A chronicle of a grim time.
In February of this year, Chris Geidner at BuzzFeed reported on documents unearthed by Mattachine Society of Washington researchers showing that Nancy Reagan turned down a request by her friend Rock Hudson for help nine weeks before his death. It was a simple request for help in transferring to another hospital.
Just saw this. Fine film. All too timely.
Sondheim, Spielberg, Streisand were among this year's honorees. It was good to see William Ruckelshaus honored; he resigned as Deputy Attorney General rather than obey President Nixon's order to fire the Watergate Special Prosecutor, on Saturday, October 20, 1973. Attorney General Elliot Richardson had resigned before him. That was called the Saturday Night Massacre, and was the beginning of the end for Nixon. Among many other posts, Ruckelshaus also helmed the Environmental Protection Agency. Yesterday's honor was a reminder of a time when public servants could put their country before their party.
Former DC Mayor Marion Barry's hagiographers were at it again yesterday on the anniversary of his death, and I am calling them on their bullshit.
When Marion was still with us I always maintained cordial dealings with him, because he was still an elected official. No good would have been served by burning that bridge, though he himself burned many. But that is behind us. We are strong enough, all of us, to confront the truth.
Marion was a smart and politically gifted man. But his utter lack of personal discipline brought discredit to the District and gave comfort to those bent on denying us self-determination. He saddled us with the Financial Control Board. He made racist statements about Asian shop owners. He so abused earmarks to reward his friends that the Council abolished them. He was the most piggish womanizer. He led an anti-gay chant at a rally organized by Bishop Harry Jackson. Just 28 months ago, this was the headline: "Marion Barry Fined And Censured By D.C.'s Ethics Board Over Gifts From Contractors."
He set himself up for a fourth "comeback" term as mayor by running against his most loyal ally on the Council, Mrs. Rolark. After his years as Ward 8 councilmember, it remains the poorest ward; but not a tiny shred of that is ever put on him by his hagiographers. That was his way--treating every bit of every failure as entirely other people's fault. If that is true, what did he keep running for? He used people.
He has been gone a year. Yet some people cling to fantasy nonsense about his greatness, largely based on things he did in the late 1970s and early 1980s and refusing to confront how he went off the rails. The denial is pathological. The pandering by others is pathetic. It is time to stop this nonsense. Marion did some good things. But the Mayor-for-Life glorification requires a highly selective memory. Who is helped by this? Nobody, certainly not his troubled son who was exploited by people who wanted to create a Barry dynasty. It is time to move on for the sake of all of the city, including and especially its most downtrodden.
Here are the remarks I delivered this morning at the dedication of Frank Kameny's headstone, which is near the grave of Leonard Matlovich in Congressional Cemetery, as part of an LGBT Veterans Day observance. It began at 11 am.
[Impromptu preface: Good morning. I prayed to the Goddess for sunshine. I think she smiled on my request because last night the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance signed on to the NARAL letter asking the Justice Department to investigate the clinic bombings as acts of domestic terrorism. So thanks for the sunshine.]
Frank Kameny considered nothing sacred. Challenging orthodoxy was his life's work. Yet we stand on what many consider sacred ground. There is no great conflict. Honoring the dead can simply involve recognizing that our every step touches the stuff of those who preceded us. Frank confronted the mystery of the universe with the tools and habits of a scientist, which stood him in good stead after intolerance cut short his career as an astronomer.
His biographer David Carter will shortly remind us of Frank’s exhortations to embrace and celebrate who we are and demand our full and equal rights as citizens.
We will touch with pride the headstone to which Frank was entitled as a veteran. He resented having to lie to fight for his country in World War II. But thanks to his long and pioneering service on the domestic front afterwards, no one has to tell that lie again. His historic role is suggested by the footstone bearing the affirmation for which he wanted to be remembered: "Gay Is Good."
The magnitude of Frank's contributions compelled some of us to help preserve his papers in our great national library whose collection was begun by the man who wrote the most liberating words in history, that all men are created equal. Our long struggle to make our country live up to that creed is ongoing. A new generation has taken up the standard that Leonard and Frank and countless others left behind.
My first visit here was in 1988 for Leonard’s burial, after my colleagues and I in the Gay Men’s Chorus sang for him and followed his caisson. We knew Leonard from his volunteer work for the chorus. Frank spoke here that day. Whether these warriors are honored in polished granite or a simple soldier’s headstone, their service will shine for all who pass here.
After Frank’s death, Charles Francis and I revived the Mattachine Society of Washington, which Frank had allowed to lapse. The new Mattachine’s mission is archive activism. It works to rescue the LGBT history that mainstream historians erased. The legacy of Frank and our other forebears will not be forgotten. We and generations unborn will make sure of it.
The legal dispute that made these past four years such a long goodbye has finally been resolved in time for Armistice Day. Now, Frank, the respect you earned is memorialized by the nation for whose values you fought. We commit you to the ages.
New details surface in 1992 murder of gay sailor https://t.co/jpyCnrQhZ5— Washington Blade (@WashBlade) November 10, 2015
Thanks to Michael Petrelis for his faithful work on this 23-year-old case in pursuit of justice. He just called me from San Francisco to thank GLAA for our moral and financial support of his early efforts back then. I remember he traveled to where the murder occurred in Japan. (Note: the second paragraph includes a link to the 900-page Naval investigative report.)
This year’s LGBT Veterans Day observance has extra meaning as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Frank Kameny and Leonard Matlovich starting the formal fight against the ban on gays in the military. A Veterans Administration memorial for Frank, a WWII combat veteran, will be dedicated.
Participants include Gordon O. Tanner, General Counsel of the U.S. Department of the Air Force; Joe Zuniga, who had been the Sixth Army Soldier of the Year before outing himself in 1993 to fight the ban; and Stonewall author David Carter who is writing a biography of Frank. Music will be provided by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington. Paul Kuntzler, who was a member of the Mattachine Society of Washington with Frank in the 1960s before co-founding GLAA (then GAA) in 1971, will speak, as will I.
The event is free and open to the public. It is set for 11 am on Wednesday, November 11 at the Matlovich gravesite in Congressional Cemetery, 1801 E Street SE near the Potomac Avenue Metro Station. Please join us.
It will be a relief finally to have Frank's memorial in place after nearly four years of gratuitous legal wrangling. It is in what has become informally known as a gay neighborhood in the cemetery, not only adjacent to the Matlovich grave but near the graves of other gay veterans as well as those of the notoriously homophobic former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and his longtime companion Clyde Tolson.
A transgender friend alerted me last night to the Change.org petition. Here is my short comment:
No. Over thousands of LGBT activists' dead bodies will this exclusion ever happen. For us to buy the "male predators in dresses" slander, or allow it to stand, would be like the turkey inviting the cook to lunch. As Ben Franklin said, "Let us hang together, for surely we will hang separately."
Regarding Stonewall, I recommend the book Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution by David Carter.
The odds may be against you. Fear not.
Somehow, the continued lack of a memorial for our late colleague and gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny is portrayed as the fault of anyone and everyone other than the estate, which sued several people (myself included) who worked pro bono to help Frank in his final years. After I won my case, I ended my involvement in the matter. There could have been a wonderful memorial for Frank in Congressional Cemetery.
Here are the remarks I prepared in early 2012 for what was to have been the interment of Frank's ashes at Congressional Cemetery. When that fell through, I gave the remarks at GLAA's anniversary reception in April of that year.
I am grateful to have participated with Charles Francis and Bob Witeck in the Kameny Papers Project that helped preserved Frank's papers at the Library of Congress, and several of his 1965 White House picket signs at the Smithsonian. I am also honored to have helped Charles relaunch the Mattachine Society of Washington as an archive activism project, which has uncovered invaluable historical records with the help of Mattachine's pro bono legal counsel, McDermott Will & Emery. Those documents led to the creation of amicus briefs in recent marriage equality cases, and the 30-minute documentary Uniquely Nasty: The U.S. Government's War on Gays.
Meanwhile, if the Kameny Estate recognizes the importance of having a memorial for Frank, it can decide to have a moment of grace, stop blaming, and start cooperating to make it happen. I am very sad that the memorial site at Congressional has not happened. I content myself with the preservation of Frank's papers and artifacts for current and future scholars.
Randy Shulman's blistering review of Stonewall. Below, Brian T. Carney's review for the Blade.
Schlocky 'Stonewall' misses the point http://t.co/MNFXas4l8Z— Washington Blade (@WashBlade) September 24, 2015
Gay theology pioneer Fr. John McNeill has died. New Ways Ministry reports:
New Ways Ministry is greatly saddened at learning of the passing of John McNeill, the first Catholic theologian to critique and challenge the magisterium’s condemnation of same-gender sexual relationships. At the same time, we are deeply grateful to God for the courageous witness and ministry of this prophet, who never lost his faith or his courage despite being severely penalized and ostracized by the Vatican.
John McNeill’s landmark 1976 book, The Church and the Homosexual, was the first Catholic theological work to dispute the official Catholic moral prohibition of same-gender sexual activity and relationships. A Jesuit priest at the time, McNeill was also a licensed psychotherapist who also held a doctorate in theology. IN the book, he used arguments from both the human sciences and the Catholic scholarly tradition to point out that the prohibition was pastorally harmful and theologically incorrect.
Rest in peace, Fr. McNeill.
52 years ago today, racist murderers committed an act of domestic terror in Birmingham. (Warning: this powerful recreation by Ava DuVernay from "Selma" is shocking and heartbreaking. It is also a sacred act of remembrance. It begins with MLK's Nobel ceremony 15 months later in Oslo.) Here is to the four little girls.
The Advocate reports:
A new clip of the Stonewall film has been released, and it features a pioneer of the LGBT rights movement.
The video introduces the viewer to Marsha P. Johnson (The P stands for 'Pay It No Mind'!), who is known as one of the first LGBT activists to fight back during the Stonewall riots. She and her friend Sylvia Rivera were prominent activists in New York who fought for gay liberation and rights for transgender women.
Previously, the trailer for the film, directed by Roland Emmerich, has been criticized for eclipsing the role of trans activists and people of color in its depiction of one of the most famous moments in LGBT history. The Stonewall riots, a series of 1969 demonstrations against police in Greenwich Village, are considered the birth of the modern LGBT rights movement.
On this anniversary, I highlight one of the most decent people in Washington, a civil rights attorney who is the first Muslim elected to Congress. Thank you, Rep. Keith Ellison, for holding our country to its values and standing up to bullies like Peter King.
In April 2013, I had the honor of introducing Rep. Ellison as keynote speaker at the Bill of Rights Dinner of ACLU of the Nation's Capital.
On Wednesday at the Cato Institute I attended a fascinating and funny lecture by British author David Starkey on his book Magna Carta: The Medieval Roots of Modern Politics. Following him were comments by Jonah Goldberg of National Review. The moderator was Cato Senior Policy Analyst Marian L. Tupy. Cato offered this description:
The Magna Carta was a milestone that circumscribed the power of the sovereign for the first time in human history. In his new book, distinguished British historian and television personality David Starkey looks at the origins of the Great Charter in the 13th century, its significant early revisions, and the ways in which it has been interpreted and reinterpreted by subsequent generations. Starkey explains how core principles of this quintessentially English document migrated to the North American colonies and eventually became the cornerstone of the U.S. Constitution.
Near the end of the video I ask a question of Jonah Goldberg.
The breathtaking mendacity of a war criminal. (Compilation by the White House.)
The horror of racist violence is never more present than when you look at the posthumous photo of Emmett Till, who was murdered 60 years ago at age 14 for allegedly whistling at a white woman. The photo is easy to find online, but I will not inflict it on you. Once seen, it can never be unseen. We only have it because his mother Mamie bravely ordered an open casket and said, "I want them to see what they did to my son." Three months later, Rosa Parks was arrested on a municipal bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and the discipline and determination shown by African Americans in resistance to injustice changed the nation. A new generation is stepping up to contend with the fact that hatred and the violence it fosters continues to plague us.
Jindal writes letter to Obama telling him not to talk about climate during Katrina anniversary visit http://t.co/d8tQ0IzJjo— Climate Progress (@climateprogress) August 27, 2015
A friend writes on Facebook:
I would make sure I said "climate change" and pointed out how Republicans are doing absolute zilch to deal with it as many times as I could to spite the ignorant dumbshit.
In my Blade column this week, artists and activists overcome the background noise:
Hyenas would be better conversationalists, I sometimes think as I scan political arguments on social media. This is not unlike a Republican presidential debate, where a Bad Lip Reading parody is just as enlightening as the original.
When former president Jimmy Carter spoke candidly and with good humor last week about his cancer, millions were inspired by his serenity, humility, and grace. But the next day, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz attacked him. When I said on Facebook that I recently read Carter's 2006 book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid and found it fair and reasonable, I was met with scorn by someone who had not read it.
This reckless speed is all too common in public forums. So let us look at a few examples of activists and artists rising above the din of the keyboard warriors to propose useful reforms or tell their stories in ways that help us see differently.
After weeks of squabbles by various people over direct-action tactics in the Black Lives Matter movement, policy solutions were issued by activists DeRay Mckesson, Johnetta Elzie, Brittany Packnett, and Samuel Sinyangwe. The effort, called Campaign Zero, is described as a "comprehensive platform to create systems and structures to end police violence." Their detailed plans (see joincampaignzero.org) are informed proposals by practical public policy advocates, notwithstanding sniping and trivializing like that of a self-described anarchist I encountered on Twitter.
The #CampaignZero planning team writes, "Police in England, Germany, Australia, Japan, and even cities like Newark, NJ, and Richmond, CA, demonstrate that public safety can be ensured without killing civilians. By implementing the right policy changes, we can end police killings and other forms of police violence in the United States."
#CampaignZero #StraightOuttaCompton #BlackLivesMatter #HugoAwards
I cannot improve on these Facebook comments by our friend Ernest Hopkins:
A giant in the Civil Rights Movement and U.S. history is gone. Mrs. Boynton Robinson's contributions were critical and immeasurable. Job very well done. R.I.P.
Islamic State blows up ancient temple at Syria’s Palmyra ruins http://t.co/iQedeovB8B— New York Times World (@nytimesworld) August 24, 2015
These barbarians need to be exterminated before they destroy every intiquity in the Mideast. Astonishing that anyone is willing to embrace any faith or worship any God that demands of them such atrocities.
Our friend Jon Rauch summarizes the history of the modern Republican Party in one sentence: "Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller got into an argument and George Wallace won." His elaboration (click on the link) ends with this:
Conservatism is wary of extremism and rage and anti-intellectualism, of demagoguery and incoherent revolutionary rhetoric. Wallace was a right-wing populist, not a conservative. The rise of his brand of pseudo-conservatism in Republican circles should alarm anyone who cares about the genuine article.
Rauch wrote this in 2010, but it could not be more true today.
Julian Bond was a leader for whom intersectionality wasn't a buzzword, but a principle at the core of his being. http://t.co/4M6NW3oaUu— PFAW (@peoplefor) August 17, 2015
The one time I met Julian Bond was a few years ago at the 90th birthday party for Norman Lear held by People for the American Way. Above, PFAW President Michael Keegan pays tribute to the civil rights leader.
(Hat tip: Craig Howell)
Part of the controversy over the new Roland Emmerich film about the Stonewall riots, of which we have only seen the trailer, is bound up in ongoing battles over historical revisionism and the substitution of favored myths for evidence. For those interested in what really happened, I recommend David Carter's Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution.
My Blade column this week looks at Keith Hamilton Cobb's tour de force performance in his all-too-timely play, American Moor, now showing at Washington's Anacostia Playhouse:
The lively arts can give us fresh eyes when they beguile us into identification with other people and places. In the body and voice of a living performer, a long-vanished composer or playwright can provoke a flash of recognition. Such moments can bind us together more than political arguments could do. Yet their transformative power flies on delicate wings. It requires collaboration and vision and receptivity and mutual challenge. Our impulse to connect can be thwarted in a hundred ways.
The urge to come together despite difference is brought powerfully and movingly to life in the play American Moor, written and performed by Keith Hamilton Cobb, at Anacostia Playhouse through August 16. The situation is an actor's audition. His agent used to tell him, "You're an actor. You can do anything!" But people didn't buy him as 'anything,' only as one thing. He is invisible, as Ralph Ellison wrote, because people refuse to see him. So the tall black thespian, with unrealized visions of Hamlet, Prince Hal, and Romeo dancing in his head, tries out for Othello.
While waiting, he recalls his student days when he recited Titania's "forgeries of jealousy" speech from A Midsummer Night's Dream. His skeptical teacher asks why he chose Titania. "I like what she says," he answers. "The Faerie Queen?" the teacher mocks. "Yeah, sure." Decades later, his intoxication with Shakespeare still inspires him to climb into selves unlike his own. He channels Desdemona's thoughts of Othello: "For the fact that such as you so much as breathes I am jubilant. I feel you deeply, great and lovely thing, in my heart, and in my throat, and in my belly."
Ironically, the actor himself is caught in a mistaken identity, like an unarmed black man stopped by police on a false suspicion. The young white director's privilege blinds him to the possibility that the tall black actor might understand the tall black character better than he. The actor confronts him: "It will not grace my cause, nor Othello's cause, the play's cause, the American theatre's cause, to pretend that I don't know that you are frightened of me. You are afraid of me. I am afraid that nothing will ever change. And these are the forgeries of jealousy."