June 18, 2003
U.S. Gays Who Marry in Canada Face Hurdles
by Christopher Marquis
Washington, DC – Gay Americans who visit Canada to marry may revel in their newfound status there, but they will come home to a confusing patchwork of overlapping jurisdictions and competing laws and are likely to face a struggle for recognition, legal experts say. It is too soon to tell the legal implications here of Canada’s decision to allow same-sex couples to wed, the experts said. But the ease of marrying in Canada – it has no residency requirement – is expected to lure numerous Americans seeking to sanctify their relationships or make a political statement. When they return, they will find a landscape of legal battles and a federal government that has determined that marriage may occur only between a man and a woman.
" Couples who marry in Ontario and return to the United States seeking the same rights, responsibilities and obligations that heterosexual married couples receive should be aware that discriminatory laws in this country remain a problem," said Elizabeth Birch, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay advocacy group. "We will continue working to end marriage discrimination in this country."
Most experts predict that a newlywed gay couple will eventually seek to test the legality of their Canadian marriage, although no one knows the exact circumstances. It might, for example, be a couple in Texas seeking to adjust their immigration status through marriage. Canadian visitors to the United States may also press the point. If one gay married partner driving to Florida is hurt in a car accident, does the other have a spouse’s right to make medical decisions or file a wrongful death suit? Some critics of same-sex marriage say that, regardless of the legal distinctions, Canada’s move should be viewed as an assault on the traditional nuclear family and serve as a wake-up call to Americans. "Marriage is the foundational institution of civilization," Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council, said in a statement. Same-sex unions "devalue" the sanctity of marriage, he said. "Unless the American people rise up to defend this indispensable institution, we could lose marriage in a very short time," Mr. Connor added. "What’s happening in Canada is a warning to America."
Gay rights groups are advising their members not to force the issue in the United States until they can determine what kind of case would set the best legal precedent. In the meantime, Canadian-wed couples can expect a mixed reception in the United States, with some businesses and localities recognizing their union, and federal offices and a majority of states rejecting it. Federal law is clear on same-sex marriages. In 1996, Congress approved the Defense of Marriage Act, which said that marriage applied only to persons of the opposite sex. For purposes of income taxes, Social Security, immigration and other federal activities, the Canadian marriage would not be recognized. Still, marriage is an institution regulated by the states. The Constitution establishes that one state will recognize the public acts and rulings of another under the "full faith and credit" clause. Historically, people who have been married in one state have been treated as married in all. But marriage in Canada leaves lawyers to seek other precedents. Generally, a principle of "comity" has applied with foreign countries, under which Americans recognize foreign marriages and may expect their own to be accepted abroad.
Thirty-seven states have their own versions of the Defense of Marriage Act. But those that do not include some large states like New York and Ohio, making them likely testing grounds for a challenge by advocates of gay marriage. Some states, like California, send mixed signals. The state approved an initiative in 2000 that asserted, "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."
But California has also been at the forefront of expanding domestic partners’ rights. Vermont, which already allows for civil unions, may be expected to embrace Canadian marriages. Hawaii and Connecticut, which allow benefits for nontraditional pairs, may also endorse the marriages, as may cities that now maintain registries for domestic partners. Legal challenges for civil marriage rights are pending in Massachusetts and New Jersey. Some gay marriage advocates warn that couples should not be hasty in their decision to wed in Canada. While marrying is relatively easy, getting divorced is another matter, requiring a year’s residency in the country. "The trend is going to be a little bit of chaos for a while," said Jon W. Davidson, senior counsel at Lambda Legal, a lesbian and gay legal group. "It’s very exciting. They’re calling it the Canadian earthquake."
June 25, 2003
Niche Market Gay tourists fly and drop coin like there’s no tomorrow
by Eduardo Hernandez
As Hawai’i reacts to dramatic changes in the global tourism marketplace, and reexamines its strategic plan for tourism, there is a niche market we all should be paying a little more attention to. With Governor Lingle and Mayor Harris proclaiming June Gay Pride Month and Canada creating a whole new class of honeymooners, it seems like a good time to think about gay tourism and our tourist-based economy. Gays and lesbians travel a lot, according to travel industry studies, and they travel far from home. They spend a lot, relative to other tourists, and not just on the travel itself, but on food, entertainment and gifts.
In the United States, gay and lesbian tourism is said to be worth more than $54 billion annually. However, despite having one of the most sophisticated tourism research infrastructures of any destination, and a savvy global marketing plan, the state of Hawai’i has largely ignored gay travelers. After the election of 1998, when the issue of gay marriage was rejected by state voters by a 2-to-1 margin, anything "gay" seemed to be too controversial to enter public-policy discussion. The chill was on. Consider, for instance, that there is no mention of gay tourism in any of the state-commissioned comparative product assessments, focus groups, trend analyses and other research that was the foundation for the state’s official tourism plan, called "Ke Kumu."
In 2000, a record 6,975,666 visitors traveled to the islands. Since then, visitor arrivals have declined significantly. Waikïkï, the resort city-within-a-city and home to 10 percent of all civilian jobs in the state, generates 12 percent of all state and county tax revenues and has been especially hard hit by this decline. In the first four months of 1999, nearly 600,000 Japanese arrived at Honolulu International Airport. In contrast, in the first four months of this year, Japanese arrivals dropped to just below 400,000. Using the latest data from the Department of Business Economic Development & Tourism (DBEDT) that documents per-person per-trip expenditures by Japanese visitors at $1,387, total spending among this segment is off by approximately $244 million in Honolulu.
These visitors and the spending they bring with them seem unlikely to return to Waikïkï anytime soon. The U.S. Department of Commerce has forecast arrivals from Japan to the United States through 2006 to be down by as much as 16 percent compared to 2000. In this context, a reevaluation of trends in Hawai’i’s Major Market Areas (MMAs) is necessary. To some degree, "Ke Kumu" reflects this retooling of its marketing plans, calling for increased attention on the following demographics for the two MMAs (East Coast and West Coast) that comprise the continental United States: Family Market, Wedding and Honeymoon, Senior Market, Active Adults (i.e., water sports, hiking, golf) and Culture and Wellness.
If Hawai’i is serious about attracting high-spending visitors, it should consider in its marketing plans at least the West Coast gay market – with its hundreds of thousands of big-spending, beach-loving urban dwellers in Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, who are just waiting for the word to jump a plane to Waikïkï for a long, sun-and-fun weekend. Palm Springs to South Beach.
Jeff Hocker is director of communications for the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism in California. The mature desert golf resort, 100 miles east of Los Angeles, where Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra once ruled, is now booming with gay vacationers. Hocker’s organization has been actively and aggressively courting the gay market for at least the past four years. "The gay market," Hocker says, "is a viable niche market, and it’s among the groups we sell to, generally middle-class travelers, ages 35-65. To reach them, we produce an official gay guide for visitors and advertise in national and regional gay publications. Aside from a stray call or letter, there has been no negative impact associated with our gay-marketing initiatives. It represents an important segment for us."
In Montreal, there were somewhere between 600,000 and a million gay travelers in 2001, which accounted for between 6 to 10 percent of Montreal’s total tourist revenues, according to Tourisme Montréal, the city’s official visitor bureau. Charles Lapointe, president and CEO, noted that "Montréal is the most significant gay destination in [Canada]. The city’s predominant position in gay and lesbian travel was a key factor in the selection of Canada for the VII Gay Games in 2006." More than 15,000 athletes are expected to participate in this quadrennial event, making it one of the largest sporting events in the world.
Though some fear that marketing to gay tourists will decrease a destination’s overall appeal, this premise is unsupported by marketplace data. Embracing gay culture seems to help cities enhance their marketability. The trend-setting savoir-faire of the gay community has sparked urban renewal and boosted tourism in many cities across the country. Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, writes: "Talented people seek an environment open to differences.
Acceptance of diversity and of gays in particular is a sign that reads ‘Non-standard people welcome here.’" Florida argues that "places that succeed in attracting and retaining a creative class of people prosper; those that fail don’t." A prime example is Miami Beach and its South Beach district, which had become a run-down shell of its former self by the early 1980s. Following a gentrification process led by stylish fashion industry types from New York who recognized the possibilities of its deco architecture and its urban-beach setting, South Beach has become an incredibly vibrant beach community and a very popular international vacation destination. "At one time we had almost an absence of schools, and today we’re bursting at the seams," said Michael Aller, Miami Beach tourism and convention coordinator.
Reaching out to gay travelers – and the world’s gay community in general – could actually make Honolulu a better place to live and visit. With a flair for the urbane and an eye for style, gay men and women could spark a revitalization of retro-chic Waikïkï. Bottom-line returns Aesthetics aside, the travel destinations, airlines and hotel operators that have undertaken gay tourism marketing campaigns are motivated by a bottom-line return on investment. In Aspen, retailers report that their annual gay ski week is one of the busiest shopping periods of the year, next to Christmas.
In Canada, gay events such as Toronto Pride and the Black & Blue Party in Montreal generate more than $100 million in spending annually. Orlando and Central Florida have earned an international reputation among gay tourists, mostly because of that region’s annual gay festival called "Gay Days." About 125,000 tourists attended this month, pumping an estimated $100 million into the region’s economy. According to Tom Roth, president of Community Marketing, a company specializing in gay tourism marketing, gay travelers "are in a league of their own, when it comes to travel." Since 1994, his company has annually surveyed thousands of gay travelers to learn about trends and preferences.
While worldwide numbers are not available, Roth points to his own company’s research that indicates heavy travel and spending among U.S. gays. Roth’s data is used industry-wide and by the media. Frequent travelers Gay travelers are a natural fit for Hawai’i, representing an important new niche with potential to offset the spending of the coveted yet absent Japanese. Using a conservative estimate that gay people represent approximately 5 percent of the population, there are over 7 million gay travelers who live in one of the major metropolitan areas with nonstop airline service to Hawai’i. Many of them are very frequent travelers who spend upwards of $5,000 or more per person each year on vacations. They have a penchant for traveling at off-peak times and a spontaneous weekend trip to the islands would be a badge of honor many would happily apply for. These consumers complement Hawai’i’s overall tourist mix and bring us closer to realizing one of the key objectives of "Ke Kumu," which is to "increase visitor expenditures." While all the islands have appeal for gay visitors, Hawai’i, and Waikïkï in particular, is perhaps the most poised to showcase Hawai’i as a gay-friendly destination. This is because urban environments generally tend to be more open to diversity than rural ones. Gay community organizations in Honolulu tend to be more active than those on the Neighbor Islands and there is more gay nightlife in Waikïkï than anywhere else in the state.
Honolulu is home to organizations for gay surfers, gay country-western dancers and gay tennis players, for example. Gay bowlers have held international competitions here in recent years. In 2003, the Adam Baran Honolulu Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, which has become a major gay arts and cultural event, celebrated its 14th anniversary. Honolulu’s gay appeal is also enhanced by history and by its reputation as a retreat for glamorous celebrities. Jack Law, owner of Hula’s Bar & Lei Stand, recalls that when he first arrived on O’ahu in 1966, "there were as many as a dozen bars known to be gay hangouts. People still talk about The Glades on Hotel Street.
The place was known for big drag performances, but everybody went there – straight, gay, military, aunties, young, old – it was just that kind of place where everybody felt comfortable. When I opened Hula’s in 1974, Honolulu was a very popular gay destination and it seemed like the world walked through our doors – everyone from Elton John to Claire Booth Luce. But now, we just haven’t kept pace with places like Miami and Palm Springs in terms of reaching gay travelers." Here in Hawai’i The Hawai’i Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB) acknowledges the gay market exists, but the organization doesn’t specifically target gay travelers. "Our marketing strategy is based on lifestyle/life-stage vacation motivators," according to its chief executive, Tony Vericella.
These motivators, Vericella says, include cuisine, wellness and nature, among others. "In marketing to Japan," Vericella says by way of explanation, "life stages are more important." Life-stage groups include young adults and the "silver market" of older travelers. "We simply don’t have the funds to reach vertically into the gay market or any other market," Vericella’s colleague, Gail Harding, acting vice-president of marketing for North America, said. "The print publications we advertise in are all general-interest tourism such as Conde Nast’s Traveler and National Geographic’s Traveler magazines." Visitors to the HVCB Web site – or to those of any of its island chapters – will find almost no information about gay-friendly bars, hotels or activities. Callers to HVCB’s (800) GO-HAWAII information line similarly will find little or none of the kind of information that organizations like Tourism Vancouver or the Australian Tourist Commission regularly provide to answer inquiries such as where the gay-friendly beaches are located, or the names of local gay publications or gay-friendly accommodations.
HVCB’s marketing strategy means that while they host exhibits at general travel conferences and food festivals worldwide, they have not as yet hosted a booth at a gay travel exposition. Similarly, while HVCB targets subcategories within Japan – for instance, targeting young, single women with magazine advertising – it does no print advertising in any gay publication anywhere. The HVCB walks a very fine line on the issue of gay tourism. "Benign neglect" is how Law, also the owner of the Wave Waikïkï night club, characterized it. They don’t want to do anything that would be considered anti-gay, but at the same time, there has been an "inadequate" attempt to explore the gay market, Law said. Harding said she attended a gay travel exposition on the Mainland in 2001.
The Oct. 25 issue of HVCB’s member newsletter featured a brief item about gay travelers. And some staff, including HVCB’s O’ahu chapter, rely on gay author Matthew Link’s travel guide The Rainbow Handbook to address issues and inquiries related to gay tourism when they do come up. In a recent interview, Harding said she would "explore opportunities" such as adding info about gay-friendly beaches to HVCB’s Web site (www.gohawaii.com). At the O’ahu Visitors Bureau, Lisa Mock, manager of marketing services, reported that her agency had, in fact, hosted a table at a gay tourism trade show in San Francisco a few years ago. She said she wanted to learn more about what they could do, given their limited budget. At DBEDT this year, the Research & Economic Analysis division took an important step to increase what it knows about gay tourists to Hawai’i. The state is mailing a post-trip satisfaction survey to about 3,000 Hawai’i visitors.
On its list of choices for describing a traveling companion, the survey includes, for the first time, the term "same-sex partner." Researcher Eugene Tian said the survey findings will be available later this year.
Right now in Waikïkï, hoteliers, store owners and their employees could really benefit from the spending of some more "rainbow dollars," since there are far fewer yen in circulation. The success of gay tourism marketing at other destinations and across the visitor industry is compelling and full of potential. With nearly $53 million of tax monies dedicated for leisure and business tourism promotion, the public has a right to expect Hawai’i tourism marketing policy to be effectively reaching the top demographic niches across the board – including gays and lesbians. . Eduardo Hernandez is a development consultant. He is one of the founders of Volcano Party Festival, a gay-friendly tourism initiative of the Maui AIDS Foundation.
Gay Travel Fun Facts . 98 percent take vacations; . 56 percent take three or more North American vacations; . 72 percent take one or more international vacations (the national average is 9 percent); . 90 percent plan U.S. vacations in the next year; . 45 percent plan to visit Europe; . 31 percent plan to visit Canada; . 87 percent prefer independent travel (versus organized group tours) . 83 percent have household incomes above the national average (i.e., $40,000 or more) . 34 percent have household incomes of $100,000 or more . 33 percent budget $5,000-plus per person a year for vacations . "Shoulder Season" (e.g., nonpeak travel periods) is the preferred time for travel, with the month of October the favorite, followed by September and March . Urban interests include local culture (79 percent), dining (71 percent) and shopping (71 percent) . Resort/outdoor interests include beaches (84 percent), swimming (57 percent), hiking (45 percent) and bicycling (31 percent) . 87 percent prefer to do business with companies that "give back" to the gay and lesbian community.
Source: Community Marketing, 2001 online survey.
Watershed moment in American culture
by Julia Keller, Tribune staff reporter
Those who hailed and those who hissed at the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the Texas sodomy law agree on one thing: The ruling marks a watershed moment in American culture, a time when fundamental political, moral and sexual values are evolving as never before. "It’s huge. It’s a tremendous victory," said Kevin Jennings, executive director of Gay, Lesbian and Straight Teachers Network, a New York-based advocacy group. "This decision is in keeping with where the American public is. "These judges have lived in the era of ‘Will & Grace,’ ‘Ellen’ and probably openly gay law clerks.
That makes it incredibly difficult to hold prejudices." Yet Justice Antonin Scalia, who fiercely opposed the decision to strike down the Texas statute banning certain homosexual acts between consenting adults, saw the ruling as a judicial stretch on behalf of an extremist cultural agenda. "Today’s opinion is the product of a court, which is the product of a law-profession culture, that has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda, by which I mean the agenda promoted by some homosexual activists directed at eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual conduct," he declared in a stinging rebuke. Scalia charged that "the court has taken sides in the culture war," a reference to the social and moral upheaval that transformed the nation in the late 20th Century and continues to rage.
The battle reflects a deeply divisive change that some applaud as a bold step toward enlightenment, equality and inclusiveness but that others decry as stumbling toward immorality. The shift can be observed most prominently, many believe, in a "cultural elite" within the arts and entertainment community, where standards of personal conduct often are perceived as less traditional, and where television shows with openly gay characters such as "Queer as Folk" are generated. The same elitism often is found, detractors say, in universities and professional schools. Indeed, Scalia charged that the court is "imbued … with the law profession’s anti-anti-homosexual culture."
It is the same cultural divide that some say has carved up the American political map: the schism between so-called red states and blue states. Red states, which lean Republican, are more conservative, rural and traditional, while blue states, leaning Democratic, are more liberal, urban and progressive. The split has affected virtually every corner of American life – and on Thursday, was echoed in a decision by the nation’s highest court. Andrew Koppelman, associate professor at Northwestern University School of Law, said the ruling reflected "fundamental differences of opinion about what America should look like. What Scalia is describing is a genuine struggle in American political life.
The court has now taken sides in that struggle." "Certainly there are factions in American life deeply concerned with the cultural valuation of things such as abortion and homosexual sex," he said. "These factions are deeply opposed to one another. Yet clearly, both abortion and homosexual sex are far more culturally acceptable today than they once were." Hence that side is "winning," Koppelman said, a fact that rankles Scalia and many others. "The culture is changing," he added. "The court is reflecting that." Todd Parker, an associate professor of English at DePaul University who was strongly in favor of the court’s decision, said it marks an important milestone in cultural history.
"The 18th Century gave us the fundamental vocabulary of human rights. But ‘human’ was defined narrowly at first. It meant white, property-owning males," he said. "The struggle for the last 250 years has been to expand those rights – to overcome the traditional prejudices that exist in our society and expand the definition of what counts as human rights to larger and larger groups of people." The golden circle of human rights has been steadily enlarged to encompass blacks, women and – after Thursday’s ruling – gay people, he said. Not everyone agrees But John McGinnis, a law professor at Northwestern University who specializes in constitutional law and who opposed the court’s action, said the ruling "reflected elite opinion that sexual autonomy and sexual expression is the most important right."
Far from representing a "fundamental redefinition of human rights," as Parker defined it, the decision demonstrated the court’s obsequious behavior toward cultural tastemakers, McGinnis noted. "Once justices get on the court, they like to sit well with the theater critics – and in their case, that means the law professors, [editors at] The New York Times," he said. "They follow those people. And to them, this view of sexuality is predominant. It [the ruling] shows the power of the elites." Scalia’s language in opposition to the ruling was particularly vitriolic, despite his disclaimer: "Let me be clear that I have nothing against homosexuals, or any other group, promoting their agenda through normal democratic means." Koppelman credited Scalia for his honesty, noting, "He is saying, ‘I think today’s decision is not the product of law, but of deeper sociological forces that ought not to influence judicial decisions.’" "All Scalia has done," said Jennings, "is show how out of step he is with America today – which is more and more about inclusion, and less and less about bigotry and paranoia."
The Ghosts of Jamestown-first recorded sodomy prosecution in American history
July 3, 2003
by Adam Goodheart
Willaimsburg, Virginia – I had a date the other night with a guy who has been dead for almost 400 years. His name was Richard Cornish, and the last time he got involved with another man, he was executed for his crime. That was at Jamestown, Va., in 1624, and his case was the first recorded sodomy prosecution in American history.
Last Thursday, when I heard the news of the Supreme Court’s decision ruling a ban on homosexual conduct unconstitutional, I happened to be traveling near Jamestown, now a historical and archaeological park. So I bought a bottle of Virginia chardonnay, sneaked into the site (it had closed for the day), sat down on the grass next to a wall of crumbling brick, and drank a silent toast in Cornish’s memory. Jamestown, where the English established their first permanent settlement in the New World in 1607, is a strange place, one where the dark corners of our national heritage are illuminated as they are nowhere else. It is the spot where American history brushes up against the Middle Ages – where archaeologists, now excavating the fort that settlers built there, dig up rusted armor and broadswords.
The Texas law that the Supreme Court struck down last week was, no less than those, a relic of a different world. In his majority opinion in last week’s ruling, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy dismissed conservative arguments that laws against same-sex intercourse had deep roots in Anglo-American tradition. Sodomy codes, he wrote, originally proscribed both homosexual and heterosexual acts, and in any event were rarely enforced except in cases of rape. Therefore, he wrote, defenders of the Texas law were wrong to claim that history was on their side. But Justice Kennedy’s well-intentioned evasion slighted the true past. America has a long tradition of laws regulating private sexual conduct, and these laws have been enforced with particular ferocity when the conduct has been between people of the same sex.
In the case of Cornish – a sea captain convicted, on flimsy evidence, of sodomy with an indentured servant – not only was he hanged, but when several other settlers grumbled about the verdict, they were whipped or pilloried, or had their ears cut off. Similar laws were enforced in the other American colonies.
In Massachusetts in 1629, five "beastly Sodomiticall boys" were sent back to England for execution. Such colonial codes, inherited from English common law, were the direct ancestors of modern laws. After the American Revolution, their harshness was gradually tempered. No less a civil libertarian than Thomas Jefferson supported changing Virginia’s penalty for sodomy from death to mere castration, but even so, as of last week, after four uninterrupted centuries, his state was one of at least 13 where sodomy laws remained on the books.
Justice Byron White, upholding Georgia’s sodomy law in 1986, referred approvingly to the "ancient roots" of proscriptions against homosexuality. These ancient roots were evident even in the language of 20th-century sodomy rulings, language that smacked of witchcraft trials. In 1921, Florida’s Supreme Court went so far as to refer to men convicted of sodomy as "creatures" who "are called human beings." Now conservatives infuriated by the Supreme Court’s decision – and no doubt laying the groundwork for coming political battles over gay marriage – are fulminating about the court’s betrayal of "traditional" American values. In one respect, they are absolutely right: laws that penalize homosexuality are, indeed, deeply rooted in our shared traditions. But this should only strengthen our national resolve in undoing them.
To visit Jamestown is to be reminded that the founders of our nation inherited a great deal of baggage from the past, baggage that has only gradually been left by the wayside. Not only did the persecution of homosexuals in America begin in Jamestown, almost two centuries before independence, but so did the enslavement of blacks. The colonists’ break with England was the first conscious step toward creating in the New World a world that was truly new.
American history has been a continuing revolution, of which 1776 was only one chapter – as Jefferson himself famously predicted. In the eloquent concluding passage of his opinion, Justice Kennedy wrote that America’s founders, though they would never have imagined their Constitution being invoked to protect sodomy, "knew times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress."
Last week’s decision should therefore be hailed not just as a victory for fairness and equality, but as a step forward in another American tradition: that of clearing out the dust of the past and remaking the world afresh. At Jamestown, there are monuments to John Smith and Pocahontas, and to the first glass blowers in America and the first Anglican priest. There is no monument to Richard Cornish. So before I left, I went into the rebuilt church at the site, beneath whose floor lie buried the early rulers of Virginia, the men who sentenced Cornish to die. I set the wine bottle down on the pavement before the altar, along with a piece of paper on which I wrote: In memoriam RICHARD CORNISH First American Sodomite. Rest in Peace.
Adam Goodheart is the C.V. Starr fellow at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland.
July 25, 2003
Opposition to Gay Marriage Is Declining, Study Finds
by Robin Toner
Washington – Opposition to gay marriage has dropped significantly among Americans in recent years, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. In the poll, 53 percent of respondents said they opposed gay marriages, while 38 percent said they backed them.
In 1996, 65 percent said they opposed such marriages, while 27 percent favored the idea. The new survey, which focused on the impact of religion on politics, found what the center called a "growing gap in opinion on this issue along racial and religious lines." White evangelical Protestants were the most firmly opposed to the idea of gay marriage: 83 percent said they opposed it; 84 percent opposed it in 1996. Opposition among blacks also remained essentially unchanged, with 64 percent opposing gay marriages today, and 65 percent opposing the idea in 1996.
In contrast, white Roman Catholics and white mainline Protestants have become increasingly open to the idea, according to the poll, which was conducted June 24 to July 8 among 2,002 adults. The margin of error was 2.5 percentage points. The wide-ranging survey also found that attitudes toward Islam had undergone striking change. The number of Americans who say Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence has increased substantially in the past year; 44 percent said they felt that way in the new poll, whereas 25 percent felt that way in March 2002.
Pollsters said this attitude was just as prevalent among the higher-educated and better-informed as among the less educated. Thirty-eight percent said they would not vote for a well-qualified Muslim for president, compared with 10 percent who said they would not vote for a Jew and 8 percent for a Catholic. Still, the poll found that a slight majority of those surveyed – 51 percent – said they held a favorable view of Muslim-Americans.
Twenty-four percent said they held an unfavorable view. In other findings on religion and politics, the poll found that 48 percent of white evangelical Protestants said their religious beliefs frequently affected their voting, compared with 10 percent of white mainline Protestants, 12 percent of white non-Hispanic Catholics and 12 percent of Hispanic Catholics. The survey also found that 62 percent said President Bush was striking the right balance in how much he mentioned his faith.
August 5, 2003
Episcopalians OK first openly gay bishop
by Martha Sawyer Allen and Nolan Zavoral, Star Tribune
Episcopal bishops voted today to approve Gene Robinson of New Hampshire as the American denomination’s first openly gay bishop, in a final act that followed the surfacing and then dismissal of sexually related allegations against Robinson. The House of Bishops vote, conducted at the faith’s General Convention in downtown Minneapolis, was 62 for out of the 107 eligible to vote. Robinson on Sunday cleared an initial hurdle when the House of Deputies, made up of clergy and laity, voted in his favor.
The gathering was thrown a curve Monday, when a Vermont parishioner wrote an e-mail to one of the bishops alleging that Robinson had touched him inappropriately in late 1999 at a church event. Robinson and his supporters also had to confront another revelation Monday – that Outright, a support group for gay/lesbian/questioning teenagers that Robinson said was important to him in his own spiritual development, indirectly sent visitors on its Web site to online pornography. He notes his founding of the Outright chapter in Concord, N.H., on his Diocese of New Hampshire Web site biography.
Both concerns were investigated overnight by the Rev. Gordon Scruton of western Massachusetts. That inquiry cleared Robinson and restarted the approval process. "In both allegations," Scruton said a few hours before the bishops voted, "it is my conclusion that there is no necessity to pursue further investigation and no reason on these grounds to prevent [the bishops from voting]." Scruton said the touching incident "was in public view and was brief" and happened at a church meeting where Robinson put his hand on Lewis’ back and arm while engaged in a conversation.
Scruton said he asked accuser David Lewis of Manchester, Vt., whether he wanted to proceed with a written complaint, and he "indicated he had no desire to pursue the matter any further." "He said he was thankful the church had taken this seriously and that he felt ‘listened to,’" Scruton said. The difficulties are still not over for American Episcopalians. Some conservatives have vowed to break off from the church in the event of the gay man’s ascension. Robinson, 56 and the divorced father of two, has been living with his male partner for 13 years. . The Associated Press contributed to this report.
7 August 2003
The Gathering Storm Over Gay Rights
by Richard Goldstein
This is a moment of woe and wonder for supporters of gay rights. The Episcopalians elected their first openly gay bishop, braving a last-minute sex scandal and the threat of schism. The Massachusetts Supreme Court is about to rule on legalizing gay unions. The first LGBT high school is set to open in New York City. And Jay Leno got a makeover from the boys of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
But there are also signs of a serious backlash. On Wednesday, the president vowed to codify "one way or the other" the "sanctity of marriage" between a man and a woman. On Thursday, the Vatican launched a crusade against same-sex unions, equating gay parenting with doing violence to children. On Friday, a group of Latino ministers led by Ruben Diaz, the city’s most homophobic politician, pledged to cut off public funding for the Harvey Milk School. And on Tuesday, Episcopalian dissidents denounced the election as a "cancer on the body of Christ."
They are hoping higher Anglican authorities will reverse it, under a 1998 resolution declaring that "homosexual relations are incompatable with the church." The most ominous news of all was last week’s Gallup poll, commissioned by CNN and USA Today. Its numbers were so stunning that the surveyors ran a second poll, but the results were similar. For the first time in nearly a decade, support for key items on the gay rights agenda has declined. In May, 60 percent of Gallup respondents thought gay sex should be legal, but by last week that number had shrunk to 48 percent. For the first time since 1997, a majority think being gay is not an "acceptable alternative lifestyle."
And when it comes to civil unions, the trend toward acceptance has been reversed. Fifty-seven percent think gay couples should not have the same rights as married people, the highest number since Gallup first posed the question in 2000. Nor is this opposition limited to the right. The biggest negative shift has occurred among moderates and even liberals. In May, 80 percent of liberals favored gay civil unions, if not full-blown marriage; in July, that number was down by 23 percent.
Support for same-sex marriage rights has always been shaky among African Americans, but they have never thought sodomy should be a crime-until now. In the new Gallup poll, only 36 percent of blacks think gay sex should be legal, compared with 58 percent who thought so in May. Do these new numbers signal a major shift? Leading gay activists think not. "What counts is the movie, not the snapshot," says Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry. "If you look at poll after poll over the past few years, it’s clear that the long-term trend is toward acceptance of marriage equality."
That’s also what Human Rights Campaign, the national gay lobby, surmises from its own poll and another by the prestigious Pew Forum. But both these surveys were conducted weeks before Gallup’s. Wolfson cites favorable polls in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and California. Support for gay marriage is strongest on the coasts, but it’s another story in the South and Midwest, where large majorities oppose allowing people of the same sex to wed.
The good news is that a majority of young people still support this cause. The bad news is that the elderly, the poor, the rural, and the religious do not. This broad opposition will be significant if state legislatures are asked to ratify the Federal Marriage Amendment. The president has yet to endorse it, but the measure already has 70 Republican (and six Democratic) sponsors in the House, and last week the Senate Republican Policy Committee urged its passage. There are other moves the GOP could make, such as stiffening the Defense of Marriage Act or voting to withhold federal funds from states that allow same-sex weddings. Ethel Klein, president of EDK Associates, which analyzes polling data, thinks that whatever the White House is planning could happen soon. "There’s always something about homosexuality a year before an election, so they can give something to their base," Klein says.
"Then they move away from it as the election gets closer." Activists are girding for a swift reaction if the Massachusetts court rules for same-sex marriage. They are less worried about white Catholics, who are generally supportive of gay rights despite the pope’s injunctions, than about Latinos and African Americans. Fundamentalists have been organizing in these communities. The public face of the marriage amendment campaign is Walter Fauntroy, a leading black politician, and its board of advisers includes at least six black ministers.
To Klein, the Gallup poll reflects the conflict many Americans feel between fairness and morality. It has surfaced now, with the sudden surge in gay rights. "People may be supportive in the abstract, but once things get shaken up, those who are weak in their approval begin to waver," Klein says. In 1992, she notes, there was growing acceptance of lesbians and gays serving in the military, but when Clinton made it look real, the polls showed a change. The same thing occurred in 1977, when Miami passed a gay rights ordinance, and Anita Bryant led a successful campaign to repeal it.
But a new law was passed in 1998, and last year another repeal campaign failed. More than a decade after "Don’t ask, don’t tell," a former general and possible presidential candidate, Wesley Clark, favors ending the ban. Once people absorb change, they relax-or so activists with a sense of history believe. But Klein warns, "You’d have to be an idiot to ignore these numbers." Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (and a former pollster), agrees. "I think this is an aberration," he says.
"But if Massachusetts goes our way, we are going to witness a backlash the likes of which we’ve never, never, never seen." Just last month, New York Times columnist Frank Rich declared that opponents of gay rights were "on a collision course with history." His evidence included the blasé reaction to the recent Tony Awards broadcast featuring a prime-time kiss between the two male lovers who wrote Hairspray. Rich also cited the explosion of plays, films, and TV shows featuring gay characters. To him, this trend is "consistent with a juggernaut that’s been building in tandem with the modern gay civil rights movement." If only. Yes, America is in the throes of a fascination with all things gay. Yes, the media are treating Queer Eye for the Straight Guy as if it were the Second Coming. Yes, homos are turning up in all sorts of unlikely places.
This week, auditions will be held for "the first openly gay country music star," as if such things can be programmed-and perhaps they can. But anyone who regards pop culture as the tail that leads the horse of politics has a lesson to learn from Gallup. Culture and politics do operate together, but not necessarily in tandem. Rather than reflecting a shift in acceptance, the new queer visibility may be fueling resentment. TV shows featuring well-heeled, happy homos feed the perception that gays are doing fine-so why should they qualify for "special" rights? Gays themselves are prone to see these spectacles as proof that the struggle has been won. But if millions watch Will & Grace, millions more are appalled by it; that’s the nature of niche marketing. Nonstop media chatter about these shows gives the impression that everything on TV is gay.
Add the Supreme Court’s sodomy decision and the Canadian move toward same-sex marriage, and you’ve got a picture of radical change. This image may belie the fact that progress on gay rights is incremental at best, but it frightens the masses nonetheless. Fundamentalists aren’t the only ones upset. The rising prestige of homosexuals threatens a much more diverse population: those who feel anxious about their uncertain status. It was one thing to sympathize with gays when they were pariahs; it’s quite another to embrace gays as equals and even potential competitors.
African Americans were once staunch supporters of gay rights, and most black leaders still are. It’s no accident that the two black presidential candidates, Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley Braun, are the strongest proponents of gay marriage in the Democratic pack. If there’s a new wariness in the congregation, it may stem from the experience of seeing group after group rise while blacks are left behind. The poor are less sanguine about gay rights than the prosperous. High school dropouts are more distressed by gay unions than those with college degrees.
Every poll, including Gallup’s, shows that support for same-sex marriage is higher among women than men. Women are looking up toward power, while men are looking nervously down. To guys under duress, the glut of gay shows is yet another insurrection-and gay marriage is a fucking coup d’état. Cultural commentators don’t spend much time in the harsher precincts of Bush’s America. In their secure circles, gay rights is a testament to freedom, not a threat. The mainstream gay movement sees the world through this same rosy lens. Its middle-class focus keeps it from noticing the dissed and dispossessed, who tend to view gays as sinners with way too much power.
This bitter perspective will seem familiar to students of Jewish history. Not that queers are headed for concentration camps, but unless the triumphal mood submits to a reality check, the current wave of resentment could become tidal. It’s crucial not to confuse a pop trend with a juggernaut. American history is rife with examples of progress rolled back. Blacks who rose during reconstruction were crushed by the Jim Crow laws that followed. Women who entered the workforce during the Second World War were redomesticated in the 1950s. There’s no such thing as a one-way road to liberation. Yet the media prompt gay people to put on a happy face, and this upbeat image is compounded by the reluctance of gays to talk about their pain-it’s considered wussy these days. "Even our friends and families aren’t aware of the challenges we must deal with," says Nadine Smith, co-chair of the Federation of Statewide LGBT Advocacy Organizations.
"The reason is that we shield them from this knowledge. We have to be much more willing to talk about the frustration in our lives, and we’ve got to tell the truth about how the lack of legal protections impacts us in real, human ways." The old gay-lib slogan is still true: We are everywhere. But the mainstream gay movement projects a refined white face, furthering the perception that it represents an elite. The right is careful to put people of color on talk shows; so must gays. We should be sending queer griots into black churches, celebrating the major role lesbians have played in the Latino struggle, telling the stories of homos growing up in trailers.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has taken an important step in this direction by committing itself to building a multiracial movement. But the populist impulse is hardly central to gay politics. There’s no gay version of the fundamentalist network that reaches out to the working class-and no queer equivalent of Ralph Reed. Whatever their differences, fundamentalists work together. This cohesion has allowed them to direct their resources toward cultivating majorities, state by state. The gay movement, on the other hand, is proudly amorphous and famously schismatic. This culture may be changing. Nadine Smith’s federation is dedicated to sharing information among local gay activists.
On July 21 it met with national marriage-advocacy organizations, exploring something like a coordinated strategy. When major gay groups hold black-tie dinners to support the Rural Organizing Project, we will know that the movement is rising to the challenge ahead. The fight over same-sex marriage may seem like a moment of truth for gay rights, but it’s bigger than even that. We are moving toward a decisive juncture in the culture wars, with queers-those consummate creatures of modernism-directly in the line of fire.
"This campaign is going to be about much more than freedom to marry," says NGLTF’s Matt Foreman. "It’s going to be about the demonization of our people, and about legislating our second-class citizenship forever. When this battle is joined, the only way we will prevail is if everyone in the community unites. Whether people are for or against gay marriage, everyone has a piece of this fight. We have to understand the peril we’re facing-and the promise." So open your queer eyes.
August 19, 2003
Gay Muslims Defend Their Identity in the U.S.
by Manuela Badawy
New York – If Sadiq’s father knew his 19-year-old son was gay, he would kill his son and then himself, Sadiq believes. "My dad would shoot me and then commit suicide," said Sadiq, a quiet, neatly dressed Palestinian who is attending college in the northeast United States. Being gay in the United States has never been easy. But being gay and Muslim, especially after Sept. 11, 2001, is a unique act of defiance requiring homosexuals to defend their religious identity in the face of an increasingly suspicious U.S. government and sexual orientation amid hostility from the conservative Islamic community.
Many would rather deny their sexuality than sacrifice family, friends, culture or religion by coming out of the closet. But some gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Muslims are finding a safe haven in Al-Fatiha, a Washington, D.C.-based group founded in 1998 to provide support for those who want to reconcile their sexual orientation with Islam. "I am a practicing Muslim," said Sadiq, who did not want to reveal his last name.
"I don’t want to chose between my culture, my family and being gay. That is why Al-Fatiha is helping with the religious and spiritual aspect of it." Sadiq, like many other Muslims who are not ready to tell the world they are gay, said he has nonetheless come a long way. "Now I am able to come to terms with myself," Sadiq said, attending his first Al-Fatiha meeting this month. Before, he said: "According to Islam God is against (homosexuality) and it is unnatural, so I thought it was a mental illness." Being able to speak for the first time about being gay and Muslim during the regional meeting in New York – with the first openly gay Imam – was a relief, he said. Imam Daayiee Abdullah, who is based in Washington, D.C., and one of three Islamic clergymen worldwide known to be openly gay, spoke recently to a group of about 70 Muslims in Al-Fatiha about a more liberal interpretation of their religion. No matter who you are, the most important rule in Islam is to worship God, he told them.
"While imams segregate those who aren’t like them, and turn their backs to queer Muslims, I want to help the community," he said. "…God accepts everyone." Religious scholars say Islam’s prohibition of homosexuality rests on the story of Lut in the Koran, also known as Lot in the Bible’s Old Testament. According to some interpretations, God destroyed the city after residents demanded Lut turn visiting men over so they could have sex with the strangers. Abdullah disagrees with that interpretation. But for traditional clergy such as Imam Omar Abu Namous of the Islamic Cultural Center in New York, homosexuality is condemned by God. "The Koran is against any homosexual relationship.
It says that God is against male with male relationships as well as woman with woman," Abu Namous said. Although it has been a good year for gays in America as court rulings, media coverage and religious institutions have brought homosexuality even further into the mainstream, many gay Muslims remain fearful. There are many more homosexual Muslims in the United States than the 700 members of Al-Fatiha. Many gay Muslims do not get involved because they can’t deal with their sexuality, said group founder Faisal Alam, a 26-year-old of Pakistani descent who lives in Washington, D.C. Members like Sadiq said they are far from socializing or being in a relationship while struggling to reconcile their two identities, even though the group’s chapters hold social events, discussion groups and regional retreats for members.
The group has chapters in New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Washington, and affiliates in all major cities in Canada. Most of its members, who are primarily male, were born abroad in Middle Eastern or Asian countries. Some plead for Al-Fatiha’s help, especially those seeking asylum and fleeing persecution by their families and their home governments, Alam said. "We get requests from Muslim countries all the time," he said. "There isn’t much we can do while they are there, but once they are in the U.S. we provide a letter of support documenting discrimination and we connect them with lawyers that do pro bono work."
Muslim Arabs and South Asians in the United States have also felt a backlash after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Many have been deported or have left because of concerns they will be discriminated against. For gay Muslims, going back to their native countries is not an option. In Egypt, 21 men were arrested in 2001 and convicted earlier this year for "practicing sexual immorality," a local euphemism for homosexuality. Of them 17 were sentenced to three years in prison. "Before Sept. 11, I had to defend myself being gay, but since then I have had to defend being Muslim as well," a member of Al-Fatiha said. "If I was strong before, I am stronger now."
October 22, 2003
Gay Navajos find their place between traditional and Western culture
by Leslie Hoffman, Associated Press Writer
Window Rock, Ariz – Darrell Joe sits across the table over a Denny’s breakfast, cup of coffee in hand, rattling off projects he’s working on and programs he wants to start in his new job with the Navajo Nation’s AIDS office. He’s a respected 30-year-old professional in a high-profile position, his calendar filled with meetings and conferences. There is an ease in his voice. He knows who he is and what he wants. He is happy. But it wasn’t always like this. Joe remembers when his journey began: when he and his cousins, playmates growing up in the small Navajo community of Iyanbito, N.M., went off to school. That’s when other kids started hurling words like "fag" and "queer" at him. Soon, some of his cousins were embarrassed to be seen with him.
" That’s when I started to think, ‘OK, I’m different.’ I couldn’t figure it out, and I think that’s when I started pretending that I lived in certain worlds," he said. His search for a place to belong both as a gay man and as a Navajo would take him far from his home and his culture to an urban existence in Western society – and back again.
Joe is one of the growing number of gay, lesbian and bisexual Navajos walking a cultural tightrope, uniting elements of Navajo and Western culture to establish a place for themselves. "They sort of had to create their own world," said Wesley Thomas, an assistant professor of anthropology at Indiana University who specializes in American Indian gender studies. The modern view of homosexuality in the Navajo Nation is shaped both by tribal tradition and Western influence, according to Thomas.
Navajo origin stories embrace the idea of cross-gender identities. In some of these stories, men with feminine characteristics are known as "nadleeh" – they dressed like women and were considered important religious figures with a special role in ceremonies. They also shared in conventional female duties, such as cooking or caring for children. In Navajo tradition, sexual relationships between nadleeh and non-nadleeh men were considered heterosexual. "In the Western gay culture, you have men who look like any other guy and behave like men and that’s their identity as a gay male," said Jack Jackson Jr., a gay Navajo who serves in the Arizona House of Representatives. "On the reservation … you see a lot of gay men who look more feminine and act more feminine, and it seems it’s from their upbringing in a more traditional way."
A modest number of nadleeh have lived openly as transvestites on the reservation for generations, said Harry Walters, an anthropologist who teaches Navajo culture at Dine College in Tsaile, Ariz. Some in the community now see "nadleeh" as an early manifestation of homosexuality, and use it as a broad term for anyone who isn’t heterosexual. Yet Thomas and Walters said the traditional understanding of nadleeh is disappearing, in part because the cultural significance has not been passed from one generation to the next – but also because of changing attitudes. With the arrival of Western religious influences, Navajo families began to hide away homosexual relatives or encourage them to live a heterosexual lifestyle, Thomas said. "The nadleeh were very much a part of Navajo culture right into the late 1800s," said Thomas, who is also a gay tribal member.
" Now we have children and grandchildren who dismiss (nadleeh) as part of Navajo culture. It was … relegated to something that was part of Western culture and not Navajo. "There is now a search by these Navajo gays and lesbians to find out who they are," he said. With that search has come an attempt to organize. Melvin Harrison, head of the Chinle-based Navajo AIDS Network, said there wasn’t a community for homosexual, bisexual or transgender Navajos when he began HIV prevention work on the reservation in 1988. "Ten years ago, 15 years ago, there was no place for these individuals to go," Harrison said. "That’s the big change I’ve seen is that we have people who come to our office just to get a hug, to laugh, to wear makeup. Then they wash up and go home and be their other selves." To celebrate National Coming Out Day earlier this month, the network’s office in Gallup, N.M., organized a coming-out party at a nearby state park. More than 50 people showed up for the third annual event, which included a drag show and a dance.
No one can remember a formal organization that served homosexual, bisexual or transgender Navajos before the network’s formation in 1990. Homosexuality is simply not discussed within the traditionally discreet Navajo Nation. "It’s always been accepted, but deep down it’s seen as something that’s not normal," Walters said. Some credit the traditional nadleeh teachings for greater tolerance among older generations. Joe said his grandmother, for instance, always knew he was different but never judged or ostracized him. Still, the homophobic attitudes that first emerged with the decline of the nadleeh persist today, although tribal members disagree to what extent.
Pernell Sam, a transgender Navajo from the small town of Many Farms near Chinle, said the two-inch scar on his back is painful proof. The 28-year-old was stabbed at a party seven years ago by a man who he said used to call him "fag" and "queer" in high school. "They never caught that guy," Sam said. "I still see him around." Countless tribal members stay in the closet, fearing that kind of backlash, Harrison and others said. As a result, it’s hard to know just how large the gay community is on the reservation. As a young man, Joe was simply too afraid of the reaction he might get from friends, classmates and others if he came out. A cross-country athletic scholarship to college in Idaho was his ticket away from the reservation. Eventually, Joe set out for San Francisco. There, a stint as a volunteer with an AIDS prevention organization led to a career. But something was still missing.
" I was living in two worlds," Joe said. He returned to Gallup, eager to reconnect with his culture and help the local AIDS prevention effort, using models from his work in San Francisco. That work led to the Naa Ts’iilid Hozho, or Beauty Rainbow Project. The HIV prevention group, which is part of the Navajo AIDS Network, targets the homosexual, bisexual and transgender community. The rainbow is a symbol in both Navajo religion and the Western gay movement. Beauty Rainbow Project is both a public health effort and an important support network.
"As far as the gay community on the Navajo reservation, we’re it," said Marco Arviso, who heads the group of about 20 people. They gathered one recent evening, under a patch of cottonwood trees in the shadow of Canyon de Chelly in Chinle. There was Aaron Begay, a 29-year-old transgender who works at Dine College. He said he believes the reservation is generally an accepting environment for those like himself, "although we hear a lot of this negativity and name-calling." Mitch, a bisexual public school teacher, recalled when the nadleeh were considered "almost like holy people." Mitch is one of the few in the group who remains in the closet, still unsure about how to balance his place in the Navajo community and the society surrounding him.
Sitting next to him, Pernell Sam said he revealed his identity 10 years ago and will not go back in the closet. "It’s too hard," he said. Sam is dressed in a plain gray cotton top and white pants, his face flawlessly smooth with strong feminine lines defining his cheekbones – all changes from hormones he’s taking in the hopes of someday getting a sex change. His personal mission is to help other Navajos understand. "I have nothing to hide," he said.
November 2, 2003
Being ‘out’ in Iraq In combat, a gay soldier finds trust trumps policy
by Laura Kiritsy
Like so many working gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered people in the United States today, Ryan is out as a gay man to most of his co-workers and none of them seem to care. "It’s a really simple thing," says Ryan. "When people meet me, they seem to know. Then it’s just a simple matter of, you know, me telling them. It’s not a big deal at all. It’s just something like saying, ‘Oh, you know, my mother lives in Omaha.’ It’s not a big deal in the slightest."
That is, it’s not a big deal to the people with whom Ryan works side by side on a daily basis. His bosses at the Pentagon, however, would see things differently. Ryan is a member of the U.S. military, and if his chain of command learns he is gay, he’ll end up like nearly 10,000 other gay soldiers: looking for a new job.
According to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), a legal advocacy organization dedicated to ending anti-gay harassment and discrimination in the military, that’s the number of discharges based on sexual orientation that have occurred since President Clinton signed the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," policy on Nov. 30, 1993. Theoretically, the policy was designed to allow gay and lesbian people to serve in the military. It prevents military personnel from inquiring about the sexual orientation of fellow service members, thus ending the military’s long history of anti-gay witch hunts. However, it also requires that gay soldiers remain firmly in the closet. In other words, it’s OK to be gay, but there will be no talking about it.
Judging from the number of discharges under the policy, one could conclude it’s a difficult subject to avoid. Ryan, for instance, refuses to serve in silence. From the day he came out to a fellow soldier as they shined their boots in basic training to his recent six-month tour of duty fighting the war in Iraq, Ryan has made no secret of the fact that he is gay to the members of his unit. He agreed to discuss his experiences in the armed forces with Bay Windows on the condition that his real name, age, rank, and service branch and job specialty not be revealed.
The fact that the members of his unit could [not] care less about his sexual orientation is evidence, he said, that "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," is unnecessary. Though he makes clear that he has only come out to those of equal rank or lower, and he is careful to establish a trusting bond before revealing his sexual orientation, Ryan said that the reaction is normally, "’Oh, OK.’ And then we just move on with our lives. Like I said, it’s not a big deal because there’s so many more important other things that in the military we have to deal with. These are the people that we could go to war with and fight with and die with. So things like that really take second place to [questions of], ‘Is he going to be able to perform his job correctly? Am I going to be able to trust him with my life?’ Not, ‘Is he going to look at me in the shower?
Which as a respectable member of the military," he notes, "it’s ingrained in us to be respectful of those around us professionally. I mean, that’s a moot point." It certainly wasn’t an issue in Iraq, where Ryan went first to fight the war. He then remained for support and stabilization operations. While the issue of his sexual orientation does come up occasionally with members of his unit, says Ryan, there are far more important things about which his fellow soldiers worry.
"For instance, in Iraq, there were so many other important issues at stake," he laughs, "than Ryan being gay. … Like the lives of yourself and your fellow soldiers." While he never actually had to take a life, Ryan said, his unit did have contact with the enemy and "there were definitely times when my life was in direct danger." That’s not to say he doesn’t worry about being outed to the wrong people. "It’s something that I’m always aware of but it’s never anything that I actually felt I was in danger of," explained Ryan. "You just have to be careful because even though my peers and colleagues do feel comfortable, there’s always the off-chance that one person may say, ‘Hey the military says this isn’t OK so it must be a bad thing.
So I should let someone know.’ "Because let me tell you, most people in the military wouldn’t care at all if they were in an environment where ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ wouldn’t exist," he continued. But the policy’s existence, Ryan believes, actually promotes discrimination. "People who would normally not have a problem with working with a gay man would find a problem under the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy because it’s sort of like authorization from above to discriminate. It’s like, if the military says that it’s bad, then it is.
So really as long as you have people who can realize the injustice in that then there’s no issue at all." That injustice is what led Ryan to begin speaking out against the policy about a year ago. He is president of a group called Gay and Lesbian Servicemembers for Equality, which was formed after five Arabic translators were discharged from the Army last fall for being gay. Ultimately, he would like to see the policy repealed; for now he is focused on simply raising awareness about the failure of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell."
Ryan, who was out to friends before he enlisted, believed he’d return to the closet and stay there until he completed his military service. But the emotional toll of hiding proved too much. "The sort of thing that’s being asked of gay people in the military – to be completely closeted and not have any relationships that bring fulfillment to themselves – that’s really too much to ask," he explained. "Because you and I both know that interpersonal relationships, be they romantic or friendship or otherwise, are really important to a person’s psychological well-being.
Now, if you have someone who is completely isolated like that, where they can’t share this immense part of their lives with anyone else, that is actually what degrades morale and well-being." And that goes to the heart of why Ryan believes "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" is a mistake. The worst part about the policy, for him, is having to worry about being exposed. "Because in the military it’s really necessary to be able to form a bond of trust amongst your comrades in arms," said Ryan. But forcing a person to be someone they’re not, he adds, promotes an attitude of distrust.
"So a lot of people say that gays serving openly in the military would degrade morale and stuff like that, but really the policy is what degrades morale," he asserts. "Because we see perfectly good soldiers being thrown out for no reason when we need good soldiers at this time. … And it also provides, like I said, an atmosphere of distrust: You’re always afraid of who’s noticing what about you, or who’s hearing what about you, or the other people are thinking, ‘What is he hiding?’" Though his example and the examples of other gay servicemembers with whom Ryan is familiar indicate "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" is a waste of human resources, Ryan is not optimistic that the policy will be repealed anytime soon.
"I don’t know about change at this point," he said. "I really hope for change but it’s one step at a time. It’s not going to happen overnight but I really do think that there’s a large body of people in legislation and the military – you know, the powers that be – that really see that this policy is a mistake." But despite "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," Ryan emphasizes that being an openly gay soldier isn’t much different than being out at any other job. "I really think it’s important for people to understand that gay people in the military, it’s really just like being gay in another workplace.
Your colleagues, as long as they’re understanding individuals – which most people are, I mean we’re not a bunch of crazy yokels in the military – then really your well-being is not in danger," he said. "There are acts of violence against gay people in the military at times but I think there’s been a greater level of awareness about that since incidents that occurred on some bases. And so I think the situation right now is ripe for change." .
Laura Kiritsy is the Associate Editor at Bay Windows. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.
November 19, 2003
Gays have right to marry, SJC says in historic ruling Legislature given 180 days to change law
by Kathleen Burge, Globe Staff
In a historic and long-awaited decision, a deeply split Supreme Judicial Court yesterday ushered in a new era of gay rights, becoming the nation’s first state supreme court to rule that same-sex couples have the legal right to marry.
In the 4-3 decision, the court’s majority ruled that the centuries-old notion of marriage as limited to a man and a woman should be updated to define the institution as the exclusive, "voluntary union of two persons as spouses." The majority based the decision on the equal protection and due process provisions of the Massachusetts constitution, saying they guarantee the right for same-sex couples to marry. The ban against gay marriage, like the earlier ban on interrace marriage, is rooted in prejudice, Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall wrote for the court.
"The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals," Marshall wrote. "It forbids the creation of second-class citizens." The court gave the Legislature 180 days to change state law to comply with the decision. But even if the Legislature does nothing, same sex couples would still have the right to marry sometime after early May of next year. The decision, released eight months after the SJC heard arguments in the case – and four months after the court missed its own deadline for ruling – brought a flurry of reaction, from jubilant supporters of gay marriage to fearful opponents.
President Bush decried the ruling during his state visit to London, saying he would work with Congress to protect traditional marriage. "Marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman," Bush said in a statement, adding that the SJC decision "violates this important principle." Governor Mitt Romney said he also disagreed deeply with the SJC decision, but will work with the Legislature to draft a law "consistent" with the ruling. He will simultaneously fight, he said, for a constitutional amendment – which could appear on the ballot no sooner than November 2006 – limiting marriage to the relationship between a man and a woman. "It has been so since the beginning of time," he said. "I stand with the great majority of people in our country who believe it should continue to be so, and I will work for that to be the case."
Legal specialists say that the US Supreme Court will probably decide whether other states must recognize same-sex marriages granted in Massachusetts. States traditionally recognize out-of-state marriages, but specialists expect that many states, especially the 37 that have passed legislation limiting marriage to a man and a woman, will balk at recognizing same-sex marriages. The SJC ruling would not extend federal benefits to same-sex couple, which is banned under the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. But at a press conference yesterday, flanked by the seven same-sex couples who filed the lawsuit prompting the SJC’s decision, attorney Mary Bonauto proclaimed the day historic.
"A court finally had the courage to say that this really is an issue about human equality and human dignity, and it’s time that the government treat these people fairly," said Bonauto, the lawyer for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders who argued the case. Singing "we’re going to the State House and we’re going to get married," about 400 people hugged and wiped away tears at a rally last night at the Old South Meeting House. They decorated the room in rainbow flags, linking the birthplace of the Boston Tea Party to the struggle for gay rights. Attorney General Thomas Reilly, whose office represented the state Department of Public Health, which was sued for denying marriage licenses to the seven gay and lesbian couples, stood by his office’s arguments against same-sex marriage. "I have always believed in treating people fairly," said Reilly.
"But I also believe that such a profound change in social policy should have been decided by the Legislature, not the courts." The Massachusetts Family Institute called the decision "a deep disappointment." "The residents of Massachusetts and of the entire country should take this as a wakeup call and impress upon their legislators the importance of defining marriage in the state Constitution as the union of a man and woman," said MFI president Ron Crews. While most city and town clerks were still trying to digest the decision yesterday, City Councillor Denise Simmons said she will ask the Cambridge City Council Monday to vote to immediately authorize the city clerk to marry gay couples.
As soon as she heard the decision yesterday morning, Linda Davies, a plaintiff, proposed to her partner of 32 years, Gloria Bailey. They were in their car, driving from their Orleans home to the Boston press conference. "Without a doubt, this is the happiest day of our lives," said Bailey. Marshall was joined in the majority opinion by Justices John M. Greaney, Roderick L. Ireland, and Judith A. Cowin. Justices Francis X. Spina, Martha B. Sosman, and Robert J. Cordy each wrote a dissenting opinion. The ruling applies only to civil marriage, an institution created and regulated by the state. The ruling does not require churches or other religious organizations to perform same-sex weddings. The justices did not address same-sex civil unions, adopted three years ago by Vermont as an alternative to marriage.
Some legal specialists argued that by not explicitly rejecting civil unions, the SJC kept its decision ambiguous enough to allow the Legislature to adopt such a compromise. "The court never says you have to call it marriage," said attorney Paul Martinek, editor of Lawyers Weekly USA. But family and constitutional law specialists disagreed, saying that granting only civil unions would violate the SJC’s sweeping endorsement of equal rights for gay couples. "My opinion is that the decision talks about gay marriage and only about gay marriage," said Elizabeth Bartholet, a family law professor at Harvard Law School. The three justices who dissented argued that the Legislature, not the court, should launch such a broad social change. "Although it may be desirable for many reasons to extend to same-sex couples the benefits and burdens of civil marriage . . . that decision must be made by the Legislature, not the court," Cordy wrote.
Cordy wrote that the decision about whether same-sex couples can marry should not be based on whether they can live together or raise children together. "It is about whether the State must endorse and support their choices by changing the institution of civil marriage to make its benefits, obligations, and responsibilities applicable to them," he wrote. Spina wrote in his dissent that the court’s majority decision, rather than thwarting government intrusion, injects the government into "the most intimate activity behind bedroom doors." But Greaney, in an opinion concurring with the majority, took the unusual step of describing how he hoped citizens would respond to the court’s decision.
Even opponents of same-sex marriage, he said, should do more than offer "grudging acknowledgment of the court’s authority." Same-sex couples, he wrote, are "our neighbors, our coworkers, our friends" who volunteer in schools and "worship beside us in our religious houses." "We share a common humanity and participate together in the social contract that is the foundation of our Commonwealth," Greaney wrote. "Simple principles of decency dictate that we extend to the plaintiffs, and to their new status, full acceptance, tolerance, and respect. We should do so because it is the right thing to do." Some lawyers were struck by the justice’s rare appeal to the public. "It’s unusual and it’s to be welcomed for a court to get down off its high horse a little bit and essentially engage in what hopefully is a dialogue with the ultimate court, which is the court of public opinion and the court of history," said Laurence H. Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School. The case began in 2001 after seven same-sex couples went to their local city or town offices and applied for marriage licenses.
When their requests were rejected, they sued the state in Suffolk Superior Court. In May 2002, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Thomas E. Connolly threw out the case. "This is such an incredible event," said Peter Zupcofska, a lawyer who co-wrote the amicus brief for the Boston Bar Association supporting gay marriage. "I think for the gay community, it is somewhat akin to the Berlin Wall coming down." . Kathleen Burge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Globe staff reporter Ralph Ranalli and Globe correspondents Sasha Talcott and Brendan
November 19, 2003
Marriage by Gays Gains Big Victory: Massachusetts’ highest court ruled on Tuesday that gay couples have the right to marry
by Pam Belluck
Massachusetts’ highest court ruled on Tuesday that gay couples have the right to marry under the state’s Constitution, and it gave the state legislature 180 days to make same-sex marriages possible.
The 4-to-3 decision was the first in which a state high court had ruled homosexual couples are constitutionally entitled to marry, and legal experts predicted it would have ramifications across the country. "The question before us is whether, consistent with the Massachusetts Constitution, the commonwealth may deny the protections, benefits and obligations conferred by civil marriage to two individuals of the same sex who wish to marry," wrote Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall of the state’s Supreme Judicial Court. "We conclude that it may not.
The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals. It forbids the creation of second-class citizens." The decision, which did not explicitly tell the state legislature how to carry out the ruling, sent lawmakers and legal experts scrambling to determine what options exist short of legitimizing gay marriage. Other experts said that the court appeared determined to extend full marriage rights to gay men and lesbians. The decision ignited a storm of reaction throughout the nation, with gay groups and some liberals heralding the ruling, and conservatives and some religious groups denouncing it. "We’re thrilled and delighted the highest court in the state of Massachusetts confirms that our community has the right to enter into civil marriage the same as other couples," said David Tseng, the executive director of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, who noted that three of the four justices in the majority were appointed by Republican governors. "This is a tremendous victory for fairness and for families."
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative group, said "it is inexcusable for this court to force the state legislature to `fix’ its state constitution to make it comport with the pro-homosexual agenda of four court justices." Mr. Perkins and other conservatives said the decision underscored the need for a federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. "We must amend the Constitution if we are to stop a tyrannical judiciary from redefining marriage to the point of extinction," he said. It also seemed likely that the court ruling would catapult same-sex marriage into a major issue in the presidential campaign. Virtually every Democratic presidential candidate issued a statement on Tuesday that tried to find a middle ground on an issue that is nothing if not polarizing.
Most did not express support for gay marriage or a constitutional amendment banning it, but said they supported giving gay couples the benefits heterosexual couples receive. President Bush, who has opposed same-sex marriage but not embraced the idea of a constitutional amendment, said in a statement: "Marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman. Today’s decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court violates this important principle. I will work with Congressional leaders and others to do what is legally necessary to defend the sanctity of marriage." In defending the current practice of restricting marriages to heterosexual couples, Massachusetts officials had argued that the main purpose of marriage was procreation, that heterosexual marriage was best for child-rearing, and that gay marriage would impose a financial burden on the state. But Justice Marshall dismissed those arguments, saying that the state "has failed to identify any constitutionally adequate reason for denying civil marriage to same-sex couples."
Some legal experts said they thought the ruling might allow room for Massachusetts to embrace a parallel system like the civil unions allowed by Vermont. Other experts said the 34-page ruling left little doubt that the court intended that full-fledged marriage be extended to gays and lesbians. Robert E. Travaglini, president of the State Senate, who has said he supports civil unions but not same-sex marriage, said on Tuesday that "the strength of the language and the depth of the decision" makes it clear that marriage, and not civil unions, "is the wish of the court." Because it is based in state law, the ruling cannot be appealed to the United States Supreme Court.
And it cannot be overturned by the legislature. But the legislature could try to amend the state Constitution to ban gay marriage, an option that Gov. Mitt Romney said on Tuesday that he favored. Such a process, though, would take at least three years. Polls show that many Americans, while more tolerant of homosexual relationships, still do not support homosexual marriage. And some experts predicted that the court decision would increase support for laws banning gay marriage in states and at a national level. Already, 37 states have passed measures defining marriage as between men and women. "This comes pretty close to an earthquake politically," said Alan Wolfe, a professor of political science at Boston College. "I think it’s exactly the right kind of material for a backlash." The decision was a personal victory for at least 14 people: the gay and lesbian partners who were plaintiffs in the court case. The seven couples from across the state, most of whom had lived together for years and some of whom are raising children, all sought marriage licenses in 2001 from their town or city offices. A lower-court judge dismissed the case in May 2002 before it went to trial, ruling that because same-sex couples cannot have children, the state does not give them the right to marry.
"Without a doubt this is the happiest day of our lives," said one plaintiff, Gloria Bailey, 62, of Cape Cod, as she stood, teary-eyed, at a news conference with her partner of 32 years, Linda Davies, 67. "We’ve been wanting to get married practically since the day we met. We didn’t know if it would happen in our lifetime. We’re planning a spring wedding." Several of the couples told stories of being denied access to their partners when they were hospitalized. Hillary Goodridge, 46, of Boston, had to say she was the sister of her partner, Julie Goodridge, 45, to see Julie when she was rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit after giving birth to their daughter, Annie. David Wilson, 58, was not able to say he was the brother of his partner, Robert Compton, 53, because Mr. Wilson is black and Mr. Compton, who has been hospitalized five times in the last five years, is white. "We never have to worry about going to the hospital and negotiating our way through hospital teams because now we have the opportunity to protect ourselves through marriage," said Mr. Wilson, smiling at Mr. Compton. Being legally married in Massachusetts would entitle same-sex couples to numerous other rights and benefits, including those related to property ownership, insurance, tax consquences and child custody.
The marriage would not automatically be considered valid by the federal government or other states, which would probably have to decide on their own whether to recognize a Massachusetts gay marriage. In the ruling, Justice Marshall wrote about the benefits of marriage for children and said that not being allowed to marry "works a deep and scarring hardship" on homosexual families. "It cannot be rational under our laws, and indeed it is not permitted, to penalize children by depriving them of state benefits because the state disapproves of their parents’ sexual orientation," she wrote. In the dissent, Justice Robert Cordy wrote that the marriage law was intended to apply to a man and a woman, and "it furthers the legitimate state purpose of ensuring, promoting and supporting an optimal social structure for the bearing and raising of children." As it considers how to respond to the ruling in the next 180 days, the legislature will most likely consider several options. Already, in recent months, three different efforts have begun in the legislature: a drive to amend the state Constitution to ban gay marriage, a bill to establish civil unions and a bill that would allow for same-sex marriage.
The politics of Massachusetts make the issue especially tricky. The legislature is majority Democratic, but also largely Catholic, and the Roman Catholic Church is strenuously opposed to gay marriage. On the other hand, the Democrats are rarely aligned with Governor Romney, a Republican, who indicated on Tuesday that he would support some effort to extend benefits and rights to gay couples, though he would not support marriage. "Marriage is an institution between a man and a woman," he said. "I will support an amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution that makes that expressly clear. Of course, we must provide basic civil rights and appropriate benefits to nontraditional couples, but marriage is a special institution that should be reserved for a man and a woman." Arthur Miller, a Harvard law professor, said he thought that given the closeness of the court decision, there might be room for the legislature "to create a relationship that might not necessarily be called marriage but allows for the recognition of property passage and joint ownership and insurance and even child custody." But Elizabeth Bartholet, a family law expert at Harvard Law School, said the extensive discussion of marriage in the decision made it unlikely the court would allow civil unions. If the legislature did nothing or failed to comply, Professor Bartholet said, "I would assume after 180 days the Supreme Judicial Court would say this is law and the state would have to issue marriage licenses."
December 19, 2003
Obiituary: Dr. Judd Marmor, Who Led Change in View of Gays, Dies at 93
by Laurie Tarkan
Dr. Judd Marmor, a psychiatrist who was influential in having homosexuality removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s official list of clinical disorders, died on Tuesday in Los Angeles, his son, Dr. Michael F. Marmor, said. He was 93.
In the early 1960’s, Dr. Marmor, a psychoanalyst, took the radical position that homosexuality was a variant of sexual behavior as opposed to a deviation or illness. He also contended that homosexuality had multiple roots – genetic, biological and psychosocial – and did not stem from a dysfunctional mother or a home life fraught with problems, as was the theory of the day. As the vice president of the American Psychiatric Association, he was forthright in saying that the criteria that would normally be applied for a mental illness did not apply to homosexuality.
In 1974, amid a great political struggle within the association, its members voted to remove homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, changing a position it had held for nearly 100 years. The action was considered pivotal in advancing the cause of gay rights. "His stance was particularly important because he was so widely respected and he was a psychoanalyst, which at that time held more sway," said Dr. Robert Galatzer-Levy, co-author of "The Course of Gay and Lesbian Lives." Dr. Marmor was elected president of the association later in 1974. "He was someone from the middle of mainstream American psychiatry taking a very strong position on these issues, where the only other people who were speaking out were those on the periphery," Dr. Galatzer-Levy said. Critics accused him of caving into the mounting pressure in the 1960’s to treat homosexuality as normal, rather than a deviation. In an interview with The New York Times in 1986, Dr. Marmor said, "Society tends to treat male homosexuals as if they had a choice about their sexual orientation, when in fact they have no more choice about how they develop than heterosexuals do."
Dr. Marmor was also influential in many other issues in psychiatry, including the trend away from pure psychoanalysis to shorter-term dynamic psychotherapy. He argued that many more people could be treated successfully in a shorter time. Dr. Marmor was also a proponent of therapy based on scientific principles, rather than theory. Judd Marmor was born in London and came to the United States a few years later with his family. He graduated from Columbia University and received his medical degree there in 1933. In 1946, he moved to Los Angeles, became a psychoanalyst and emerged as a favorite among the Hollywood elite.
He held several positions, including director of psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and professor of psychiatry at the University of Southern California. He maintained his private practice until his death. The author of more than 350 scientific papers, he also wrote or edited eight books. He wrote essays in support of civil and human rights, against McCarthyism and in opposition to the nuclear bomb and the Vietnam War. His wife, Katherine Marmor, died in 1999. They were well-known collectors of modern art. In addition to his son, Dr. Marmor is survived by two grandchildren.
December 31, 2003
Pre-Stonewall Has Been Given a Bad Rap (book review)
Queer Street: Rise and Fall of an American Culture, 1947-1985; By James McCourt; 577 pages. W. W. Norton & Company. $29.95
by George Chauncey
History is written by the victors. And most gay history has been written by people who were part of the gay liberation generation, which in the 1970’s won a decisive victory in its struggle with the pre-Stonewall generation over the proper way to be gay. This outcome left the new generation with unquestioned authority to portray the cultural style and ethos of the 1950’s generation as pathetically closeted, self-loathing and suffocating.
Now comes James McCourt. Born in 1941, he is just old and precocious enough to have known and lovingly inhabited the older ways of being gay, and he has some scores to settle. He wants us to know that "The Boys in the Band" was one of the great plays of our time, and that the gay liberationists who reviled it as demeaningly stereotypical were so benighted they "would wipe camp, along with lipstick, mascara, eye shadow and hair coloring, off the face of homosexual experience, rendering queer life as bidable as chastity."
Mr. McCourt wants us to savor what gay life was like long before anyone thought of traveling to Massachusetts to tie the knot. Queer life can be "a scene of transformation," a wise "older queen" called Prudence ("pronounced the French way") tells the author in the 1950’s. "But it is a risky sea to navigate." Heterosexual boys, Prudence continues, proceed in life’s journey according to a universe "of determined courses and prebooked destinations. Whereas our kind move on, blind in the night."
One strand of the book charts how the author found his way from the Irish Catholic outer borough of his youth to the dizzying, and sometimes simply dizzy, heights of Uptown Queer Society. This journey provides the book its loose narrative thread and some of its most vivid scenes: of young Jimmy McCourt reading "On the Road" as he and his mother amble across the country in a Greyhound bus, of his being expelled from his block’s friendly basement masturbatory club for not understanding its codes of decorum and secrecy, and just a few years later, his instructing a friend of a certain charm but modest means on precisely the decorum needed to snag a weekend on Fire Island. (Just "trot up and cruise the china department at Bloomingdale’s, looking" puzzled.
He continues: "He will of course come on to you; like as not he will want to talk about Haviland or Spode. Do not try to trump him by saying you prefer Rosenthal.") But the book is less a memoir or a social history of the neighborhoods and meeting places of old gay New York than a thick scrapbook of the distinctive gay cultural styles, sensibilities and forms of literacy that reached their apogee in postwar New York and Los Angeles, where the plays, songs, films and stars that constituted so much of the gay métier took shape.
Drawing on his preternatural command of that postwar gay cultural universe, Mr. McCourt brings a learned queer eye to the oeuvre of gay icons ranging from Bette Davis, Judy Garland and Holly Woodlawn to Luchino Visconti, Douglas Sirk and Ronald Firbank (a fey novelist of the 1910’s and 20’s whose style Mr. McCourt’s may most closely resemble), as well as Susan Sontag’s famous 1964 essay on camp, the riches of opera and the cultural poverty of the standing-room line at the new Met compared with the old. Mr. McCourt doesn’t simply describe the camp lexicon and sensibility of the 1950’s. He re-enacts it in his extravagant display of gay cultural literacy as well as in his indirection and dissemblance.
The "older queen"
Prudence elucidates one of Mr. McCourt’s central intentions here: "You must go on talking the way you do, and tell them once upon a time we all talked that way." Because, "of course, we all know this way is fast becoming obsolete." Still, this doesn’t always make for easy reading. Long stretches of "Queer Street" seem to delight in mystifying readers with opaque writing, unannounced shifts in direction and unexplained references. It began as a collection of disparate essays and often still reads that way.
Gay men who knew the 1950’s and 60’s will find in this book a nostalgic compendium of names of long-forgotten bars, bathhouses and subway "tearooms" (public restrooms), novels and novelists, Warhol superstars and pornography superstuds. But those born after 1950 may find many of Mr. McCourt’s references so allusive as to be elusive, since they often appear in lists without explication or description. This is an advanced course in gay cultural literacy, not a primer. Ironically, Mr. McCourt’s own writing becomes more expository when he reaches the Stonewall years of gay liberation.
Perhaps it’s because he’s so enraged by how they changed gay life. Not one to mince words, he declares that for the older generation "the bright new day of their postwar ebullience" was overwhelmed "by the low scud and gathering shadows of an alien, grubby sadistic devolution of values, taste and performance." By his account, men debased the conviviality of the baths as they let drugs and a pounding disco beat interfere with the older rhythms of conversation, repose and sex. They began sporting colored handkerchiefs to signal their sexual interests. ("They call that cruising? I call it the cruising equivalent of painting by numbers.")
Mr. McCourt’s bitter critique is not fully persuasive, since he does not grant the post-Stonewall generation the complexity he claims for his own. He offers little analysis of this complex cultural transition and omits from the balance sheet the movement’s success in stopping widespread police raids, entrapment and workplace discrimination.
Nonetheless, he offers a bracing reminder that something valuable was lost in the transition from the 50’s to the 70’s. "Queer Street" reads like a long conversation with a gay uncle who insists on occupying center stage. He can be frustrating at times, because he won’t stop for questions or let you interrupt his long and seemingly pointless digressions. But then he takes your breath away by raising the curtain on a world you barely knew existed, and you can only gaze in wonder.
George Chauncey is the author of "Gay New York" and is completing "The Strange Career of the Closet," a study of postwar generational change in gay male and American culture.