.

"That's not Bronski's view. As he has made more stridently clear in his previous books, he believes that gay people are essentially different from straight people. Why is his book called a "Queer History" and not a "Gay History"? It seems to be because the word "queer" is more marginal, more edgy, more challenging to ordinary Americans. He believes that while the persecution in this 500-year history was bad, the marginality was not. Gay people are marginal not because of persecution but because they have a historical cause—to challenge "how gender and sexuality are viewed in normative culture."

"Their role is to show that monogamy, and gender boundaries, and ideas like marriage throttle the free libidinal impulses of humanity. So instead of arguing for the right to get married, gay people should have been arguing for the abolition of marriage, monogamy, and much more besides. " 'Just like you' is not what all Americans want," Bronski writes. "Historically, 'just like you' is the great American lie." He swipes at the movement for gay marriage, and Sullivan in particular, as an elaborate revival of the old social purity movements—with the kicker that gays are doing it to themselves. (It's easy to forget that when Sullivan first made the case for gay marriage, his events were picketed by gay people spitting this argument into his face.)

"When Bronski argues this case, his prose—which is normally clear—becomes oddly murky and awkward, and he may not agree with every word of my summary: This is the best I can figure out his position. He does finally explicitly say that the gay movement should have fought instead to "eliminate" all concept of marriage under the law, a cause that would have kept gay people marginalized for centuries, if not forever. Of course some gay people hold revolutionary views against the social structures of marriage and the family—and so do some straight people. But they are small minorities in both groups. If you want to set yourself against these trends in the culture, that's fine. Just don't equate it with your homosexuality. When Bronski suggests gay marriage "works against another unrealized American ideal: individual freedom and autonomy," he is bizarrely missing the point. Nobody is saying gay people have to get married—only that it should be a legal option if they want it. If you disagree with marriage, don't get married. Whose freedom does that restrict?

"It's bizarre that Bronski—after a rousing historical rebuttal to the right-wing attempt to write gays out of American history—ends up agreeing with Rick Santorum, Glenn Beck, and Michele Bachmann that gay people are inherently subversive and revolutionary, longing for the basic institutions of the heterosexual world to be torn down. There's a whole Gay Pride parade of people marching through Bronski's book who show it isn't so—from the residents of Merrymount proudly carrying their giant phallus, to Deborah Sampson Gannett dressed in her military uniform as Robert Shurtliff, to the men in Physique Pictoral in their little posing pouches. They didn't choose marginality and exclusion. They were forced onto the margins. It would be a betrayal of them—not a fulfillment—to choose to stay there, angrily raging, when American society is on the brink of letting them into its core institutions, on the basis of equality, at long last." - Show quoted text -

David:

An interesting post, Wayne. Let me absorb it. I do think you are right about the gay liberation movement in this country originally being part of a broader "front".

But clearly I'm gently back out of this discussion.

Peace, David

Bronkski and the gay left and marriage

Victor wrote:

I have always felt that the reason why sodomy laws, marriage rights and military service became the primary focus of the political movement was because those were the only areas of social behavior where proscriptions against us were specifically codified into the language of the laws created to regulate those things. It had little to do with wanting the right to marry or to serve in the military. Once the sodomy laws were overturned by the Supreme Court, the focus shifted to the military, then marriage. Its not a clear-cut transition from one to the other, and regional biases continue to dictate how those laws are interpreted and enforced, but generally that is how those laws have been effected by our growing political influence and the evolution of social awareness and sensitivity to our issues. With DADT basically history it is now time for marriage to move to the forefront... It has little to do with there being an overwhelming desire on the part of queer folks to get married... If I may, I would like to posit that the desire not to embrace the concept of marriage historically could be seen as a rationalization of how to deal with the social forces that denied us the option. I think our whole culture has been built on the notion that we could not marry and therefore our concept of long-term relationships evolved with an eye towards all relationships being temporary and transitional. Now that marriage (or various approximations of it) have become the new definition of commitment certification for gay people, it will be interesting to see what kind of an effect it has on a culture that has been steeped in a multiple-partner mentality for centuries.

Billy Glover wrote:

Maybe, like some others, I am weary of the minor issues-and some of us think marriage is that, but i must say I think you have put the issue in perspective. It seems obvious that once sodomy was no longer an issue, that other concerns could be dealt with. Youths, as Bronski closes with, but only in a mild way, is one and marriage is another. I don't have a problem with your thinking or Andrew Sullivan's. The best reason and the most fun reason is that these really push the buttons of the religious bigots.

But Bronsk has a point, one which it seems queer he gives no notice to when it was dealt with in the first year of ONE Magazine. And the reason marriage is an issue, for many of us, is that it gives special rights to some of us and not others. AND, if we have it, it will be used to fuss at those who still choose to not marry and thus will be accused of as promiscuous, immoral, etc. We must get the rights of marriage, but not let others dictate how our relationships must be.

Also in line with Bronski's thinking, it seems that the 1970s may have been the "spring time" for some in the movement, but for me it was in the 1960s. But try using that for the nation. Was World War II the springtime? It may sound terrible to those who lost loved ones, but it brought our nation together and started the long road to civil rights for the three main minorities, women, blacks and homosexuals. But the Civil War kept our nation together, so the people who fought it are heroes. But then it took the nation's Founders and a few citizens to fight and win the Revolution. I don't know how to define the Vietnam, or Korean 'wars" but I personally feel that they, like the Cold War and even the current wars in the Middle EAst, serve to keep not only Americans safe, but will eventually help the world to be a better place for everyone-and I don't mean All people will have the same political, religious or social attitudes.

And a final thought, not important, but i thought MCC was the community/movement's largest organization-not that I don't want HRC to get credit too.

Wayne Dynes wrote:

In 1968, a year before Stonewall, I became a gay activist by joining the Mattachine Society of New York. A few years later I gravitated to other organizations that I found to be more effective. Fueled by well-justified opposition to the folly of the Vietnam War, a mood of insurrection was alive in the land. Together with other groups that had been repressed, gay people were “revolting.” And rightly so, we felt.

Some participants, however, who came to be called the gay left drew broader conclusions, encouraged by the turn to the left found in many newly independent third-world countries. The name of the first militant organization, the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), was modeled on the FLN, the Front de Liberation Nationale in Algeria. The core belief of the gay left in those days was that the “cosmetic” changes proposed by liberals were not enough; there must be a top-to-bottom renovation of society as a whole. Socialist revolution in short.

Others of us, aware of the repressive nature of authoritarian regimes in Eastern Europe and elsewhere that called themselves socialist, were not so sure. For many the officially sponsored homophobia of the Castro regime in Cuba was a turning point.

Still, the 1970s were the springtime for the gay left; it has not recovered since. And of course there was the larger context. Gradually, the fortunes of the left declined globally, as the actual practice in countries of “actually existing socialism” was seen to diverge so widely from the ideal. While this decline must be acknowledged as a fact, it is not necessarily a reason for rejoicing because when we needed the left to mount a vigorous opposition to our disastrous foreign wars, it had become too feeble to be of much help.

Now the debate about the gay left has been reignited by a vigorous defense stemming from the Boston-based writer Michael Bronski, whose book “A Queer History of the United States” has just been released, and has caused a good deal of buzz. (My copy is on order, and I will offer a further report when I have read it.)

In the meantime my friend Andrew Sullivan has gone ballistic at his “Daily Dish” site. A self-described conservative (though very much a conservative with sanity), Sullivan has a somewhat peculiar definition of the gay left. In a nutshell, he thinks that it is mainly defined by opposition to gay marriage. Here is something he wrote this morning:

“By "left" I do not mean gay liberals, like, say, the HRC [Human Rights Campaign, headquartered in Washington, DC]. They opposed marriage rights for so long for pragmatic and tactical reasons--because it embarrassed their Democratic Party paymasters. By left, I mean those who opposed the push for military service and marriage rights from the get-go as a surrender to bourgeois conservatism. They wanted all gays to have no choice but to be associated with the New Left and, like many ideologues, spent a great deal of energy purging and demonizing those gays who dissented.

“Much of the gay left, mercifully, has now abandoned their stance (but not Michael Bronski, it appears). I wish I could claim some credit but most of it goes to George W Bush, who unified the gay movement around marriage rights in a way no gay writer or leader could. But among those who once virulently [sic] opposed gay civil equality in these areas [were] leftists like Bronski, Paula Ettelbrick, Peter Tatchell, Richard Goldstein, Michael Warner, and a whole slew of others whom the late and great gay journalist, Randy Shilts, called the Lavender Fascists.”

Sullivan goes on to quote the liberal Evan Wolfson, whom he rightly acknowledges as the real hero of the marriage equality movement:

"'[Marriage equality] was the subject of big divisions within the movement, within the legal groups and within Lambda, he says, noting there were two distinct approaches from opponents. There was the ideological opposition, and the strategic or tactical or timing opposition... That was the biggest dividing line, the biggest source of arguing amongst a group that might quibble or haggle over a particular legal idea but basically agreed over a whole range of things, says Wolfson. The one thing that people would argue about more than any other was marriage.

"'Nobody was going to challenge that we needed to get rid of sodomy laws," Paula Ettelbrick explains. "No one was going to challenge that we needed antidiscrimination laws to deal with everything from HIV to sexual orientation. But marriage was hotly debated. She adds, I think it was a really important part of our movement that's seldom been fully addressed, to tell you the truth. ...

Wolfson continues: “A defense of sexual freedom was provided during the debate by people like Michael Warner, who countered Sullivan's book, Virtually Normal, with his own book published in 2000, The Trouble With Normal. At a time when the largest gay organizations are pushing for same-sex marriage," Warner writes in his preface, "I argue that this strategy is a mistake and represents a widespread loss of vision in the movement.'"

From all this Andrew Sullivan draws the following conclusion--or perhaps I should say he adds up two and two and gets five. “This is what and who I mean by the gay left. . . . It was once extremely powerful and to oppose its victimology argument and its insistence that all gays be corralled into one far left political positions was to go through a political wood-chipper. I know it seems bizarre today, and with Bush, the left might have retained more power for longer. But it was the defeat of the arguments of the gay left that allowed for the emergence of a movement for civil equality in marriage and military service. Bronski's attempt to rewrite history represents the final gasp of that dead end.”

Dead end? I don’t really think so, but to avoid that fate the left, including the gay left, must do some hard thinking.

For the record I should say that I do not regard gay marriage as a major desideratum, though I think that those who wish such a state of matrimony should be able to have it. However, John D’Emilio and other gay writers on the left are correct when they say that the mistakes that were made in the early stages of the push for gay marriage triggered the greatest outburst of antigay legislation since the days of Oscar Wilde. This year, in fact, marks the melancholy fifteenth anniversary of the odious “Defense of Marriage Act.” We are still struggling with these effects.

Personal tools