Rainbow flag, raised over Highland Park, NJ this morning, along with the American and POW/MIA flags.
On June 1st, 1932 – 86 years ago today – early gay rights activist Henry Gerber published an article in Modern Thinker magazine attacking the idea that homosexuality is neurosis. An incredibly brave thing to do.
Henry Gerber: Eight years earlier in Chicago, Gerber had started what’s thought to be the first gay rights emancipation organization in the U.S. – Society for Human Rights. The group’s charter made no reference to homosexuality, which would likely have targeted its members for harm. Instead it said the group’s purpose was “to promote and to protect the interests of people who by reasons of mental and physical abnormalities are abused and hindered in the legal pursuit of happiness which is guaranteed them by the Declaration of Independence, and to combat the public prejudices against them by dissemination of facts according to modern science among intellectuals of mature age”. Mental and physical abnormalities. Yes, in 1924, homosexuality was commonly referred to as both sick and immoral. In fact, after writing and distributing the group’s newsletter, Friendship and Freedom, Gerber was arrested and held for 3 days without being charged. Then he lost his job for “conduct unbecoming a postal worker.” (thanks, Peacebuttons, one of my best sources for our progressive history).
Stonewall: Gerber lived till 1972, long enough to be aware of the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969. You know the story; police routinely rousted and beat patrons of the now legendary Stonewall Inn, and in fact every gay bar and gathering place that where a community forced underground gathered. One day, they fought back. The Rebellion began on June 28th, 1969, and this is why Pride Month is celebrated in June, and why the Stonewall site, on Christopher Street, is both a National Landmark, and on the National Register of Historic Places. This was my old neighborhood in the 1980s, the West Village. When I lived there, gay men were a large enough demographic that they could be themselves and be comfortable there, and plenty of businesses served that community, which made ours the most vibrant neighborhood in Manhattan (suck it, Upper West Side, my other neighborhood). Then the AIDS epidemic hit, and everything changed. People were dying of something first called GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency), then “gay cancer” then (maybe worst of all) “gay plague,” then AIDS. I didn’t know a damn thing about anything then, even with gay friends, and even in that epicenter neighborhood. The first person we ever knew who died of AIDS was a married man; and I said out loud that he couldn’t be gay, because he had a family. But as always, the neighborhood brought everybody along. Even stoopid me.
San Francisco was still grappling with the aftermath of progressive hero Harvey Milk’s assassination (along with his colleague Mayor George Moscone), The 1980s were a blur in my old neighborhood; St. Vincent’s Hospital became ‘ground zero of the epidemic’ and later home to the country’s biggest HIV treatment center (and now AIDS Memorial), ACT-UP started on 13th Street, and just north in Chelsea, Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) took on the role our city, state and federal government refused to, to help those who were HIV-positive. [ACT-UP & GMHC were both Larry Kramer; I know he inflames some people, but he’s my hero]. We’ve seen so many ordinary people take leadership since then, but I find myself fascinated by the pioneers who spoke out and acted up without support systems, who in fact created the support systems my friends rely on now.
Garden State Equality: But from 1969 to the 1980s seems like a million years. And maybe none of what people like Larry Kramer did – and friends of mine like Bill Orr organizing for HIV-positive people here in NJ – would never have been possible without the the people who fought back on Christopher Street. Next year, is the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion. But closer to home, tonight Garden State Equality celebrates Pride Month with the Equality Ball, with Gov. Phil Murphy a special guest. And today, rainbow flags are flying on the homes of my friends, and in some of the New Jersey cities & towns that are the warmest and most welcoming places in this state.
Happy Pride Month, New Jersey!