An Amazing Half Century and the Road Ahead

Putting together this Pride issue brought up many emotions for me. The focus on history in wonderful and important pieces by David Carter, Duncan Osborne, and David Kennerley vividly and, at times, uncomfortably brought back memories of my own life as a gay man. The fears I had. The challenges I faced. The friends I lost. The accomplishments and pride I have nurtured.

The work by Carter, Osborne, and Kennerley reminds me — and I hope all of you — how important an appreciation for history and an insistence on doing our best to document it are in building and sustaining community.

Our lives today are all built on the shoulders of giants. Not only those at Stonewall and in the activism that grew up in its immediate wake, but of those brave people who endeavored to live honestly and openly in the decades before Stonewall. Our very best historians remind us that queer life has always been with us — by whatever name and with whatever status. It existed in 19th and early 20th century America and vibrantly in Europe between the two World Wars. The experience of so many young men leaving their families and going off to fight in Europe and the Pacific created a fundamental shift in the consciousness of queer men of that period. And so it is not surprising that we witnessed so much ferment, underground though much of it was, in the immediate postwar years, among both gay men and lesbians — which remarkably survived the assaults of the McCarthy era in America.

We have more recently come to appreciate the vitality of life among those who refused to accept gender norms, some of whom came to understand, even before they had the words to adequately describe it, that the role they were assigned at birth was not their essential self.

We also owe a debt to the brave warriors who battled AIDS and government and public indifference and hostility to build a community of action, investigative resilience, and care. Well into the fourth decade of the HIV epidemic, we now have it in our means to put an end to this scourge, not only here in the US but around the globe.

Just a few years ago, we were all marveling at the tremendous political and cultural advances our community had made in less than half a century since Stonewall. And, now, of course, we are daily reminded of the horrors that our president is visiting upon our nation, our world, and — in very targeted ways — our community.

We have no choice now, tomorrow, next year, or even beyond but to redouble our engagement in the political life of our country. Our rights are threatened daily by a rightward lurch in Washington and in the nation’s courts. Basic values of decency are undermined — with racism, religious intolerance, xenophobia, belligerence on the world stage, and the inhumane treatment our nation is visiting on immigrants seeking a refuge in the United States. And if all that weren’t troubling enough, our president has turned his back on the existential crisis that is climate change. It’s already very late in the day to act, and he is instead retreating.

So as we enjoy a wonderful weekend of celebration, let us also honor our history and those who came before us — perhaps in no better way than committing ourselves to be their worthy successors in activism and community-building.