Monday, June 27, 2011

History Gives Context

Students in the American school system learn about historical figures such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.   In Florida, schools must teach about the Holocaust.  And there is no dearth of lesson plans about the Revolutionary War, and the Civil War.  

People of faith, particularly in the mainline denominations of Christianity, are always being brought into contact with the text that help to shape their beliefs about God, Christ, and Spirit.  Celebrations of the Eucharist, and the major religious holidays with their traditional hymns and scripture lessons serve as a way to re-member ourselves to the Holy One.

History gives one a sense of a past which has brought us to the present moment and guides us to the future.

This is why it is so important for queer people to learn their history, much of which has been hidden from them because it was not deemed important enough to talk about (yet another way to marginalize us). 

I'm often very surprised to meet people, gay and non-gay, who don't know what I mean when I talk about "Stonewall".   Can you believe there is ANYBODY who hasn't heard the story of the June '69 riots that rocked the Village in New York when the trannies and other patrons at the Stonewall Inn bar fought back against yet-another police raid of their local mafia-owned watering hole?

Young queers here in Florida probably aren't aware of the McCarthy-esque witch hunts led by State Sen. Charlie Johns of Starke from 1956-1965.  Johns chaired the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee which targeted gay men and lesbians in state government and public schools and the universities.  More than 100 employees and students had their lives destroyed by the committee's work which mercifully came to an end with a power shift in the state legislature... and the publication of the "racy" purple pamphlet.  The pamphlet was meant to cause shock and awe with many photos of men kissing each other in half-naked poses.  Instead it caused revulsion and anger that taxpayers money was being used to publish such "filth."

These are some of the saints and martyrs that fed the spirit of Pride celebrations in the years.  Knowing the events, and even names, of those who have gone before is very important.  Hearing about the struggles that plagued the LGBT community, from the Anita Bryant Save Our Children crusade against human rights for LGBT people to the current day struggles of marriage rights gives hope to those who without a history may think their issues are new.  They aren't.  Many have come and gone and died and loved to get us to Friday night's momentous occasion in New York.   Just knowing that there were people hugging and kissing and celebrating on Christopher Street in front of the Stonewall Inn after the marriage equality vote gives me goose bumps. 

From the documentary, "Screaming Queens" about a riot in 1966 in California at the Compton Cafeteria
A part of me wonders if queers shouldn't write their own Queer Passover Haggadah, replete with retelling the stories of Stonewall, Harvey Milk, the Reagan years and the AIDS quilt, the Marches, and the plagues of state referendums... and the deliverance by state and church law in some places.  We could make June 27th the first night of our Queer Passover, with the youngest at the table posing the question of how this night is different than any other night as we recount the bravery of the Stonewall patrons in New York City. 

Knowing that we are part of a larger story helps to make our contribution to that story feel stronger and more vibrant.  That was the take home message I got this month when former Faustkateer and ACT UP Tallahassee activist Rob Nixon came to town for a photo exhibit and discussion about the early days of Pride Week in Tallahassee.   To see the pictures from that first Pride celebration on the steps of the old State Capitol building and to talk about the film festival that was once held at the public library reminded me of where we were when we had fewer gray hairs and how far we've come.   

It gets better.... if you know the history and can see how much the world has changed. 



Anonymous said...

Great piece, Susan and thanks again for the history lesson. I had to be reminded of much of it myself.


Anna said...

Hi, I've read your blog for a while but I guess never felt moved to comment before. I just wanted you to know that I do teach history students at FSU about Sen. Johns - as well as about the Gay Liberation Front at FSU, which was meeting in 1970 or earlier. Students are amazed that these kinds of things happened here in Tallahassee...

SCG said...

Thanks, Peggins.

Anna, welcome... and thanks for reading and feeling moved to comment! I love that you are sharing the information about Johns and the Gay Liberation Front with the students at Florida State, and I know you understand when I say that sharing this history is very important to give a context to how far we've come...and how far we still have to go. We just had a program at our local PFLAG meeting where one of the founding members of the GLF talked about their attempts to get recognized as a campus organization. Thanks for your efforts, and please comment again!