Stonewall and the 1960 Decade

The full post of this article was originally intended for my forthcoming BIO project, an autobiography. It’s posted here for space reasons. My post was prompted by the PBS June 8 airing of their “American Experience” special “Stonewall Uprising”.  A video and transcript is available on the PBS website.

“When police raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in the Greenwich Village section of New York City on June 28, 1969, the street erupted into violent protests that lasted for the next six days. The Stonewall riots, as they came to be known, marked a major turning point in the modern gay civil rights movement in the United States and around the world.” — PBS special Stonewall Uprising

As the PBS American Experience video “Stonewall Uprising” explains, there was no out in the Dark Ages of 1960’s; everyone was closeted. I had written about going to the library in junior high school and being horrified to find I could be classified as having a “mental defect – maybe even a form of psychopathy.” As the PBS special rightly pointed out, authors of such books “were not writing about people, they were writing about things.” I had no idea how bad it really was. I was in fact an American without civil rights, unprotected by the revered Constitution we all take for granted. Gay men and women were being incarcerated in institutions like Atascadero, California – “Dachau for Queers” – a forensic psychiatric prison facility with a grimly medieval reputation. There they were subjected to medical experimentation, including electrotherapy and other aversion conditioning, “pharmacological water-boarding.” Sometimes treatment included forcible sterilization or lobotomization.

My brother Nickie might likely have been wired into the early gay community in ways I was unaware of. He may well have had knowledge of special hidden dangers of being gay in the decade of the 1960’s. If that were the case, his pending visit to a family “shrink” may have represented not a glorious confrontational opportunity for a profoundly articulate thinker, but the literal beginning of the end. That would add a new level understanding to Nickie’s 1964 suicide, which I had never fully accepted as explicable.

Harassment, abuse and rights violations of the GLBT community only started to change when the NYPD decided to raid a grimy Mafia-run bar in Greenwich Village called “Stonewall.” In 1969 of course, I was still two full decades away from dealing with any part of my own issues with sexual orientation. My summer spent rooming with “Pablo” had instilled in me the fear without the awareness. I decided to add this section to my book after watching the PBS special and realizing that I, an “out” gay man in 2011, still had no idea how bad it had actually been in the 1960’s.

In the video, the words of Martha Shelley: “I don’t know if you remember the Joan Baez song, ‘It isn’t nice to block the doorway, it isn’t nice to go to jail, there’re nicer ways to do it but the nice ways always fail.'”

Or Virginia Apuzzo: “It’s very American to say, ‘This is not right.’ It’s very American to say, ‘You promised equality, you promised freedom.’ And in a sense the Stonewall riots said, ‘Get off our backs, deliver on the promise.’ So in every gay pride parade every year, Stonewall lives.”

I’d long been proud of the men and women who stood up to the politically and culturally biased NYPD at Stonewall. Misuse of law enforcement personnel as “morality police” has long been a cherished part of our American tradition of legally enforceable prejudice and persecution. We are closer to Iran’s secret Savak who enforce Sharia – religious law – than we feel comfortable believing. Watching the PBS presentation reminded me how very American the Stonewall protestors were, and how proud we should be of their brave contribution to the Civil Rights initiative.

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Voters Dismantle Iowa Supreme Court Over Same-Sex Marriage

From the New York Times:

DES MOINES — An unprecedented vote to remove three Iowa Supreme Court justices who were part of the unanimous decision that legalized same-sex marriage in the state was celebrated by conservatives as a popular rebuke of judicial overreach, even as it alarmed proponents of an independent judiciary…

That’s just further evidence of what happens when fundamental constitutional civil rights and equality issues can legally be subject to arbitrary and capricious nullification by an electorate …

The next time you hear someone complain their Second Amendment (gun) rights are being eroded, remind them it’s the same mechanism they wholeheartedly support when they go to the polls to make sure others’ oxes are gored.

The Iowa action is a stunning reminder how consistently “Red State” voters remain vigilantly opposed to equal rights for all Americans.

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Perry v. Schwarzenegger: Prop 8 Shot Down

BBC post: “A US federal judge has overturned California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage.”

PFLAG alert: “Washington, D.C. – Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays – PFLAG National – celebrated the U.S. District Court decision that strikes down California’s discriminatory Proposition 8 which denied the right to marry to same-sex couples in the state, stating that the measure violates the U.S Constitution.”

You can get the full text of the news releases by following the links provided above.

The ruling is expected to be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.  The Roberts court rulings have followed a markedly narrower conservative ideology than in recent previous courts. With arch-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia likely to continue dominating a court majority, this important case is far from over.

The PFLAG release summarized the district court ruling as excerpted below:

The decision issued today in the case of Perry v. Schwarzenegger contends that Proposition 8 violates the Constitutional rights of equal protection and due process. In the decision, U.S. District Judge Vaughan Walker concludes that, “Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license., the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite sex couples are superior to same-sex couples.”

PFLAG also provides a link to the full court decision. The document is a massive legal form in PDF format. In the preamble, District Judge Vaughn Walker of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California states:

Having considered the trial evidence and the arguments of counsel, the court pursuant to FRCP 52(a) finds that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional and that its enforcement must be enjoined.

Governor Schwarzenegger is said to have welcomed the decision. One homophobic conservative group, “”, has accused Judge Walker of advancing the “homosexual agenda”, calling it a “terrible blow” to voter rights.

There has never been any explanation, however feeble, why so many “conservative” groups think that we can advance individual rights by voting to deny them to others. While Justice Walker apparently did not (and probably could not) address the broader question of whether civil rights can constitutionally even be subject to popular vote, this ruling is a step in the right direction.

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Perry v. Schwarzenegger

Alex Forbes and Bob Sibley - link to memoriam

1990-2005 forever

When I’ve talked about the wonderful fifteen years I spent with my partner Bob Sibley (Bob passed away of cancer in 2005), that’s just “anecdotal“.

When I’ve written of our own hard-won California State Registered Domestic Partnership (SRDP), and about our legal inability to bind those ties with a contract having the same constitutional force of law as a marriage, that’s just the way things have always been for two hundred and thirty-four years.

The times they are a-changin’. Many believe this is all about state sanction of “approved” sexual orientation, and who may “regulate” that approval. Put that way, it is. All of which inescapably leads to the broader understanding: it’s really about equality and  civil rights.

In Perry v. Schwarzenegger the big legal guns are appearing before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The case is likely to wind up in the Supreme Court.

Once again, this case challenges the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 (which overturned a previous state Supreme Court ruling allowing gay marriage). Many in the LGBT community are fearful that a defeat in Perry v. Schwarzenegger could upset the applecart – that long, drawn-out slow process of winning full civil and legal equality from the existing reactionary and uncharitable entrenched political establishment.

The prospect of the United States Supreme Court effectively validating gay marriage (as long as Scalia is seated) is universally conceded to be a long shot.

The Perry v. Schwarzenegger defense – the pro-Prop-8 lobby – has filed with the court to prevent live filming of the proceedings.

Decades ago, gays and lesbians mortally feared exposure of their identities by the press. In an ironic reversal, it’s now the anti-gay forces who seek legal shelter from press disclosure.  Perhaps this is the surest sign yet the establishment is on the defensive.

So there’s no guarantee Perry v. Schwarzenegger won’t prove a setback for LGBT civil rights – as some fear.

What has changed over the decades is the new perception of gays and lesbians as the underdogs. Even within the anti-gay lobbies and political action groups,  rank-and-file citizens  increasingly aren’t especially anti-gay at all. They may harbor a certain sympathy for the legal plight of gays and lesbians, but simply aren’t ready for the “marriage” word.

If Perry v. Schwarzenegger fails, this will be understood as further proof that the law still sanctions selective discrimination in the United States. We’re still excluding what’s probably America’s last minority group, a target group which still lacks recognition and standing before the very courts and legislatures sworn to uphold the constitutional rights of all.

Here in La Parola, we’d argued for years that we didn’t care whether it was called “marriage” or “civil union”; we wanted equal rights. Unfortunately, as long as it’s called something else, it’s legally distinguishable from “marriage”, and will suffer from the same old exclusionary discrimination.

One man cannot hold another man down in the ditch without remaining down in the ditch with him. — Booker T. Washington

We need to suck it up and do what we can to save our Liberty Bell. When some citizens are allowed to let rights be dispensed like so many party favors, or a reserved chair in “musical chairs”, we thereby undermine the foundation of  rights for all citizens.

It’s time for all of us to get over the “m” word and eliminate partisan dispensation of constitutional rights to favored groups of American citizens.


No matter where you thought you stood on “gay marriage”, it’s time to brush up on the constitutional issues and new legal developments. We recommend these two postings:

  • A Risky Proposal – by Margaret Talbot, The New Yorker
  • Perry v. Schwarzenegger – Wikipedia briefing
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    NJ Senate defeats gay marriage bill

    New Jersey gay rights activists said: we want the same constitutional protections as everybody else. We’re United States citizens seeking legal classification as United States citizens. We want legal recognition of our permanent partnerships.

    A majority of New Jersey’s state senators said: “Oh no you don’t.”

    The AP news release follows.

    NJ Senate defeats gay marriage bill; NJ gay marriage law unlikely in near future

    01-07-2010 03:00 PM MST
    TRENTON, N.J. (Associated Press) —

    New Jersey’s state Senate has defeated a bill to legalize gay marriage, leaving it unlikely the state will have a gay marriage law in the very near future.

    The bill needed 21 votes to pass; only 14 senators approved the measure Thursday.

    Gay rights advocates had pushed hard to get the bill passed before Jan. 19, when Republican Chris Christie becomes governor. Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine promised to sign the bill if approved by the Legislature but Christie has said he would veto it.

    New Jersey offers civil unions that grant the legal rights of marriage to gay couples. Five states _ Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont _ allow gay marriage.

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    Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act

    PFLAG’s online newsroom issued a news release on October 22 which I happened to catch in an email. A new bill passed by Congress appears to be a milestone in defining equal protection for the LGBT community. I’ve posted an excerpt below. Read the full article at the PFLAG site.

    PFLAG National celebrated success in a decade-long fight on Thursday, October 22, when the Senate passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The groundbreaking bill includes sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories in federal law, the first time these groups have been afforded such protection. President Obama has repeatedly and publically announced his support for the bill and is expected to sign it in the following days.

    The history of the hate crimes prevention act goes back more than two decades, to 1989 when Congress passed the Hates Crimes Statistics Act, which required law enforcement to collect data on crimes motivated by prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. This legislation built the foundation for the current hate crimes prevention law. In 1997, in response to a wave of murders and arsons directed at LGBT individuals, President Bill Clinton called a White House Summit on Hate Crimes, where the Hate Crimes Prevention Act we know today was crafted.

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    Catholic Bishops Meeting

    Mrs. Perez, of the same street address on another street in Phoenix, did not get her July 2 edition of the Catholic Sun, a local paper that keeps church members up to date on what’s new in the Catholic world. I know Mrs. Perez didn’t get her Sun, because the Post Office mis-delivered it to my house.

    I’m not Catholic, and I was sorting through three weeks of delivered mail, so I almost chucked it. But you never know what pearls you’ll find in the local rags, so I checked it out.

    Sure enough, Catholic bishops held their annual UCCBS meeting in San Antonio June 17-19. They could not agree on a number of topics, mostly liturgical stuff, but voted to urge reform of our US immigation laws. Apparently they want more humane policies for non-citizens while maintaining the ban on illegal immigration.

    They also heard from Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, of Lousiville Kentucky, who heads the ad hoc committee on Defense of Marriage. What a surprise! Apparently they want less humane policies for Americans citizens in the LGBT community while maintaining the ban on gay marriage.

    With six states now recognizing same-sex unions in one form or another, the committee is concerned. They focused on four key points in their report:

    — That marriage is inherently related to sexual differences and the complementarity of men and women.

    — That marriage is for the good of children, who are themselves “a great good of marriage.”

    — That marriage is a unique bond reserved to men and women by nature.

    — That same-sex marriage has negative effects on religious rights.

    This last one is the reason for this post; it’s the only one I hadn’t heard before. What “religious rights” are we talking about, exactly? Are we to assume our right to equal protection for same-sex unions under the law is an infringment of Catholics’ rights to prevent us from doing so?

    I found no explanation. Just thought you’d want to know.

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    U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson

    I’ve written in these pages for years that our civil liberties are basic rights, and you can’t just go to the polls and take away someone’s civil rights. Those that know me have heard this for decades. There have been some bitter arguments: “Where have you been? It’s done all the time!”

    People on the receiving end of injustice are apparently in a better position to see the common sense in this principle. I have never heard it pronounced by another human being in all my adult life, since college at least. So it was gratifying to read it in a letter to the editor in the December 15 New Yorker [The Mail, p. 8]. That letter writer, one Al Meyerhoff of Los Angeles, cited U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson as the source of the principle that rights can’t constitutionally be decided in elections.

    In West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette Jackson wrote:

    The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials, and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.

    According to the Wikiquote link provided for Jackson above, “West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943), was a case in which the United States Supreme Court held that members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses could not be compelled to salute the flag of the United States.”

    In his decision on that case, Jackson also wrote:

    Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.

    Justice Jackson also served as a prosecutor in the Nuremburg trials in 1945. It’s well worth a few extra minutes to follow the Jackson link and read some of his other comments and observations on the times. On civil liberties, or on crimes committed by rogue nations, his comments are at least as timely today as in post-World War II America.

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    Same-Sex Marriage: Ready or Not

    The 30-second radio spot introduces San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, rolling out same-sex marriage in The City in 2004:

    “It is going to happen now, whether you like it or not.”

    This is emotional stuff. Nobody likes to see the opposition viewpoint forced down their throat. And I can’t leave it alone, because the radio spot ticks me off. Newsom’s boast was immature, ill-advised and off-topic. Perhaps he doesn’t understand the issue himself.

    The California State Supreme Court this year ruled unconstitutional Prop 22, the 2000 anti-gay initiative that seemingly squashed same-sex marriage in this state.

    The radio spot promotes Proposition 8, which is basically Prop 22 back for another try. Proposition 8 is backed by such telltale groups as “California Family Council”, Boy Scouts of America and “Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays”, with a coat-tail following of dissident school board members, doctors and Knights of Columbus.

    Their response: “we don’t have to stand for this.”

    Our response: au contraire, yes, we think you do.

    It’s not about whether you think same-sex marriage agrees with your personal vision of marriage. We simply can’t exclude a single group of people from an essential and fundamental right everyone else enjoys:  to marry the one you love.  That’s a right guaranteed to all other Americans, with good reason.

    If Proposition 8 should happen to win, that doesn’t make it any more constitutional. A victory would not be likely to last long enough to actually amend the California Constitution, because it’s discriminatory and just plain wrong, and threatens basic rights belonging to all of us, whether we agree with same-sex marriage or not. That’s why so many citizens and lawmakers are voting against Proposition 8 even though they don’t really support same-sex marriage.

    UPDATE 10-27-2008

    The California Teacher’s Association released a “contra” radio spot pointing out that Proposition 8 has nothing to do with education, rebutting the untrue pro-8 scare tactic that “like Massachusetts”, California kids would be taught about “gay marriage” in the second grade. In California, there is no requirement that kids be taught anything about marriage.

    Moreover, the CTA spoke up for the core issue here, that Proposition 8 rescinds a basic constitutional right, thus threatening everybody’s rights.They affirmed that no matter what our view on marriage may be, Proposition 8 is a bad and dangerous idea and should be voted down.

    Proposition 8 isn’t simply unjust, vindictively discriminatory legislation aimed at just one minority group. It’s really, really bad citizenship.

    UPDATE 10-29-2008: transparency without crediblity

    tHEY’RE baaaacK! Anti-gay Prop 8 backers are back with a new rebuttal: yes, they say, California students WILL be taught about same-sex marriage unless same-sex marriage is rescinded in California.

    So, it’s official: they want to rescind a basic right for a minority of Americans in California, so that kids can’t be taught that “equal protection” really means “equal”?

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    Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

    California’s Proposition 8 would eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry by changing the state Constitution to read, “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”

    Earlier this year, the California State Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional “Proposition 22”, a 2000 referendum that banned same-sex marriage.

    Proposition 8 backers are running heavy, emotional  radio advertising spots  claiming the Supreme Court ruling forces people to “accept gay marriage” whether they approve of it or not.

    This is a lie. It’s the worst kind of fascist hogwash. No one is forced to “accept” anything of which they disapprove. The question is, can the ballot be used to deprive others of civil liberties?

    I won’t be the first to point it out, but I don’t want to be the last: the court is only saying that religious groups  do not have the legal authority to eliminate the rights of one group to a civil liberty  that is legal for all other Californians.

    Proponents also  offer other untruthes and red herrings. They say the current law will force Californians not only to tolerate gay lifestyles, but to face mandatory “compliance”. They say that school children will be taught that “same sex marriage is the same as traditional marriage”. Neither of these statements is true.

    Proposition 8 propaganda also argues unconvincingly that it’s not about attacking gay couples, and asserts that same-sex couples already have California’s domestic partner law.

    As we’ve previously documented on this site, the domestic partner law is a feel-good law with no teeth and no specificity. Banks, creditors, merchants, courts and even the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) have no idea what they’re supposed to do when presented with a State Registered Domestic Partner certificate. Even the California DMV said sweetly, “we don’t need to see that.” This nice law and its nice certificate aren’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

    We all know many people who feel uncomfortable with the idea of “gay marriage”. In some cases, they’re basing it on tradition; in others, on religious teaching. In many cases, people just feel uncomfortable about gays. We are told to “protect traditional marriage”.

    Who has ever met a man or woman who personally admitted their own marriage is threatened by the possibility of a same-sex couple getting married somewhere in the United States?

    So, what if a citizen is genuinely morally opposed to gays and same-sex marriage? What are they supposed to do, vote against Proposition 8?

    We’re going to go  the extra mile, suggesting they consider doing exactly that.

    When rights are subject to ballot approval, they are also subject to revocation. Obviously, many voters who are still confused about “rights” may still think the referendum process can be used to ban some rights of other groups. But no one can ever convincingly argue that it is OK to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry, while claiming it’s unconstitutional to ban the ownership of firearms — just for example.

    If most members of your church are opposed to same-sex marriage, then OK, your church is not ready to perform that private ceremony. And it may never be. But when it comes to civil liberties, we need to recognize that outlawing rights for groups we just don’t happen to like is morally wrong.

    If the morality of non-discrimination seems too abstract, consider that a vote for Proposition 8 is a vote to undermine the foundation of your own civil liberties as well.

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