June 28, 2010 commemorates the 41st anniversary of The Stonewall Riots in New York City, where for three days and nights, over 400 Gay people stood together to defy the local authorities and to tell the world that we would no longer passively endure being persecuted for being who we are. One eye witness was Larry Boxx, owner of The Stonewall Inn.
While recognized by our community worldwide as the birth of the modern Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, and Transgender (LGBT) rights movement, curiously, one rarely sees this significant political event mentioned in the history books. Nor can one read much about the well-documented fact that, along with an estimated six million Jews, tens of thousands of Gay men in the German concentration camps were literally worked to death constructing the autobahns, stone quarry work, by hand.
“What car driver today, hurtling along the German motorways, knows that each block of granite has the blood of innocent men on it? Men who did nothing wrong, but who were hounded to death in concentration camps solely for reason of their religion, their origin, their political views, or their feeling for their own sex. Each of the granite pillars that hold up the motorway bridges cost the lives of untold victims—a sea of blood and a mountain of human corpses. Today people are only too willing to throw a cloak of silence and forgetfulness over all of these things.”
—Heniz Heger, The Men With The Pink Triangle.
Only a few years ago there was great opposition to any attempt to erect a memorial at Dachau to the Gays who were murdered there. Some, it would seem, choose to keep the holocaust “pure”—perhaps having very ironically forgotten where this mindset can lead.
To us, the interesting, relevant and very significant roles of LGBTs in history has been maliciously concealed between the lines of a predominately white heterosexual male version of history. Until only very recently, there were very few visible contemporary or historic positive role models and young LGBTs could not easily learn that people can be Gay and still find success and happiness.
The resulting numbers speak for themselves. According to a landmark Pediatrics Journal study, a full 1/3 of all Gay and Bisexual male teenagers between the ages of 14 to 21 attempt suicide at least once. The statistics for young Gays on drugs and alcohol dependency and premature death are similarly grim. One out of every three Gay persons is on the chemical dependency list—an estimated seven million people in the United States.
Although this is beginning to change, unfortunately to most, we Gays remain an enigma and how we are actually perceived by the general public one might only imagine—given the long stereotypical depiction in the American film and video industries. While there is not the space here to attempt explanation to the non-Gay world of “what we are about,” I can offer this clue: In his book Lesbians & Gays Who Enriched the World, writer Thomas Cowan observed, “because Gay people stand between two worlds as it were—the worlds of men and women, the worlds of the traditional and non-traditional—they have served historically as bridgers and mediators. Living between two worlds requires imagination and a sense of make-believe, which has always been the survival strategy for Gay people. Having learned how to use make-believe in childhood and adolescence, either pretending an interest in the opposite sex or pretending not to be interested in ones own, Gay people often retain a strong sense of make-believe in their adult lives. They also often retain the youthful spirit in which that sense of make believe can flourish.”
Social and political changes evolve slowly, and so to fully appreciate where the LGBT community is now, one must have some understanding of where it has been. Our circumstances have most definitely been worse. Had AIDS struck 20 years earlier, many of us would have been tattooed with a number and locked up, and our ability to sustain the enormous and costly battle in those early years against AIDS is proof of our having become more politically sophisticated.
During one of his early tirades against federal funding for AIDS research, the infamous right-wing Republican zealot, the late Senator Jesse Helms, noted that “the well oiled political AIDS machine has changed the way the Federal Drug Administration conducts their business.” Yes, we certainly did that—and by calling attention to our disgraceful National Health Care System, and the Federal Drug Administrations archaic drug approval procedures, our efforts probably saved the lives of millions—Gay and non-Gay alike.
The informed know that the AIDS epidemic is the furthest advanced in heterosexual Africa, and because of the conservative agenda of the Reagan and Bush administrations, the disease was allowed to infect millions of America’s citizens before much at all was done. After all, AIDS was “only killing faggots.” This writer is here to remind this conservative mindset that “we told you so.”
To their great consternation, the LGBT community has indeed learned how to access and motivate the system. We have learned to organize, communicate, and to move quickly in league. We learned to work together and raised more money for AIDS than we might have even imagined—and we learned to understand and care more about each other in the process. We had to learn all of this quickly because our friends and our brothers a sisters were dying, we continue to be violently attacked in the streets, and there are those who would still indeed see us behind fences or in their version of Hell.
Despite AIDS, we have continued to fight for social equality and for recognition about the many positive contributions that LGBTs have made throughout history to the defense of our country, and indeed continue to make. This, of particular importance to those of us who live in Hawaii.
LGBTs continue to contribute to local political change on other relevant issues. We too are concerned about inefficient unresponsive bureaucracies, homelessness, and poverty, and in Hawaii we too are appalled by the continuing destruction of the natural beauty of the islands with ill conceived and uncontrolled development—architecturally out of harmony with the environment and often offensive to the eye. The LGBT community knows that the missionary position is very much alive and well in Hawaii and elsewhere.
Yes, we actually grew stronger and wiser during the tragic experience of AIDS. Patiently, while we continue to educate ourselves about ourselves, we have also worked to educate the world about the positive contributions—the magic—which Gay people have contributed throughout history. And so for several days in June, now around the world, Pride Week is celebrated—not to “flaunt” our sexuality in public, but in order for those who cry alone wondering “am I the only person in the world who feels this way?” to know that they are indeed not alone.