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New Film “Stonewall Uprising”: 3 Nights That Changed Everything

Police surround a Stonewall rioter, June, 1969. (Bettye Lane via First Run Features)

Steven Holden tells in today’s New York Times about a new documentary on the Stonewall Riots. It sounds like a must-see.

“The average homosexual, if there be such, is promiscuous. He is not interested in, nor capable of, a lasting relationship like that of a heterosexual marriage.”

So declared Mike Wallace in authoritative voice-of-God tones in “The Homosexuals,” a tawdry, sensationalist 1966 “CBS Reports,” excerpted in Kate Davis and David Heilbroner’s valuable film, “Stonewall Uprising.” Funny how yesterday’s conventional wisdom can become today’s embarrassment.

The most thorough documentary exploration of the three days of unrest beginning June 28, 1969, when patrons of the Stonewall Inn, a seedy Mafia-operated gay bar in Greenwich Village, turned on the police after a routine raid, “Stonewall Uprising” methodically ticks off the forms of oppression visited on gays and lesbians in the days before the gay rights movement.

Holden’s review itself is valuable reading until we get to see the film:

The cultural demonizing of gay men in public service films depicted them as at best, psychologically damaged and at worst, ruthless sexual predators. Lesbians were nearly invisible.

The same “CBS Reports” peddled the medical opinion, since discredited, that homosexuality was determined in the first three years of life. The movie has ominous vintage footage of electroshock aversion therapy being administered, accompanied by the suggestion that it might be a promising cure for what was widely regarded as a mental illness. The most unsettling historical tidbit concerns the treatment of homosexual patients at a mental hospital in Atascadero, Calif., where some were injected with a drug that simulated drowning, a process that one commentator describes as “chemical waterboarding.”

It’s easy today for LGBT people in the West to forget what Gay life was like back then—and what it’s still like now in large parts of the world, including Russia and its satellites, the Middle East, nearly all of Africa. Latin America is doing somewhat better, including parts of Mexico and Brazil, but progress is uneven; people still win elections in the United States by denouncing Gay people and denying us rights.

Holden tells us the film even quotes one of the cops:

Because so little photographic documentation exists of the unrest, the film relies mostly on eyewitnesses, including Seymour Pine, the now-retired police officer who led the initial raid of six officers and who describes it as “a real war.”

The details of the raid are reconstructed by several who were present, including Howard Smith and Lucian Truscott IV, journalists for The Village Voice whose offices were nearby. The film focuses on the first night of the unrest.

As one rioter remembers: “All of a sudden the police faced something they had never seen before. Gay people were never supposed to be threats to police officers. They were supposed to be weak men, limp-wristed, not able to do anything. And here they were lifting things up and fighting them and attacking them and beating them.” It was the first stirring of what came to be known as gay pride.

“This was the Rosa Parks moment, the time that gay people stood up and said no,” Mr. Truscott recalls. “And once that happened, the whole house of cards that was the system of oppression of gay people started to crumble.”


Opens on Wednesday in Manhattan at the Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, west of Avenue of the Americas, West Village.

I’ve written before about the “dueling stereotypes” of Gay men as limp-wristed sissies who somehow manage simultaneously to be dangerous predators; Jamie gives Kent a tart little speech about it in “Murder at Willow Slough.”

You can hear the same lies told about us in the debate on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. For heaven’s sake, Straight men have been sharing bathrooms and showers with us since the beginning of time! There’s no need to build a new barracks, or run a huge expensive poll of 800,000 soldiers, or wait until the freaking Pentagon learns to obey an order for once.

Bill Clinton should never have caved. When the Joint Chiefs of Staff threatened to quit (and yes, they certainly did) he should have fired them until he found a general who understands that civilians control this military and not the other way around.

I will never support a Clinton and this is why. I didn’t vote for Bill Clinton in 1996 and I certainly did not vote for his pandering missus in 2008.

My late lover Jack was a Vietnam veteran. I was once at a Gay Pride dinner in Dayton, Ohio where military issues were the topic of the year; the speaker asked, “How many of you served in the military?” Half the room raised their hands, including a lot of women!

But it all started in 1969, outside a seedy joint in Sheridan Square, when the limp-wristed predators finally fought back.

They changed my life, they changed yours, and those rioters are our patron saints worldwide. Maybe someday their descendants will riot in Russia, Uganda and Zimbabwe. No one gives you rights, you have to take them.++

Obama & Warren: Way Too Cute


I’ve found myself since Friday posting a lot of comments on newspapers’ websites concerning the incoming President’s selection of Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inaugural.

I’ve used phrases like “megachurch huckster,” so you know where I’m coming from. I’ve also posted my displeasure on Obama’s “transition” website, change.gov.

This is not just an accidental mistake on Obama’s part, but deliberate strategy: “evangelical” votes are more important than Gay ones. Here’s how The New York Times put it:

Mr. Obama’s forceful defense of Mr. Warren, the author of “The Purpose Driven Life,” has signaled an intent to continue his campaign’s effort to woo even theologically conservative Christians. As his advisers field scores of calls from Democrats angry because Mr. Warren is an outspoken opponent of abortion and same-sex marriage, Mr. Obama has insisted that a range of viewpoints be expressed at the inauguration festivities next month in Washington.

Today Warren’s gone on a charm offensive, visiting a Gay-run thrift shop in West Hollywood and being photographed with his arm around one of the inmates at the zoo—you know, one of those Gay ones.

I’m not buying a minute of it. This means you too, Melissa Etheridge, who wrote a pro-Warren piece of fluff on The Huffington Post.

Part of Warren’s defense is that he does so much about AIDS in Africa, as if that helps even one person with AIDS in the United States.

It’s easy to pick “AIDS in Africa” as your charity; it’s a Straight person’s disease there, and it’s been woefully mismanaged by Straight people running the governments. Africans need the help. Most can’t afford the pricy drugs Westerners get.

So yes, it’s a good thing to work on AIDS in Africa—but it’s not the same thing as working on AIDS in your own community. Does Warren think Orange County, California, where his megachurch is located, doesn’t have an AIDS problem? That he has to go slumming?

His congregation can always go next door to Los Angeles County, where there’s a great big huge AIDS problem, especially among Blacks and Hispanics as well as Gay men. But I guess they don’t want to get their hands dirty; they think they can buy off their responsibility by sending money to a distant place.

I once criticized a Gay motorcycle club in Columbus, Ohio for making its big holiday project Toys for AIDS Babies. Babies are the easy choice too; who doesn’t have sympathy for them? Meanwhile Gay men with AIDS were sick, lonely, suffering and shunned. So I let the club have it.

They were quite offended. I didn’t give a damn. Anyone—a frigging PTA or garden club—could raise money for sick babies at Children’s Hospital; Gay people ought to take care of their own.

It’s not a question of doing a “good” thing, but of doing the right thing; doing the best thing. And that’s where Obama’s screwed up royally by inviting an anti-Gay bigot like Warren to give the nation’s prayer at the dawning of the new civil rights era.

Facing criticism of his choice, Obama says he’ll be a “fierce defender” of LGBT rights—though, of course, he still expects us to pay more taxes to subsidize people who are legally married.

I don’t believe him. We’ve just heard the first lie right out of his own mouth.

People who are married get tax breaks from the city, county, state and federal governments. Not married? You pay more.

Stay-at-home mom? No Social Security for you, honey, no matter how much your partner pours into the system. Barack Obama thinks that’s just fine.

“Kept boy,” partnered with a rich lawyer while you study or work on your art? You better hope he doesn’t get sick, because without him you might end up with nothing. Obama says that’s good too. He and Warren agree, no marriage for Gay people. They want to keep the tax breaks for themselves!

I worked my ass off to elect this man; I was the county coordinator. Our efforts made a difference in one of the most closely contested states. Obama got a 4% higher vote total in my county than the two nearest comparables. I told my team we wouldn’t win this county, but every vote mattered, because voting is done by states, not individuals. Obama carried my state with its 11 Electoral College votes by 26,000 ballots, 50%-49%. A full 10% of his winning margin came from my county, 2600 votes, a record turnout for local Democrats.

We did it by making it safe to vote for the Black man. This place is 99.8% White, and Republicans were saying he was Muslim, or the anti-Christ, or there’d be a race war if he won—every scare tactic they could think of.

So what’s my reward? Rick Warren to give the nation’s prayer. Rick Warren, who says if you let Gay people get married, pretty soon you get incest and child molesting.

That son of a bitch. And I don’t mean Warren, I mean Obama.

He isn’t even in office yet, but I’m done with him.

I’m proud I helped elect the first African-American president. But do I believe in him? No. As far as I’m concerned, the picture on the top of this post is identical to the one on the bottom.


The Green Church


Solar panel at St. Anselm’s, Lafayette, California is just one of the Episcopal Church’s responses to global warming and the energy crisis. We are quietly refitting our buildings all over the country, from cathedrals and seminaries to high schools and church camps. Now it’s time to be less quiet about it.

The Episcopal Church needs to radically reposition itself to help 21st century people with the death-defying 21st century problems we now face, as well as the vexing quandaries that are perennial to human existence.

We are becoming the Green Church. Environmentally friendly. Cutting our carbon emissions in dramatic and meaningful ways. We are the leaders in this, because our unique history and ethos help us understand a little better than the competition that human beings are just not allowed to mess up God’s Creation.

While other churches are still screaming about evolution and the sanctity of marriage and all the other Falwell leftovers, Barack Obama just swept the White House. I bet he carried Episcopal “precincts” 3-1.

There are no such exit polls, of course; the media are only interested in “evangelicals,” Catholics, Jews, familiar racial and gender groups—not the views of mainstream Protestants. I haven’t heard of any Muslim or Hindu exit polls either.

Episcopalians have been moving the Green way for 30 years now. We didn’t just catch the Obama wave, although most of us probably welcomed it.

Further, although we’ve got much in common with other mainstream Protestants, we’ve been working through human rights and ecological issues for long enough that we’re able to do some real teaching and sharing on them now. I think of Eugene Sutton, the Episcopal Bishop of Maryland, who’s not only Black, he’s Green.

Episcopalians have slowly been working through the racial divide that was sadly in evidence in this presidential campaign, and we’ve come to consensus on it. We still have work to do and we always will have; but there’s no racial controversy anymore. The most overt racists walked out on us in protest 30 years ago.

The same is true of women’s issues, and it’s increasingly clear that we’ve done the same with LGBT issues; we’re not done yet, but we’re ready to move, while other mainstream Protestant denominations have lagged behind watching what Episcopalians do, because they’re even more afraid than we are.

The other day the Episcopal Diocese of Quincy, Illinois decided to secede from the rest of us because we’re too liberal for them on Gay people. I doubt anyone outside Quincy said a word about it at church on Sunday.

We know we still have anti-LGBT folks in our churches, but they’re opting out now, leaving the rest of us to keep doing what we’re getting halfway good at, learning to really welcome human diversity and celebrate our commonalities.

Church politics, which has garnered a lot of publicity the past few years, is now just background noise. They’re here, they’re queer, we’re used to it — heck, we’re over it! Meanwhile we have real issues with how we treat this earth and whether God’s Creation can survive humans’ ignorant and greedy self-destruction.

Yesterday in The New York Times there was a blogpost about an open letter sent to Obama by two well-known ecology professors at Stanford, Paul and Anne Ehrlich. (Read it all here.) I don’t necessarily endorse their predictions or prescriptions (one about Afghanistan really got to me as presumptuous, as if they’re experts on war strategy), but I found their questions fascinating.

I also felt like many are the exact same things we wrestle with every day in church. That may surprise you, but see for yourself.

The Ehrlichs’ Prescriptions (edited by me)

1) Put births on a par with deaths. …As been done in many family planning programs, the happy family should be promoted as one that limits its numbers. But the change should be in the motivation. Traditionally the small family was supposed to supply a higher standard of living — including more stuff for each individual. The new approach could be to promote it as a multi-generational unit that in each generation limits its size in order to maximize the chances of each following generations’ retaining a happy, sustainable life style.

To move in that direction, humanity must rapidly expand programs to educate and give job opportunities to women, make effective contraception universally available, and develop public support of population policies.

2) Put conserving on a par with consuming. At any given level of technology, there is a trade-off between how many people can be born into a society and the level of per capita physical affluence that can be sustainably supported. The more people there are, the smaller each one’s share of the pie. One way of dealing with this trade-off would be a cultural shift away from creating ever more gadgets to creating more appreciation and better stewardship for Earth’s aesthetic assets.

3) Transform the consumption of education. (snip)


5) Rapidly expand our empathy. We’re a small-group animal, trying to live in large groups…. People are gradually gaining more empathy toward those others distant from us in skin color, gender, religion, class, culture or physical space, but our ability to inflict harm on them has also increased. Cultural evolution is not rapidly enough reducing this discounting by distance (caring less about situations the further away they are). The same can be said about discounting by time — not caring enough about the world we will leave to our children and our descendants in the more distant future.

6) Decide what kind of world we all want. What are the ultimate goals of our lives? Are Americans really happier traveling to work an hour or more each day wrapped in a few tons of steel and breathing smog that threatens their lives?

7) Determine the institutions and arrangements best suited to govern a planetary society with a maximum of freedom within the constraints of sustainability. …In the 200,000-year history of Homo sapiens, states are a recent invention, existing for only a tiny fraction of our existence. In their modern form as nation states, they are only a little more than 200 years old. We need to look closely at possible alternatives that could combine greater awareness of the problems of living at a global scale while regaining family-style psychological comfort. More cooperation at a global level is clearly necessary for civilization’s long-term survival.

In the Episcopal Church we talk a lot about human rights, consumerism, peace and justice issues, and the ultimate goals of our lives. As Christians we believe we’ve got some real clues about them. All of these questions have religious and ethical aspects, and we deeply believe that the Biblical record speaks with remarkable clarity today on timeless issues which people have always faced. No, the Bible never says, “All churches should now switch to compact fluorescent bulbs and decrease their carbon footprints.” But it does say, “The earth is the Lord’s” (and you better not screw it up).

Because we don’t read Scriptures with literalistic or legalistic lenses as other Churches do, the Bible opens up a vast treasure trove of ancient holy wisdom to apply to new discoveries. And we’ve simply been applying it a little better and a little more widely than anyone else, because we’re no longer wasting our time over whether it is moral to distribute condoms for AIDS prevention. We don’t have a foreign dictator to keep happy till he’s 90, and we’re not busy building our megachurch supermall/media empire.

The Episcopal Church is not the Mensa Society, but we do attract highly-educated, involved people actively finding ways to live more simply, more generously, in harmony with each other and the universe, and the Holy Spirit whom we believe hums through every human body, every rock and rill.

It’s time we shared these resources much more widely.

Let us engage our theologians and artists and marine biologists and economists and businesspeople and soldiers and teachers to develop Christian ways of life in this century.

And yes, let’s find a marketing hook the general public can actually understand, and keep repeating it till it becomes familiar: the Green Church.

Tom Friedman has some interesting things to add in an interview with the Huffington Post about the massive international effort going Green will take human society, as opposed to environmentalism as a fad. I don’t want the Episcopal Church to “jump on the Green bandwagon”; I’m saying we are early adopters, and that Christians should be among the earliest leaders precisely because we bring some views that secular economists and engineers and entrepreneurs don’t necessarily share. We help connect the newest technology to the oldest human aspirations.

Take my next-door neighbor Tony, a machine operator who breaks big rocks into little rocks for a living. He’s just as concerned about the air his daughters breathe as a bunch of Starbucks Episkies are. He voted for Obama too. I guarantee Tony worries about what happens when the oil dries up and the price of heat goes through the roof and the Chinese add a new coal plant every week and Antarctica melts and the world economy collapses.

What he doesn’t know is what to do about it besides voting—how to alter the human attitudes, power structures and frank desire for sin that keep us on this destructive course we’re on.

No, we’ll never substitute “politics” for Jesus Christ, much less Barack Obama. We need sacraments and Creeds, community and prayer to keep us from jumping off the nearest bridge, much less opening a door to real spirituality. But consider this equation:

S=W²DW³G (∞)

“Stewardship is what we do with what we’ve got, all the time.”

I can understand it, so can Tony, and it came right from an Episcopal Church.

We are sitting on a 2000-year inheritance earning compound interest every day. Our magnificent storehouse of resources makes Wall Street in its heyday look dingy and drab. Conservative rejections and defections have made us keep our doors shut for a long time, wondering why no one comes to our fabulous feast.

Now Episcopalians are learning to share, to speak out, to invite, to organize from the grassroots up, and it’s time we opened the big green doors of God’s mansion and invited everyone in.++

Analyzing the Indiana Primary by County


Sign I taped to my car window; it’s a PDF, so feel free to download it and print it out.

As a Hoosier I find it fascinating to look at the Indiana results county by county, knowing this state much better than the talking heads on TV. I suppose they were reasonably well-prepared, but the best advice to tourists is still “Eat where the locals eat.” Dan Abrams on MSNBC particularly annoyed me; he should have been glad viewers had a reason to stay up and watch him.

No one in Indiana was surprised when Lake County waited till midnight to report. They always want to be the kingmakers to prove how important their non-Hoosier county is, so they always wait; the mayors hold back their results till they know what all the other cities have—in case they need to find 300 more votes for their candidate. The longtime mayor of East Chicago finally got ousted for bribing voters in a concrete-pouring scandal; new sidewalks and driveways for supporters, nothing for homeowners who wouldn’t trade their votes. Even the Catholic Church went along and got a new parking lot out of it. Lake County is all about bribes and corruption, which is why it isn’t Hoosier at all.

Still, Lake is only 26% Black, yet Obama carried 57% of the vote; that’s some White people! So what if they’re in Chicago’s media market? They like the guy.

Clinton won the White rural vote downstate. She was seen as the conservative candidate. The difference in her margin in the rural counties shows a geographic split; 60-40 in the north (2-1 in my home county of Newton, one south of Lake) and up to 75-25 in southern Indiana. I suspect some of that southern support has a racist tinge, as the Clintons repeatedly played the race card. (Maybe that’s true in northern rural counties too, but I hope not.)

Obama won the cities by amazing margins: Indianapolis better than 2-1. He got a lot of White votes in Marion County, which is only 26% Black. He also picked up two collar counties, Boone narrowly and rich, White, fast-growing Hamilton County 61-39. That Hamilton result stunned every Democrat in the state.

Obama won Fort Wayne, the second largest city, with 56%; it’s a mostly-White city, only 12% Black, with a Republican mayor. Doesn’t fit the pundits’ profile; Obama in a landslide.

He dominated the big college towns (Purdue and Indiana) in Tippecanoe and Monroe; that’s the youth and faculty vote joining the townies. He won South Bend, with a much smaller university (Notre Dame) and a large industrial base. He won neighboring Elkhart County, which is industrial and agricultural; Elkhart County has $121 million in assessed ag value, ranking #2 in the state.

Down south he won Switzerland County, which is 99% White, 3-1, while next-door neighbor Ohio County (98% White) went 4-1 for Clinton. I don’t know anyone with an explanation for that—unless some great volunteers in Switzerland County made the difference.

Obama won rural Steuben County (98% White, Angola’s the county seat) in the northeast corner 56-44, another anomaly. Yay, Steuben and Switz!

Thus world-famous Hillary Clinton won backward Indiana by 11,000 votes out of 1.26 million cast, a week after Barack Obama hit rock bottom. Not an impressive showing for the kitchen-sink strategy of the Gentlewoman from Arkansas and New York.

You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time; but you can’t fool Hoosiers. The next President of the United States is Barack Obama.++