What is it about the United States and sex? Children are taught that their (biological and natural) feelings of sexual pleasure are dirty. Worse still, if a child enjoys those feelings, or touches him or herself for pleasure, God will send them to Hell to burn for all eternity. Who came up with that one?
Adults are taught that sex is dirty. Women are taught that it is their duty to have sex with their husband whenever he wants, to "submit" to him, but if they enjoy sex, or have sex with a man to whom they are not married, God will send them to Hell to burn for all eternity. Men are taught that if they even think about having sex with a woman other than their wife, they are evil and despicable. Men are also taught that they are weak and unable to deny their sexual impulses, that women will try to force them to have sex when it would be wrong to do so, that they must shun women because women are evil and Satan.
Any questions? Any wonder we’re so screwed up? Is it possible that the reason our leaders insist on waging war against everyone always is because they’re all so sexually frustrated? Or does the government just use sex as a tool to gain political and financial control of the country?
Sunday marked the 40th anniversary of what are commonly called the "Stonewall Riots" (June 28, 1969). The Stonewall Inn was located in Greenwich Village in New York City. On that night, the police "raided" the place to arrest homosexuals, just like they routinely raided any business that served homosexual customers. But on that night, for the first time, the homosexuals fought back and all hell broke loose.
For most of us, it’s hard to imagine how oppressive our society historically was towards homosexuals. The police in many cities would routinely "raid" bars, coffee houses or restaurants if it was rumored that homosexuals frequented the business. In other words, simply by "allowing" a homosexual to sit at a table and drink a cup of coffee in the middle of the day, a business owner was putting themself at risk of having the police storm into the place, en masse, make every customer line "up against the wall" to be frisked and questioned, and any customers who were perceived by the police as being there for improper purposes – such as trying to meet other homosexuals – would be arrested. Their name would be printed in the newspaper. They would undoubtedly be fired from their job. They would be evicted from their rented apartment. Their families would often disown them as would any non-homosexual friends. The business owner could be shut down for running an immoral establishment.
In other words, the mere act of "being" homosexual, without any related conduct, could result in a person being completely banished from society, unable to find shelter or employment, unable to earn a living, rejected by friends, neighbors, acquaintances. It was a complete banishment. In Haiti, and other societies which practiced "dark" arts like voodoo, as well as in some modern cult-religions, the total banishment of a person from society is considered the equivalent of a sentence of death. That was the punishment for people who were discovered to be homosexuals: complete banishment, a form of social death.
In today’s world, many cities have communities where homosexuals live and work, openly, and of course there are legal protections against many forms of discrimination. But until very recently, there were no openly gay communities. There were just isolated individuals living in shame because all the professionals in the country said homosexuals were perverts and were trying to destroy the moral underpinnings of society. They were declared to be mentally ill, undeserving of shelter, employment, friendship, or support from their families. It was believed that they could change if they wanted, and they chose to live life as a pervert. Most gays lived in terror of being "found out." There were no places for gays to gather and meet other homosexuals, try to develop relationships or friends. Everything was secret and "in the closet."
Of course in the bigger cities, homosexuals would tend to frequent certain places which were known to tolerate homosexual customers. And the police would inevitably find out and begin regularly raiding the business. It was a fact of life.
During the post World War II "McCarthy" era of anti-communist repression, the focus of the federal government’s inquiries were often "homosexual-and-communists" allegedly working inside the federal government to destroy it.
The anti-homosexual fervor during the 1950s was as intense as was the anti-communist fervor. Anyone who was employed by the federal government and was discovered to be homosexual could and would be immediately fired. The justification was the claim that the communists might find out somebody was a homosexual, then blackmail them by threatening to expose them, and then the homosexual would have to become a spy for the communists.
There is a sociological theory about rising expectations: when things start to look a little bit better, people often begin developing big hopes for further improvement. So in the 1960s, we saw many disaffected social groups of people who organized to try to improve their position in society. Then, as now, everything was dominated by straight white men. So women got together and demanded that they have a voice, and that the institutions of society accept them as equal citizens with equal rights. Black Americans were involved in organizing for more rights from the 1950s on. Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, many groups began demanding something more from society. It is undoubtedly true that the beginning of the movement for equal rights for homosexuals, or at least an end to oppression, was strengthened and influenced by these other social movements in the 1960s.
For some reason, on June 28, 1969, when the police came for their routine raid on the Stonewall Inn, the people inside declined to go quietly. Soon a crowd gathered outside and a riot erupted. Of course for the police, the idea of homosexual men fighting back was simply unimaginable, since they assumed all homosexual men were sissies. Surprise!
The riots continued for several nights. Gays began to organize groups and committees to prepare a list of demands including the right to go to local businesses without being subject to raids and arrest.
The Stonewall Riots are considered a turning point in homosexual history. (At some point in time, the word "homosexual" was abandoned, and the word "gay" became more common for homosexual men). Following soon after those riots, many gay and lesbian groups formed inside New York City, several gay-themed newspapers were set up, and the influence began to spread across the country where gay organizations were created in other communities.
The "Gay Pride" parades which take place in many communities in this country are on the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.
Stonewall memorial sculpture:
The right-wing devotes itself to continuing to attack gays, hoping to raise the hate level in our country and to increase the oppression on them as well as on everyone else.
What can we learn from the gay-rights movement? First, that we the people have given the federal and state government very limited rights to act on our behalf, but we did not give them the right to dictate to us what are acceptable sexual practices among consenting adults. I think it was Justice Douglas who referred to the constitutional right of the citizen to simply be "left alone" by the government. There are limits and restrictions in our constitution on the right of the government to intrude into our private lives. They are not supposed to tap our phones, plant bugs in our homes, peep through our windows, read our mail, photograph our actions, or other wise attempt to direct or control us, or punish us, based on our personal decisions. It's none of their business. As long as we don't rob a bank or kill somebody, they need to butt out.
Second, that all these things are connected. When we allow the government to persecute gays (or Muslims, or Arabs, or blacks) or deny any group (such as women) equal rights or opportunities, the government will inevitably add more groups to the list and try to take away all our rights.
Third, that we all need to defend our liberties and beat back the government. Keep an eye on them. Protest when they ignore us (such as by continuing these wars when we have demanded that they be ended) or oppress us or others. Defense of one is defense of all.
A failure to protest injustice against others is the equivalent of weaving the noose for your own lynching.
For more on the McCarthy-era attack on homosexuals-and-communists, see http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/404811in.html