January 15, 2010.
I have complained often to, and about, Don Slater about not putting down his views on his life’s work.
He urged others to do this, but like many of us, he didn’t practice what he preached. His reply was always that he has — in his many writings and the magazine he more than any one else gave to our community and movement, even when most people were still not ready to deal honestly with their sexuality or deal with it seriously, instead of being gay in a gay bar or by dressing in drag and using coded in-group words.
And I cannot seem to find a way to tell others of my life experience with some, in fact most, of the pioneers in the movement to gain civil/equal rights for homosexual Americans. But in an incoherent way I am going here to try.
How can you explain an experience to those who, sadly, may never have such an experience? For instance, I would probably not have understood other people talking about their great feeling for some person they loved if I had not known Melvin. I’m not saying I didn’t have lots of great sex, and like the people I had the short experience with. My deep love for my coworkers was not the same thing, but was just as important.
In obituaries, the parents and relatives are listed. But in a sense, how do we know if they had much affect on who the person became? If they did, was it by commission or omission? I honestly don’t see how my parents affected my life. But I see in others that I was lucky my parents did not reject me. I see little influence on me from schooling, or LSU, and even the time in the Army. No teacher, or book, got me to understand my sexuality. I had some input on religion from the Methodist Church, and it gave me the most important weapon to combat prejudice based on the Bible — they told me, in the late ’40s, that they had been wrong to support slavery based on quotes from the Bible. That meant later that I paid no attention to the misuse of the Bible about homosexuality.
What I got from work with Mattachine, ONE, and the Homosexual Information Center was the most important thing a person can get: sharing an experience of learning with others. I got from Dr. Evelyn Hooker the proof we needed that will eventually prove our case. But I met her only through having first volunteered at both Mattachine (with Hal Call, Don Lucas briefly in San Francisco in 1959) and ONE, where, no matter how later events and disagreement affected relationships, I daily worked with Dorr Legg and Don Slater, met and talked with Harry Hay, and John Burnside, and Jim Schneider and the editors of the magazine, including Joseph and Jane Hansen, he being a writer/author who was willing to work with a homosexual group.
And I learned that people and groups change. Obviously the main founders of (early) Mattachine were Communists, using their training in that secret organization to found a homosexual organization that in 1950 (see the movie The Way We Were) had to also be secret. And I saw co-founder Dale Jennings go from that left (political) extreme to the right extreme as Hal Call took over and led Mattachine to the right/conservative side, almost going too far to seek “respectability,” hiding behind experts instead of using them, as ONE did.
The most important part of this experience, getting me to where I am today, was just having conversations with these people, not always on sex issues. Long trips from Los Angeles to the house in Colorado gave Don and me lots of time to talk. And that may have been as important as the work on the magazine, or the Motorcade, or lectures.
These thoughts came to me as two items are in the news.
I was happily surprised to hear people saying that the terrible earthquake in Haiti points out that in life it is not enough to have a good national art, or culture, or special music. You have to have and do the basics, of people and government working to make life safe, in this case a country, but in my case a civil rights movement.
Many people think the world will come to accept homosexuals because we are good interior decorators, can make good music, are good artists, and support the opera. The fact is that it has taken people working seriously to change laws, to educate people on the issue of sexuality, that has made life so much better for young homosexual men and women.
The same is true of the Blacks’ and women’s civil rights movements. It is great to have good musicians, but it took marching and education to change the nation to the time we could elect an interracial person as president; to have women mayors, including homosexual women, and governors, etc.; and have Black men in law enforcement when a few decades ago they were being lynched.
And that leads to the other “major” news item: Senator Harry Reid’s remarks about (President) Obama’s “negro-ness,” or lack hereof. A (Black) columnist, Eugene Robinson, said all that needed to be said. It was a good sociological thought, but a stupid political thought.
But I think more should be understood in this case, and it is relevant to the issue of acceptance of homosexuals/LGBT citizens. Senator Reid, and even those wonderful Mattachinos Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, should go see a movie that would have told Reid why he was wrong, even though perhaps right in the world we lived in before the election — and hopefully will no longer be right on judging or urging change of homosexuals soon. I urge them to see the movie that at first seems irrelevant to this issue, although in others ways is a very important movie on our personal lives: Disney’s The Kid. It is great to think of seeing yourself as a person today, as you were as a child, and as you will be later in life. I’m not sure we would change things, but it is great to be reminded of the past and see your future.
But the relevant scene, important in the film and important to Reid’s “issue,” is where the man (Bruce Willis’ character, the man of the present) is in a plane sitting next to a woman, and they talk. She learns that he is a person who advises people, such as politicians, on putting up a good front (my interpretation). So she asks him how he thinks she should change as she is about to get a job as a TV anchor person. He, as I recall, says something perhaps about her hair and dress, but he specifically says for her not to change her voice — not to give up her southern accent just to be acceptable.
The opposite of what Reid thought was Obama’s situation. Obama had not changed, except from Barry to Barack, and it is good to speculate what bigots would have said if he had tried to use Barry, and of course what bigots said when he honestly used Barack.
With bigots there is no winning.
That is what Don Slater said in person and in ONE magazine for two decades. And why he put a Trans person on the cover. He knew that if we tried to hide or disclaim drag queens, or some other segment of our community, that would still not make the “normal” queers “acceptable” as our enemies hate us all.
Maybe someday we will know, if we have competent and ethical historians, who and what got the world to change its views of homosexuality, but I don’t know for sure.
Obviously I took the path led by ONE and think we have been right. I hear from good people who worked in other fields, trying to change the church/religion from inside, trying to change right or left wing political parties from within. Many people think the world likes us better because they like Ellen or Elton, and they have seen the absurd thinking of bigots as pointed out on Comedy Central shows — more than on the supposedly educational channels or in college classes or they have not wanted to be on the side of nuts like the preacher family from Kansas.
But why is there only one answer? Why can it not be all of the above or none of the above? Perhaps Elvis, or Playboy, or World War II is/are the catalysts that led us to where we are today. The “religious” have always hated the “new” music, and the human body, and those who are different. It may be that we live in the time when religious institutions that base their main efforts for existence on some tangential issue such as sexuality, as Jesus said, have built their house on shifting sand and will not stand.
It is certain, however, that homosexuals will be here, and if we and our allies continue to push, then politicians, churches, and bigots will learn to do what we ask and leave us alone. We don’t need special rights in a fair world. It seems that they have so little faith in what they claim to believe about homosexuality and the world that they are the ones who need special rights.
Can we today have the emotional values we got while working personally with others in a cause? We can send emails, and hopefully we will.
But it could be we need to spend time just being with each other. That way, we will know how to “hear” what someone is saying.
Those who “know” Reid know how to “hear” what he said. That makes a big difference, one that talkers on Fox “news” or elsewhere will not understand.
If our nation is to keep going where the founders envisioned, the media is harming us by taking us off on tangential issues. It is up to good citizens to seek serious news and information, or we will, like Haiti, be on shifting sand.