Sunday, June 28, 2009

40 Years After Stonewall Rebellion, The Gay Rights Struggle Continues

Forty years ago, in the early hours of June 28, 1969, the gay liberation movement was born at the Stonewall Inn Rebellion. It was common back then for gay bars like the Stonewall in Greenwich Village to be raided by the police and for many of the patrons to be harassed and hauled off to jail. This time the crowd resisted, battling the police for six nights, an historic event outlined in the CNN video above.

Since then, gay marriage is legal in six states, many gays have come out of the closet, there are annual gay pride marches and gay elected officials. Those are indicators of progress, but the movement for full equality for gays still has a long way to go:

...if the culture is moving on, national politics is not, or at least not as rapidly. Mr. Obama has yet to fulfill a campaign promise to repeal the policy barring openly gay people from serving in the military. The prospects that Congress will ever send him a bill overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, appear dim. An effort to extend hate-crime legislation to include gay victims has produced a bitter backlash in some quarters: Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, sent a letter to clerics in his state arguing that it would be destructive to “faith, families and freedom.”

"Faith"? Isn't that a personal matter? "Families"? Gay couples can't make families? Children of gay couples disagree. "Freedom"? Is denying the right to marry based on sexual orientation consistent with freedom? Changing generational attitudes, however, bode well for future progress:

A New York Times/CBS News poll last spring found that 57 percent of people under 40 said they supported same-sex marriage, compared with 31 percent of respondents over 40. Andy Kohut, the president of the Pew Research Center, said the generational shift was reflected in his polling, in which the number of Americans opposing gay people serving openly in the military had dropped to 32 percent now from 45 percent in 1994.

Many gay rights leaders are criticizing the Obama administration for its timidity on gay issues, including ending the "Don't ask, don't tell" military policy that started under the Clinton administration and is now opposed by 75 percent of Americans. The administration also submitted a brief supporting the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), also passed under Clinton and recently under legal challenge, that allows states not to recognize gay marriages and denies federal benefits to gay married couples. While the Justice Department filed the brief, the President states that he wants to repeal DOMA. Frank Rich, in "40 Years Later, Still Second-Class Americans," implores Obama to remember the commitment he made to gay Americans:

...Obama’s inaction on gay civil rights is striking. So is his utterly uncharacteristic inarticulateness. The Justice Department brief defending DOMA has spoken louder for this president than any of his own words on the subject. Chrisler noted that he has given major speeches on race, on abortion and to the Muslim world. “People are waiting for that passionate speech from him on equal rights,” she said, “and the time is now.”

Action would be even better. It’s a press cliché that “gay supporters” are disappointed with Obama, but we should all be. Gay Americans aren’t just another political special interest group. They are Americans who are actively discriminated against by federal laws. If the president is to properly honor the memory of Stonewall, he should get up to speed on what happened there 40 years ago, when courageous kids who had nothing, not even a public acknowledgment of their existence, stood up to make history happen in the least likely of places.

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