They were just little girls when they were killed in 1963, in what came to be known as the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing. And now Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley have been awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, nearly 50 years after the attack in Birmingham, Ala.
President Obama signed the legislation Friday to award the girls — all of them 14, except for McNair, who was 11 — with the highest honor Congress can bestow upon a civilian.
The girls' deaths, from dynamite hidden under a bathroom by white supremacists, helped propel the 1964 Civil Rights Act through Congress. They were eulogized by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who famously asked, "What murdered these little girls?" — a sentiment echoed in director Spike Lee's film about the incident, 4 Little Girls.
This is beautiful news. The murdered girls would now be in their 60s. This story is as vivid a lesson in man's capacity for hatred and cruelty as I can imagine. As it was reported and retold, it seared into many Americans' minds the truth about the terrorism under which millions of African Americans lived for so long. This holiday weekend honors those who died in America's wars; but Addie Mae, Carole, Cynthia, and Denise died for our country too. Here is to their memory.
Half a lifetime ago, I was on a flight back to DC from the GALA Choruses festival in Minneapolis when I read Justice Harry Blackmun's stirring dissent in Bowers v Hardwick. 17 years later, Bowers was overturned and we were no longer habitual criminals. Ten years further on, Minnesota becomes the 12th marriage equality state. How incredibly fast. Yet so many did not live to see it. The more victories we rack up, the more I think of vanished friends. Tonight I will raise a glass to them.
Our friend Joe Cantor especially raises a glass to our late friend Steve Endean, the founder of the Human Rights Campaign who's been gone twenty years now, whose home state did him proud today.
This week's coming out by NBA player Jason Collins is momentous, but the Jackie Robinson of gay rights was Glenn Burke, who played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland A's from 1976 to 1979. He tried to change sports culture three decades ago—but back then, unlike now, sports culture wasn't ready for a change.
Burke made no secret of his sexual orientation to the Dodgers front office, his teammates, or friends in either league. He also talked freely with sportswriters, though all of them ended up shaking their heads and telling him they couldn't write that in their papers. Burke was so open about his sexuality that the Dodgers tried to talk him into participating in a sham marriage. (He wrote in his autobiography that the team offered him $75,000 to go along with the ruse.) He refused. In a bit of irony that would seem farcical if it wasn't so tragic, one of the Dodgers who tried to talk Burke into getting "married," was his manager, Tommy Lasorda, whose son Tom Jr. died from AIDS complications in 1991. To this day, Lasorda Sr. refuses to acknowledge his son's homosexuality.
"Certainly I would not be here" without the scientific contributions of the National Academy of Sciences to the Union in the Civil War, the President quipped in remarks celebrating the organization's 150th anniversary. (Click on link for video.)
GayPolitics.com has an interview with the producer and director of a documentary due to be released this summer on the purge of gay men and women fired from the federaly government in the 1950's and beyond. It was 60 years ago today that Executive Order 10450 was signed by President Dwight Eisenhower authorizing the firing of all gay government employees.
The renewed effort to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act
launched last week came days before the 60th anniversary of a defining
moment in LGBT history, when thousands of employees and contractors were
purged from the federal government because they were gay or lesbian.
On April 27, 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued an executive order
calling for the removal of homosexuals from all federal agencies. Gay
and lesbian government workers were immediately fired or resigned out of
fear of being publicly outed. Even LGBT people working in the private
sector whose jobs required them to have a federal security clearance
were also fired or resigned.
Congrats again to all five honorees from GLAA's anniversary reception on April 25. For me, the highlight of the evening was this inspiring speech by the remarkable Jason Terry of the DC Trans Coalition.
JASON A. TERRY
REMARKS TO GLAA AWARDS RECEPTION
25 APRIL 2013
Thank you to GLAA, and especially to Rick, Charles, Kevin, Gary, and Alison, for this distinct – and truly undeserved – honor. Thanks also to those who have shaped me, guided me, and inspired me all through life: the fierce and fearsome Appalachian women who raised me; my three grandfathers who taught me patience and calm; the teachers, choir directors, and old school activists who lit my path, taught me discipline, and gave me hope; and to my beloved and ever-growing community of rabble rousers here in DC who make this city more livable, and bring us closer to peace. Chief among those, I have to thank Ruby Corado for teaching me everything I know. And, of course, I must thank my partner Elijah Edelman, who is with me not just in life, but in an ongoing journey towards justice, and who, without his unending support, absolutely incredible intellect, and remarkable strength, I would be less than half the activist I am.
Thanks to everyone who made GLAA's 42nd anniversary reception a success on Thursday - from the fabulous community organizers and change agents we honored to our friends in high places to public-spirited business leaders and donors at every level who support our advocacy.
Beyond the champagne and hors d'oeuvres, the gathering was a reminder of the cooperation it takes to create change. We even had a taste of politicians rewriting history, in accidental tribute to the GWB presidential library opening. (We can blame the cocktails.) "Thanks for holding on," one honoree said to me. And that's the key thing: holding on. It hasn't been easy, and we're not done, but look how far we've come. Washington takes a lot of knocks, but we are blessed to live in this city.
Later I'll post the speeches and presentations on GLAA's main website, and perhaps post a few highlights here (though it's a lovely day and I'm heading to the park for some sunshine and fresh air); but for the moment I want to thank everyone for helping us celebrate. As Paul Kuntzler said in the Founder's Toast, "Much has been done. Much remains to be done. Here's to the cause."
This clip from 1987 shows then-PM Margaret Thatcher speaking against gay rights, because The Children! The following year, Parliament passed the notorious anti-gay Section 28. As Maggie gets the grand send-off, this is worth remembering.
In 2004, former PM Margaret Thatcher attended Ronald Reagan's funeral at Washington National Cathedral. Her health was not vigorous, however, so she pre-recorded her eulogy. She sat right next to former Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, watching herself. I post this now as a reminder of how masterful she was. Mind you, I say masterful, not accurate. This is an incredible pile of well-crafted and superbly delivered political bullshit. My favorite moment comes at 9:17 on the above clip. Nobody did it better than Maggie. There was not a cloud in the sky of her serene convictions. Never a second thought, never room for reconsideration. Such a person is dangerous.
("Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher" from Billy Elliot: The Musical)
(Margaret Thatcher in 1982. Photo by Nils Jorgensen/Rex Features)
Our friend Peter Tatchell writes from London about former PM Margaret Thatcher, who died yesterday at 87:
“Margaret Thatcher was an extraordinary woman but she was extraordinary for mostly the wrong reasons. So many of her policies were wrong and heartless. Nevertheless, I don’t rejoice in her death. I commiserate, as I do with the death of any person. In contrast, she showed no empathy for the victims of her harsh, ruthless policy decisions,” said human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.
“Thatcher initiated policies that paved the way for the current economic crisis: the decimation of Britain’s manufacturing base, the get-rich-quick business mentality, the promotion of the free market and the poorly regulated banking sector. This led to imbalances in the economy. The financial sector gained undue influence, with few checks and balances. These distortions were exacerbated by Blair and Brown but Thatcher began the train of events that led to the present economic meltdown.
“In 1988, the Thatcher government legislated Britain’s first new anti-gay law in 100 years: Section 28. At the 1987 Conservative party conference she mocked people who defended the right to be gay, insinuating that there was no such right. During her rule, arrests and convictions for consenting same-sex behaviour rocketed, as did queer bashing violence and murder. Gay men were widely demonised and scapegoated for the AIDS pandemic and Thatcher did nothing to challenge this vilification.
“To her credit, she shattered the sexist glass ceiling in politics and got to the top in a man’s world. However, on becoming Prime Minister she did little for the rights of women. She was a macho, testosterone-fuelled right-wing politician.
“Her political agenda was almost entirely divisive and destructive, including mass unemployment and urban decay. She emasculated local government and boosted police powers to the detriment of civil liberties. The striking miners and their families were ruthlessly crushed on her orders. She oversaw the use of police state methods. Baton-wielding police struck down peaceful miners. People travelling to support the strikers were pre-emptively arrested. Protesting miners at Orgreave were framed on false police evidence.
“On a personal note: Thatcher once unintentionally praised me. It happened in 1981 in the House of Commons. SDP MP James Wellbeloved urged Thatcher to denounce me for advocating extra-parliamentary protests against Tory policies. She responded by saying that she had not read the remarks by the “honourable person.” This was the first and last time she ever described me as honourable,” said Mr Tatchell.
I'm not sure that her heartlessness was fueled by testosterone, but Peter's criticisms are on the mark. I always found her fascinating, especially her absolute, impenetrable serenity in her convictions, which were usually wrong. Yesterday I found myself doing my Maggie Thatcher impression with dramatic readings of some of her most famous quotes.
Below, Lawrence O'Donnell corrects the record on Thatcher, showing among other things that she was much more socialist than her American admirers want to admit.
(Photo: Joseph Louw/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)
The thought of that awful day 45 years ago makes me too sad and angry to say much. ABC News has a photo gallery from those days here. Thoughts from Democracy Now!, NYT, The Root. My own meditation from 2008 on the 40th anniversary of the riots that followed Dr. King's assassination is here.
Below, one picture of what was stolen that day in Memphis.
The conclusion of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Mountaintop" speech, delivered forty-five years ago today in Memphis on the eve of his murder. His challenge rings down to us to carry on the unfinished work.
Rachel Maddow's beautiful reflection on what happened last week. (Oh, and her last line, "You have to go to prison," refers to the "Lockup" show that immediately follows Maddow's show on MSNBC on Fridays.)
I was reading some tweets from Stephen Fry today, which prompted me to look up this clip from his amazing performance in the title role in the 1997 movie Wilde. In this trial scene, he responds to the prosecutor's question, "What is 'the love that dare not speak its name'?" while trying to avoid confessing to homosexual sexual relations, which were a crime. This was word-for-word from the published trial transcript.
After the past week, it is worth looking back 118 years to remember the courage of a pioneering spirit. Below is an excerpt from a lecture by Fry in which he talks about how Wilde is seen today, 118 years after his disgrace and downfall.
Today would have been the 94th birthday of the great Nat "King" Cole. Here is his rendition of "Stardust" by Hoagy Carmichael and Mitchell Parish, accompanied by photos from the Hubble Space Telescope. Below is his performance of "When I Fall in Love" by Victor Young and Edward Heyman.
Today is the 101st birthday of civil rights strategist and organizer Bayard Rustin. Here's to his memory and legacy. Below is a teaser for the documentary Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin. (BTW, the last voice you hear in the teaser is Rustin's friend and associate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who for 22 years has represented the District of Columbia in Congress.)
Scott Keyes and Zack Beauchamp at ThinkProgressreport:
A panel at the Conservative Political Action Committee on Republican minority outreach exploded into controversy on Friday afternoon, after an audience member defended slavery as good for African-Americans.
The exchange occurred after an audience member from North Carolina, 30-year-old Scott Terry, asked whether Republicans could endorse races remaining separate but equal. After the presenter, K. Carl Smith of Frederick Douglass Republicans, answered by referencing a letter by Frederick Douglass forgiving his former master, the audience member said “For what? For feeding him and housing him?” Several people in the audience cheered and applauded Terry’s outburst.
My column this week looks at the mixed reactions to Bill Clinton's call for the Supreme Court to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act that he signed into law in 1996. Here's an excerpt:
Clinton is a particularly shameless politician, but Barack Obama is a politician too. His political calculus is applied to a society substantially changed since the Clinton era. Yet the calculation still rankles many activists, who demand a purity our system is not designed to produce.
Politicians cannot substitute for advocates. We needed Lyndon Johnson to push for the Voting Rights Act in 1965, but he needed John Lewis and Hosea Williams and the other marchers who faced police truncheons and tear gas on Bloody Sunday, as well as the reporters and news photographers covering the event. Activists prepare the way, planting seeds of progress often reaped by others.
The anger over Clinton's lies and lack of leadership seems pointless now, like yelling at a ghost over an old wrong. I am more intrigued by the contrasting personalities. Clinton the extrovert worked us the way Teddy Pendergrass worked a concert audience. His seductions left us feeling foolish when reality dispelled the fantasy. Obama finds affirmation within himself, having been forced, as a young man caught between cultures, to construct his own identity. Many gay people recognize in his journey our own coming of age amid an absence of role models. Like Ralph Ellison's fictional narrator, we had the gift, and the curse, of being invisible. We are survivors; we do not need validation from a politician.
From HBO's The Newsroom. I could do without Aaron Sorkin's classic manipulations -- the dramatics, f-bombs, and shock tactics. But the substance? Yes. Liberals need to find our voices again. We need to make the case for the classic values we stand for, as if we are not ashamed of them nor afraid of standing up for them with voters. The reactionaries, nativists, fundamentalists, profiteers, obscurantists, paranoids, and bullies who have done so much damage to our country cannot be defeated in one election. But what last November should have taught us is that if we fight, we can win.
A documentary on the late former New York mayor Ed Koch opens at the Avalon Theater on March 8. Zeitgeist Films provides this synopsis:
Former Mayor Ed Koch was the quintessential New Yorker. Ferocious, charismatic, and hilariously blunt, Koch, who died in February at the age of 88, ruled New York from 1978 to 1989—a down-and-dirty decade of grit, graffiti, near-bankruptcy and rampant crime. First-time filmmaker (and former Wall Street Journal reporter) Neil Barsky has crafted an intimate and revealing portrait of this intensely private man, his legacy as a political titan, and the town he helped transform. The tumult of his three terms included a fiercely competitive 1977 election; an infamous 1980 transit strike; the burgeoning AIDS epidemic; landmark housing renewal initiatives; and an irreparable municipal corruption scandal. Through candid interviews and rare archival footage, Koch thrillingly chronicles the personal and political toll of running the world’s most wondrous city in a time of upheaval and reinvention.
A new Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. has been formed to conduct and fund "archive activism" -- identifying, conserving and interpreting the historical record to educate thought leaders about the often-deleted stories of LGBT political history.
The new Mattachine has joined amicus briefs in two marriage-related cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry. Mattachine joined the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Bar Associations and Public Interest and Legal Service Organizations.
It was the original Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. that received the so-called "Revulsion Letter" (see page 16 of the Windsor brief) from Civil Service Chairman John W. Macy in 1966.
Van Cliburn, the American pianist whose first-place award at the 1958 International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow made him an overnight sensation and propelled him to a phenomenally successful and lucrative career, though a short-lived one, died on Wednesday at his home in Fort Worth. He was 78.
The quote in my headline is from Harold C. Schonberg's review of Cliburn's 1958 performance of the Rachmaninoff Third Concerto in Carnegie Hall upon his return from Moscow. The above clip shows Cliburn on a return visit to Moscow in 1962, performing the finale of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 with Kirill Kondrashin conducting. Communist Party Secretary Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev, who had personally approved Cliburn's victory in 1958, is seen in the audience at the end. A complete recording of Cliburn performing the Tchaikovsky (though without video) can be found here.
The Times obit, incidentally, discusses Cliburn's homosexuality.
The opening of the Tchaikovsky Concerto from the same 1962 Moscow concert is below.
(Gil Gerald, Carl Bean, Fred Garnett, C. Everett Koop, Suki Ports, unknown woman and Paul A Kawata. Photo by Jim Marks)
NYTreports on the death of President Reagan's surgeon general, C. Everett Koop, at age 96.
Our friend, longtime activist Gil Gerald, provided the Reagan-era photo above by Jim Marks and wrote on Facebook:
Former US Surgeon General C. Everett Koop has passed away! I recall organizing this meeting where he is pictured before meeting with a delegation of us working on issues of HIV/AIDS in communities of color. He was an ally and an early advocate for policies and actions the Reagan Administration and Congress failed to follow. I will never forget my being puzzled by his final statements on that. He promised to convey our concerns to the 'most important' person at the White House when he next met with them in a few days. He continued, "and that person isn't the President." I missed out by never asking him to clarify what he meant. Thank you Dr. Koop for your efforts against Tobacco and against the spread of HIV.
Dr. Koop was a leader in confronting HIV/AIDS at a time when leadership was in short supply. May he rest in peace.
Our friend Michael Petrelis reports from the left coast that FOIA requests to both the FBI and DC's Metropolitan Police Department for their files on gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny have yielded nothing. He comments:
I find it beyond comprehension that the FBI contends it has no records whatsoever on Kameny, a proud gay activist who stood up to government homophobia countless times from the Cold War up to his death. Recently, I submitted new details to the FBI regarding Kameny's interactions with the agency and requested further searching.
We now have the MPD in the same company as the FBI, maintaining there's nothing of relevance in the archive. Either record-keeping at the FBI and MPD was incredibly shoddy regarding Kameny's public activism, or files have been misplaced or destroyed.
Do you really believe there are no surveillance records on Kameny?
It is indeed hard to believe that MPD and the FBI had no records on this gay rights pioneer.
(Photo: Frank Kameny delivers a letter to the White House in 1965. By Kay Tobin Lahusen, New York Public Library.)
The Ladder, the first lesbian magazine to be nationally distributed in the U.S., began publishing in 1956 and continued to be published through 1972. The ground-breaking monthly publication was founded by San Francisco lesbian activists Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, who also founded the nation’s first lesbian-activist group, the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB). The Ladder, which was distributed to hundreds of women in a plain brown wrapper, was the primary publication for DOB and was also a means of communication among closeted lesbians.
Philadelphia lesbian activist Barbara Gittings and Naiad Press publisher and co-founder Barbara Grier also worked as editors of The Ladder subsequent to Martin and Lyon. Grier also wrote for the publication under the pseudonym Gene Damon.
Now The Ladder is making history again. The original issue is currently on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s American History Museum. The Ladder is part of the Smithsonian’s American Stories exhibit.
The Ladder came to be in the exhibit as part of the Kameny Papers Project and was part of [Frank] Kameny’s vast collection and archive of LGBT artifacts.
I have already posted the eloquent speech in the Commons by MP David Lammy in support of marriage equality. Here is Lawrence O'Donnell's tribute to him and observation on how far Britain has come since it put Oscar Wilde in the dock in 1895.
Our friend Dana Beyer, Executive Director of Gender Rights Maryland, has a lovely eulogy at HuffPost for D.C. activist, sexual freedom advocate, and GLAA member
Dan Massey, who passed away on January 28 at age 70.
Dan was a gentle and generous soul, and will be missed by the many people he helped and inspired. Our hearts go out in particular to Dan's wife and soulmate, GLAA Secretary Alison Gardner.
Update: A memorial gathering will be held for Dan on Saturday, February 23 at 1:30 pm at the Josephine Butler Center overlooking Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park at 2437 15th Street, NW.
DNA tests have confirmed that human remains found buried beneath an English car park are those of the country's King Richard III.
British scientists announced Monday they are convinced "beyond reasonable doubt" that a skeleton found during an archaeological dig in Leicester, central England, last August is that of the former king, who was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.
Mitochondrial DNA extracted from the bones was matched to Michael Ibsen, a Canadian cabinetmaker and direct descendant of Richard III's sister, Anne of York.
Experts say other evidence -- including battle wounds and signs of scoliosis, or curvature of the spine, found during the search and the more than four months of tests since support the DNA findings.
The skeleton was discovered buried among the remains of what was once the city's Greyfriars friary, but is now a council car park.
Now is the winter of our discontent
Grimly entomb'd 'neath asphalt in Leicester.
Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association invokes the history of laws against sodomy as he attacks President Obama's inaugural remarks upholding marriage equality and the gay rights movement. To summarize: (1) We've always been bigoted before, so why change now? (2) You're not born that way because, well because I say so. (3) For straight couples it's about love, nurturing, and commitment, but for you icky people, it's just sex, sex, sex, which gets me all hot and bothered.
As he re-entered the Capitol after his second inaugural ceremony, President Obama turned and paused to take one last look down the national Mall, filled with hundreds of thousands of fellow citizens who came to witness the quadrennial event that embodies our republic's tradition of peaceful transfers of power. There he stood, the most powerful man in the world, with guests milling past him as if he were another man in the crowd. A wonderfully human moment that reminds me why I like this guy.
In his second inaugural address, President Obama today included the great flashpoint of the gay rights movement in a memorable line summarizing the history of freedom struggles:
We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.
And that wasn't all. The very next passage includes marriage equality in a litany of rights that define what America stands for:
It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.