We Don’t Need No Education
On a bright but brisk February day of this year, I found myself standing slack jawed for a moment staring into an abyss of utter stupidity. I was in Target making my way through the aisles to get an assortment of necessaries when I passed by the relatively small book section. Taking note of a volume I had been meaning to read for quite some time, I retrieved it and made my way to the front of the store. The cashier, a withered woman who I would guess to be in her fifties, dutifully scanned my items with the requisite automation until she had come at last to the book. “Oh,” she said to me, “I don’t know who you’re buying this for, but it’s good.” Her tone was not one unknown to me. It was one of condescension and disbelief that a person such as I would have the ability to read any book (to say nothing of gaining pleasure from the act) that was more than ten pages in length and bound on the outer edges with metallic gold foil.
I am, by my own admission, not your typical bookish-looking person. At 6’4 without the advent of footwear and around 225 lbs., the elements of my general appearance are note worthy only for their banality: cowboy boots, jeans, t-shirts and well-worn baseball cap are the usual fair. Add to these things the fact that I have a usually high aversion to the task of shaving and the picture is complete.
When retelling the verbal slap given to me by this Target cashier to my friends, I’m generally met with an attitude of disbelief. It is true enough that men, especially white men, who are above average height are seen with positive discrimination when it comes to things such as job interviews, but stray much above 6’2 (I state this figure based on my own unscientific research) and in the minds of many, you enter into what I term the “Land of Lurch”. I style it this because it is the most appropriate phrase I can think of and because it is encapsulates immediately for the other person exactly what I’m talking about.
Perhaps it is left over from our days of viewing larger men as better warriors on the battlefield – I don’t know – but it is nevertheless the truth of the matter. If you’re a person of lesser stature, this will seem a foreign concept, but trust me when I tell you it exists. We’re big guys, brutish and incapable of thought far beyond our next physical demand. I see hints of this everywhere, but perhaps the French poet Charles Baudelaire said it best when he commented that, “Only the brute is good at coupling and copulation…”
What is really going on here is a form of discrimination although I barely think the transgressors are aware of it. In fact, it’s the worst sort of discrimination because it is predicated on a facet of the other person’s life that he or she has no control over. In other words, I can’t help being tall as evidenced by my being just over 23 inches in length when I was born – much to the agony of my 5’4” mother. However my height, while unalterable by me, is one that I both enjoy (basketball) and sometimes despise (buying jeans is a bitch – they never have my size). It’s not something in which I take any particular conceit. It simply is. I neither apologize for it nor do I feel it necessary to organize with other persons of a similar build to demand an end to our sense of being mentally denigrated. In fact, our height might come in handy when you scratch the surface of another person’s prejudice as I did by informing the Target cashier that she needed to check her grammar as “who” would be the object of her statement and as such should have used “whom” instead.
Writing on the Wall
The contrast of my own lack of desire to push for a social refusal at discrimination against those of above average height is best viewed when contrasted against another group. What better one could exist in modern America than that of the work of gay and lesbian activists?
Just as my height is unalterable, I believe my sexuality is unalterable as well, but why should one be treated any differently from the other? In the 21st century, I argue that it should not.
The Stonewall Riots are pointed to as the impetus for gay rights in America. On June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn in New York City and the patrons, mostly gay men though a few lesbians and transgendered people were also present, fought back. It has since been the rallying call for gay pride movements across the country. In the past few years, this date has transmuted into something of a high holy day for the gay left. They see the Stonewall Riots as a pivotal point in turning back the discrimination and hatred that had flowed toward homosexuals for many years. However, their goddess – the riots – have feet of clay for a few reasons.
To begin, owned by the Genovese Family, the Stonewall Inn was nothing more than a mafia run money-making operation fleecing the pockets of gay men. Many gay left activists either do not know this or simply refuse to admit the fact. Next, it was also operating, as it had for quite some time, without a liquor license. Additionally, the back of the bar was painted completely black and lit only with florescent black lights. One need not venture far into the vulgar quarters of one’s mind to imagine what lewd acts were almost certainly going on there between sexually repressed men well marinated from drink. Finally, it’s documented that corrupt police officers were regularly accepting bribes from the Genovese family in order to stave off raids.
Many apologists for the Stonewall Inn have argued that the New York State Liquor Authority had begun denying liquor licenses to business that had or were suspected of having a gay clientele. This matter, while not insubstantial, is inconsequential when weighed against the fact that the Stonewall Inn was nothing more than a hovel out of which organized crime continued to fill its coffers. That gay and lesbian people should be proud of a riot that had its beginnings by offering financial support to an organization that actively carried out acts of murder, racketeering and loan sharking while counting among its associations people the likes of Lucky Luciano and Vincent Gigante is obscene. You could almost term it providing aid to domestic terrorists.
In a conversation with a friend regarding my contentions for this article, it was stated to me, “Yeah, but where were they supposed to go?” This supposes a few questions rolled into one that can and must be quickly dispatched.
The first assertion is that gay and lesbian people had no other means of organizing. This is contradicted by the fact that several gay rights organizations had already taken root. Of them, the Mattachine Society had chapters in Los Angeles, Washington D.C and New York City since the 1950’s. The Daughters of Bilitis had been active as well since 1956 and a periodical indicative of the movement known as One, Inc. had a subscriber base of over 25,000.
The second argument posits that the Stonewall Inn was the only gay bar in New York City. It was not. It was generally considered to be the most popular, but it was by no means the only venue available.
The final assertion made by this patently inane question is that gay people are somehow compelled to go out to nightclubs in the first place. This is just silly on its face.
There is no doubt that homosexuals were treated horribly under the law in the 1950’s and 1960’s. I will not even try to argue that point as it is as silly as the third argument above. Homosexuals were frequently targeted for harassment, if not beatings and outright murder. They were barred from federal employment and even a suspicion of such was sufficient to justify termination. Additionally, the FBI is known to have kept a running list of all persons who had a subscription to the magazine One, Inc. mentioned above. Times were not well homosexuals and to that there is no doubt. However, to use a broadsword with these true statements is to catch up the Stonewall Riots and afford them some semblance of virtue when none is warranted. We should instead place the Stonewall Riots under the microscope and, grasping the scalpel of reason, determine their merit on their own accord and not in light of other wrongs perpetrated against the community.
In light of the preceding, I think we’re entitled to a few provisional conclusions regarding the Stonewall Inn and the subsequent riots:
1. The gay and lesbian patronage of the Stonewall Inn actively provided financial support to members of an organized crime family who engaged in illegal acts, including murder, against their fellow Americans.
2. The New York City Police were justified in raiding the Stonewall Inn due to the numerous illegal activities happening on its premises.
3. The members of the gay and lesbian community who are proud of the Stonewall Riots are credulous in their exaltation, whether such stems from ignorance of facts or from blatant dishonesty.
It’s difficult, though not impossible, to think of a more disturbing event over which one should have “pride”. It’s also odd to me the argument that follows: if homosexuality is natural as most people, gay and straight, believe, then why do we still need parades to emphasize our differences?
Leaving Just a Memory
Stonewall, while in my opinion should serve as a disgrace to decent gay and lesbian people everywhere, cannot have its profound ripple effect unnoticed. Indeed, it was only one year after the riot that a march took place on the streets of New York City calling for gay and lesbian rights. Not long after that groups across the country began organizing and coordinating similar events. One does have to wonder, though, if these people knew the actual purpose of the raid or the inn’s ties to organized crime and if they had, would they have organized in the same way. To whatever the case, one can only speculate. The fact remains that before long the month of June was being recognized as gay pride month.
Allow me here a quick caveat. While June is gay pride month, October is actually gay history month. Of the twelve months on the calendar, two of those are used by a group of people making up less than 10% of the population. Blacks, by comparison, only get one of the twelve months as do Asians and Hispanics. To add to this, black Americans have their month relegated to February. So, not only do gay and lesbian people get two months of recognition with such a small population, but black Americans are relegated to only one and it’s the shortest of the year. How egalitarian of us.
At any rate, while Stonewall was no doubt a sow’s ear, it would be, for a time at least, turned into a rather lovely purse. The momentum gained would serve gay men in particular well from the late 1970’s and on into the early 1990’s as waves of a tsunami, known early on as GRID, or Gay Related Immune Deficiency, were swept away. The marches that took place in this time were invaluable for drawing attention to this deadly disease, how it kills, and how it can be prevented. With this point I have no squabble. Gay men were dying needlessly when all that was needed to stave off the scythe of the grim reaper was the proper use of latex sheath less than half a millimeter in thickness. So, gay marches have their place in this temporal framework. It is frightening to think as to how many additional lives may have been lost were it not for the efforts in sexual health education that coincided with these events.
However, at some point between the late 1980’s and the mid-1990’s, these events began to be referred to not as marches, but as parades. And with the parades came the pageantry. In place of community health workers, social activists and safe sex educators, organizers of these events began to substitute porn stars, corporate sponsorships and men and women dressing and behaving in public in the most debauched manner possible.
I’ve had my own experience with this sort of thing. Prior to my relocation to Texas in the spring of 2007, I had never attended any type of gay pride event. I had more than my share apprehensions, but the event was also part of my job and I’m of the belief that if you’re a direct witness, how better your position to criticize. On the outset, the Alan Ross Freedom Parade and Festival (the name of it should tell you something – it’s now also a festival in addition to being a parade and not a march) seemed innocuous enough. It was not until I was on the float, heading down Cedar Springs Avenue in the Uptown District of Dallas that I realized what was really going on. Three floats ahead of ours, a local S & M group had a disgustingly lurid display complete with a leather sling (a sex toy for holding a person for the uninitiated) on top which had a member of the particular club riding in it. To my left, a fellow stood in the doorway of a popular club in nothing but his loose white underwear undulating his well-fed body in such a way as to show his manhood (it didn’t seem to be much). What few Christian protestors were present were having their persons continually bombarded with every projectile imaginable – jello shots, free key chains, and t-shirts. “If this is what gay pride is defined as,” I thought to myself, “then I’ll opt to not be a proud homosexual by their definition.”
The attacks on the Christian people are what disturbed me the most. Here these people were, fellow Americans and human beings, using their freedom of speech, and all the “tolerant” gay hordes were concerned with was physically accosting them to shut them up – so much for diversity. The gay community in America had taken a bad action with the Stonewall Riots and turned it onto a good cause of educating people about the dangers of unsafe sex. But likewise, we had taken that good cause and turned it into a bacchanalia of debased behavior unbecoming of human decency.
While the early gay marches certainly had their purpose, their utility is now seriously in question. Homosexuals sit in three positions in congress, several states have gay marriage or civil unions, and gay characters and personalities are represented on television with a much higher percentage than our actual numbers justify.
Whatcha Leave Behind for Me
With these considerations, is it possible that with the shift from gay marches to gay pride parades – a shift marked by revelry instead of education and awareness – could be a contributing cause of so many young gay men in their late teens to late twenties now contracting HIV? HIV seroconversion rates are, for the first time in decades, on the rise and these new infections are primarily in young gay men. There is certainly a correlation between the change from “march” to “festival” and increased infection rates. Assuredly, there is more than one cause, but conscientious gay and lesbian people as a group must stop, reflect, and ask themselves that if gay pride means anything, it means keeping your population alive and unmolested from the scourge of an incurable and still fatal disease. If we do not, then by our omission to act we sentence untold numbers of people to a prison cell of death. Of course, personal responsibility takes a role in this as well, but the great efforts of the droves of men and women marching through the streets as they were literally dying will be for naught. It’s the pink elephant in the room no one wants to talk about.
But if we do not begin to talk about it, examine our history critically, see that the New York City riots of 1969 were rotten in their core, the actions of the 1980’s and early 1990’s noble, then the lives of so many will be just another brick in the wall of HIV. However, when you begin such a movement predicated on a cultural mythos that has managed to build a mafia-run bar into a clarion call for change, can you honestly expect anything better?
The views expressed in this blog are the author’s, and do not necessarily represent the views of Right Pride or GOProud.