Sunday, June 28, 2009

Frank Rich on Stonewall

I truly admire the way New York Times columnist Frank Rich continually reminds us that this country's work on civil rights is not yet complete.

Last month, he took the Obama administration to task over its failure to push for the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act. Today, he has a column on the 40th anniversary of Stonewall and he's still holding the administration's feet to the fire.

(I love this line: "If the country needs any Defense of Marriage Act at this point, it would be to defend heterosexual marriage from the right-wing “family values” trinity of Sanford, Ensign and Vitter.")

Rich recalls how he was caught up in the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s but never heard about the demonstrations that followed a police raid on a gay bar in Greenwich Village on June 28, 1969. Even if he had, he wonders whether he would have cared. After all, he didn't know anyone at his Ivy League university who was openly gay.

"It was typical of my generation, like others before and after, that the issue of gay civil rights wasn’t on our radar screen. Not least because gay people, fearful of harassment, violence and arrest, were often forced into the shadows."

I'm younger than Rich, but I've always been interested in the history of the 1960s, particularly the civil rights and antiwar movements. I read widely on those subjects when I was in college in the late '70s and early '80s. And I never remember reading anything about Stonewall. Like Rich, when I was in college, I didn't know anyone who was openly gay.

Well, things are, thankfully, different today. Frank Rich cares, and so do I.

My audience may not be as large as the Times' but I intend to keep writing, too. How could I not? How could I tell my friends who happen to be gay or lesbian - people I love and admire - that there are some rights they don't deserve, that our laws shouldn't protect them as much as they protect me, that they shouldn't be allowed to marry the person with whom they want to spend the rest of their life?

On Monday, Rich notes that President Obama will mark the Stonewall anniversary at the White House. And he repeats his disappointment in the administration, which I share. Congressional Democrats, too. I'm not letting you off the hook. Judging from this Times story, there's plenty of foot-dragging in the legislative branch.

One line in Rich's May column gave me pause, when he said that "changes aren’t coming as fast as many gay Americans would like." I noted that there are plenty of "straight Americans" who want equal rights extended to everyone in this country. It's important for our elected officials to know that this isn't a "gay issue."

Apparently, he's been reading my blog because this time, he gets my point:

"It’s a press cliché that “gay supporters” are disappointed with Obama, but we should all be. Gay Americans aren’t just another political special interest group. They are Americans who are actively discriminated against by federal laws."

"If the president is to properly honor the memory of Stonewall, he should get up to speed on what happened there 40 years ago, when courageous kids who had nothing, not even a public acknowledgment of their existence, stood up to make history happen in the least likely of places."


Anonymous said...

Hear, hear Esther.


Esther said...

Thanks, Kathy! And thanks, Frank Rich!