Wednesday, March 29th, 2023

JC Penney, RFD, and the theory and practice of assimilation

Billy GloverMarch 16, 2013.

Many people, LGBT or non-LGBT, do not think much about theory and just practice living their lives. Even though from the very start of the movement to gain equal/civil rights for homosexual Americans there were two views on who we are and what to do to make life better for us.

Harry Hay, as is covered once again in the current issue of RFD Magazine, thought we, in a sense as outsiders, had special insight.  Those who took the movement public, as the editors of ONE Magazine, took the view that while that may be true, it did not mean we were so special we needed to be a “separate” people, as had been the experience of some Jews, etc. While early immigrants to the United States first lived among those who spoke their language and knew their “history,” they soon moved into the mainstream.

The issue of assimilation is relevant as one part of it was the fear of the founders of ONE, Inc., that it would lead into or keep us in a ghetto, to be exploited. In a sense this happened in some cities with gay bars, where we were overcharged and often used in the battle between owners and Vice. Many thought lawyers used us in our sodomy arrests, overcharging us and not giving us real defense.

Today the opposite opportunity is here in the form, perhaps, of JC Penney and its problems. It may be that the use by that firm of Ellen in commercials, and thus reaching out to the LGBT community and our friends and families, has caused it to lose customers. It may be bad management. But here may be an opportunity to show society that supporting our community does not hurt a business, a church, a politician, etc. If we do not support those who are friendly, they will not support us in the future, as they lose the bigots support and did not gain our support.

RFDspring13It doesn’t matter what theory we want to support—in the real world our practice will decide our future. But for those who want to think about the issue, there are several thoughts in articles in the current issue of RFD Magazine. While I will take, as many do when dealing with the Bible, etc, a few of these words/thoughts, it may be worthwhile for others to read the whole articles.

The issue leads with the conference at CLAGS in New York in September celebrating the 100th anniversary of Harry Hay’s birth. The event is discussed by one of its leaders, Joey Cain, giving us details of what discussions were held, and including some papers on the issue of Harry, the Radical Faeries, etc.

As an aside, the “issue” of helping older people in our community is covered by Cain and others who took care of Harry and John Burnside till their deaths. That is the example others are now following, such as buildings in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, etc. The “group” also wanted to honor Harry’s memory and legacy, another example that some want to do with other founders and early leaders.

The differing view of the “movement” is shown in several places, and just a quote or two will show the differences even among those who honor Harry and share their memories of knowing him. Jason Baumann says, about the Radical Faeries:

They searched through history, and across cultures, before there was even the luxury of something that could be called gay history, looking for evidence of men who loved men… It’s both too easy and very strange to dismiss their turn to the past for inspiration given that this historical turn is so fundamental for gay culture.

“Husk” says something that is contradictory to what seems to be the mainstream of the community today.

Who are we? Where do we come from? and Why are we here?” Hay wrote that answering these questions is key to both the acceptance of gay men into U.S. culture and tapping queer potential. For answers, he looked to medieval Europe … [where] a queer person was “the fool” or the Mattachine; this person did not marry or raise a family, but instead denounced unjust laws and oppressive taxation.

Thus many today in practice reject this idea of who we are. The issue of same-sex marriage and the right to have and/or adopt children is the opposite of that definition.

And to complete the disagreement, “Endora” says, quoting a discussion on women in Cynthia Eller’s The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory and the danger of seeking and inventing mythic historical claims:

She [Eller] argues that in trying to legitimize women’s power by rooting it in ahistorical claims about an ancient period of blissful matriarchy, when, as Merlin Stone put, “God Was a Woman,” women are shooting themselves in the foot. It doesn’t matter, Eller argues, whether women ever held power in the past; they deserve to hold it now, and it is dangerous to legitimate a movement by rooting it in questionable claims about history.

One can make a very similar argument about Radical Faeries and the myth of ancestors…

And indeed—the whole movement.


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  1. PR

    The recent demise of JC PENNEY is not the fault of Ellen DeGeneres.

    Take a few moments to review related articles in the past month for WS Journal and NY Times and you will find the primary blame of JC PENNEYS demise is Ron Johnson – its new CEO, that came from Apple. Johnson single-handedly eliminated clearance racks, monthly and quarterly specials (sales) with 100+ years of tradition (White Sale, After Christmas Sale, etc.).

    JC PENNEY stock is down more than 50% since he took over, yet he was paid $53M last year.


  2. Billy Glover

    Thanks for this explanation. I had a few others who said they no longer shopped there because the selection of clothes had changed. I just worried that other businesses might think their problem was that they had been gay-friendly. I am in LA but worked most of my life in L.A. with ONE and the Homosexual Information Center. Archives of our work are at the libraries of USC and Cal State Northridge.

  3. Peter Robertson

    Oh! ONE? ONEderful!

    Fresno State has a ONEderful book collection:

    The Arne Nixon Center, located in the Henry Madden Library, holds a collection of more than 500 LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning) themed books. Donations from several well-known librarians have established this genre within the Center’s collection, making it the largest such collection of LGBTQ books for young readers in any library throughout the United States.
    All the best,

  4. Billy Glover

    That is very good. I hope the media lets people know about it as a resource. Barbara Gittings and others worked to get libraries/librarians educated about the issues and books to give a balanced view of the subject. Now the students and public need to use these resources.

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