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The roots of gay rights advocacy
The riots at the Stonewall Inn in New York on June 28, 1969, marked a crucial moment in American history. For the first time, gay men and women took to the streets angry and proud, fighting their police attackers and brazenly demanding an end to the institutionalized oppression that characterized their lives. The risk of such public acts in 1960s America cannot be understated.
At the time of the Stonewall riots, the federal government had just the year before ceased its “Pervert Elimination Campaign” that required State Department officials to annually report the number of homosexual employees who had been “purged” from the federal government; more than half of all state Legislatures had passed “sexual psychopath” laws that legally designated homosexuality a threat to public safety; sodomy was illegal in all 50 states; and, even in New York, it was illegal for bars to serve alcohol to “known or suspected homosexuals,” just as it was illegal for couples of the same sex to dance together in public.
When the police raided the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969, intent on arresting its patrons simply for being homosexual, it was nothing out of the ordinary. Gay bars themselves were illegal, and sending out the paddy wagons to round up the gay clientele was standard political fare and good media fodder.
By the one-year anniversary of Stonewall, however, the first wave of gay rights advocacy had officially taken hold, particularly in New York, where organizers planned to commemorate the events of the previous year with what would become known as the first Gay Pride March from Greenwich Village to Central Park.
“These are the days to march, to chant, to dance, to love, to rap, to study,” proclaimed one of the flyers for that first event, “... with brothers and sisters coming together to openly affirm the beauty of our lives and throw wide open the closet doors which will no longer be nailed shut.”
Organizers were stunned when more than 10,000 men and women participants took to the streets — chanting, “Out of the closet and into the street!” and, “Say it clear, say it loud: Gay is good, Gay is proud!” — as was the FBI when its agents verified the attendance figures. Never before had so many gay men and women publicly declared their sexuality and their refusal to be shamed into silence.
From that day forward, the Gay Pride events held every June commemorate both the courage and the pride of those who first stepped forward. More than 35 years after the events at Stonewall, however, it still takes courage to be openly gay in America, just as it takes courage to stand up against those who would like to continue to deny gay men and women the same civil liberties enjoyed by all other Americans.
If there is such a thing as a “homosexual agenda,” it was born at Stonewall and doesn’t seem to require homosexuality as a condition for its advocacy. Even with the diverse range of opinion within the various gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender movements, most individuals and groups agree that all human beings deserve equal rights, respect and protection under the law, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Advocates also agree that prejudice is dangerous, not just for GLBT individuals but for all members of society.
Gay rights advocacy continues to require political activism as a necessary means of informing our democratic process. This can be as simple as casting a well-informed ballot on Election Day, writing letters to elected representatives or wielding economic power by shopping only at businesses that support equality. It might include joining a particular organization or supporting a particular cause with your money, time or talents. And it can still sometimes mean taking to the streets, angry and proud, brazenly demanding an end to institutionalized oppression.
There are many reasons to celebrate Gay Pride this weekend, not the least of which is to honor those who were first brave enough to publicly do so. But it is just as important to remember the roots of political activism inherent in any Gay Pride celebration and to honor the legacy of those who have made the advances in equality for gay individuals since the summer of 1969 possible.
Worldwide Pride: a global fight for equality
The largest Gay Pride celebration in history took place on May 29, 2005, in Brazil, when nearly 2 million gay men, lesbians, transvestites and their supporters from around the world marched through the streets of the country’s capital to celebrate Gay Pride and call for the legalization of same-sex civil unions.
Germany hosted its first Gay Pride event in 1979. The fact that many of Germany’s Gay Pride celebrations are still called Christopher Street Days (after the address of the Stonewall Inn) is evidence that the Germans like politics with their parties rather than party politics. Organizers for this year expect a turnout of 400,000, with a quarter of those attending to come from abroad.
Though it had been prohibited by a municipal ban from city leaders, thousands participated in the first Pride parade held in Jerusalem on June 30, 2005. The massive group of marchers was met mid-route by a group of nearly 100 Orthodox Jewish counter-protestors. Thirteen men were arrested for attacking the parade participants, including one man who stabbed three of the marchers with a kitchen knife.
The first Latvian Gay Pride March took place in the capital city of Riga in 2005, despite the opposition of city leaders and throngs of opposition protesters. The city council’s chief executive withdrew the parade’s permit after receiving letters and e-mails from religious and extremist groups threatening to disrupt it, but organizers were able to obtain a court decision that allowed the parade to take place.
China saw its first Gay Pride parade in June of 2003, when more than 1,000 people, including the mayor of Taipai, marched through the streets in solidarity for gay rights. Because of the abusive and often violent treatment of homosexuals in China, most marchers wore masks to protect their identity.
SJR 7: the “marriage amendment”
For several years now, Indiana lawmakers and citizens have crafted public policy and debated the subject of same-sex marriages. The culmination of this debate for the Indiana General Assembly is Senate Joint Resolution No. 7 (SJR 7), a proposal to amend the Indiana state Constitution, making explicit the definition of marriage as only between one man and one woman and forbidding the rights of marriage from being granted to unmarried persons.
Supporters of the amendment believe that without this intervention, liberal judges and the extremist agenda of a small minority will triumph over morality and tradition and overturn laws like those in Indiana that specifically ban same-sex marriage.
In order for the amendment to be ratified, the resolution must pass the Senate and House once (as it did by an overwhelming majority in 2005); pass the Senate and House again following the election of 2006; and then receive the majority of votes as a ballot issue in November of 2008.
Currently, SJR 7 will amend the Indiana Constitution as follows: (a) Marriage in Indiana consists only of the union of one man and one woman. (b) This Constitution or any other Indiana law may not be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents of marriage be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.
Much of the attention the amendment has received focuses on the second of the bill’s two distinct parts, stating, “the legal rights of marriage cannot be construed or conferred upon unmarried couples.” In other states where similar amendments have been enacted, laws affecting domestic violence prosecution, health care benefits, adoptive and foster parenting have all been affected for gay and straight unmarried couples, and it is predicted that a host of other side-effects for unmarried persons will soon follow.
Serious repercussions from legislation similar to SJR 7 have already been seen in Michigan, Utah and Ohio, where the passage of a constitutional amendment resulted in the legal system’s inability to protect victims of domestic violence. In Michigan, one prosecutor has refused to issue protective orders because, in his words, “domestic violence laws are for wife-beaters, not girlfriend-beaters.” Because Utah’s amendment states that no domestic status or union other than the legal union of one man and one woman has legal sanction or validity, protective orders in the context of an unmarried couple cannot be enforced. And in Ohio, where domestic violence law applies only to a person “living as a spouse,” the new constitutional amendment prohibits Ohio from recognizing a spouse outside the context of a legal union between one man and one woman.
Businesses will also be affected by the amendment. Proponents say the amendment protects businesses because they won’t be forced to provide benefits for unmarried couples. Opponents disagree and warn that the amendment will prevent businesses that want to do so from providing benefits, especially if these benefits are deemed a right of marriage.
Currently, Ball State University, Indiana University, Purdue University and Indiana State University all extend domestic-partner benefits to unmarried couples, including same-sex couples, as do large corporations such as Eli Lilly. Opponents of SJR 7 say the change will result in the loss of benefits for thousands of Indiana residents, and the loss of economic revenue and development when these industries are unable to attract diverse workers.
Opponents also warn that adoption and foster care laws will be affected in Indiana. Currently, the law allows unmarried couples, whether gay or straight, to jointly adopt or be foster parents. But lawmakers have vowed to re-introduce legislation next year that prevents gay individuals or couples from becoming parents by requiring marriage as a requirement for any couple, gay or straight, to jointly adopt, become foster parents or receive artificial fertilization treatments.
Just last month, Attorney General Steve Carter asked the Indiana Supreme Court to overturn a Marion County court’s decision to grant an adoption petition to an unmarried couple, saying the law was unclear as to whether unmarried couples could jointly adopt. In this case, the adoptive parents are lesbians, but if the Supreme Court agrees with Carter, all unmarried couples could be denied joint adoption petitions.
The debate on same-sex marriage in Indiana is guaranteed to dominate this year’s state elections and continue to last at least through November of 2008 — or as long as one side wants to use the Constitution to restrict the definition of marriage and another side considers that restriction an infringement upon civil liberty.
What do Indiana voters really think?
Recent poll indicates voters support equality
Indiana residents were found to overwhelmingly support basic human rights for gay and lesbian citizens and favored equality for gay and lesbian Hoosiers in employment, housing and public accommodations, often by very significant margins, according to a recent poll conducted by the Indiana University Center for Survey Research.
The survey found respondents overwhelmingly agree (79 percent) that gay and lesbian Hoosiers should have the same civil rights protections as others. Clear majorities support such protections in urban, suburban, small town and rural areas, and across all age, educational attainment and racial groups.
Respondents also overwhelmingly favor hate crimes legislation (77 percent). Moreover, of those who favor hate crimes legislation, the vast majority (85 percent) believes that crimes based on sexual orientation should be included.
Nearly three-fourths (74 percent) of the respondents indicated that they support hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples. Slightly over half (53 percent) support inheritance rights. Support for hospital visitation rights was strong across all categories. Even among respondents over the age of 65 and respondents living in rural areas, supermajorities favor visitation rights. Women and younger respondents are more likely to support inheritance rights, as are those living in urban and suburban areas.
Indiana Equality commissioned the Indiana University Center for Survey Research to survey the attitudes of Indiana citizens on issues facing lesbian and gay Hoosiers. Several questions pertaining to these issues were added to the 2005 Indiana poll, a semi-annual survey of Indiana residents probing attitudes about a wide range of social, economic and political topics. For more information and to see the complete poll results, go to www.indianaequality.org
Log Cabin Republicans
It may seem like an oxymoron to some, the idea of gay Republicans. But it is this perceived contradiction in the terms that gave rise to one of the most progressive movements in the Republican Party known as the Log Cabin Republicans.
LCR has thousands of members in dozens of chapters across the country working tirelessly as gay rights advocates. One person at a time, they believe they are building a stronger Republican Party and a better America by seeking low taxes, limited government, strong defense, free markets, personal responsibility and individual liberty.
“We’re working within the Republican Party to gain equality for all Americans, including the GLBT community,” says Karen Bell of the Indiana LCR. “We are small and quiet right now, but we hope to gain in size and strength over the next few years.”
According to the group’s national Web site, “Log Cabin Republicans believe that all Americans have the right to liberty, freedom and equality. Log Cabin stands up against those who preach hatred and intolerance. We stand up for the idea that all Americans deserve to be treated equal — regardless of their sexual orientation.”
Towards those goals, Bell cites examples of how LCR has worked to gain support for gay rights issues here in Indiana. “We’re not the type to protest at the Statehouse; our efforts are more quiet — supporting candidates financially and lobbying our positions in a more behind-the-scenes way,” she says.