Column: With A Little Help From Our Friends

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It has been a long and winding road to June 26, 2015. From the Stonewall Drag Queens who fought the police in June 1969 to Harvey Milk, Margareth Cammermeyer, Cleve Jones, Evan Wolfson, Troy Perry, Larry Kramer, Norm Kent, Frank Kameny, Dan Choi, a lot of people, a lot of activists, a lot of unsung heroes fought for years to get us to this point.

They risked their comfort and security to press for equal rights for all people. To make us fully vested participants in the American dream. It has been a steady struggle.

For decades, anti-gay organizations and their supporters have portrayed the LGBT community as child molesters, diseased, sexually aggressive miscreants whose aim is to bring about the end of democracy or civilization before being sent to the lower rings of Dante's Inferno for our supposed sins.

Through preposterous lies, distortions and overstatements, anti-gay pastors, right wing politicians and pseudo celebrities made it difficult for laws to be passed to protect our interests, health and families. They created, and repeated ad nauseam, the false mantra that we are a dangerous public health hazard, that our lives are filled with pain, misery, sadness, loneliness and early death.

And they did this “in God’s name.”

They are without defense. Luckily their efforts backfired. In the long run they made people stop and think about what they were saying and in particular how these self-proclaimed moral people could mix God and Hate in the same sentences with such ease. They were exposed for what they really are: mean and divisive fascist demagogues. For years we stood against their hate, condemnation, virulence, judgment, and abuse – most of it coming from the non-affirming, behavior-focused Christian churches, but finally, we are almost...here.

At this historical junction I want to personally thank some of our "frenemies" who helped us out with their bombastic words and bigotry; they turned out to be our best allies, albeit unintentionally.

To them goes my undying gratitude.

First and foremost, Anita Bryant, the Queen of Mean. In June 1977 Bryant, a former Miss Oklahoma and publicist for the Florida Citrus Association, led a battle in Dade County against an anti-discrimination ordinance including sexual orientation. Her "Save Our Children" campaign earned a lot of attention with such rhetoric as "God puts homosexuals in the same category as murderers" and "The will of the American people is to return this country to pro-family, Bible morality."

But her vitriol galvanized the gay community nationwide to move out of the bars and bathhouses and into the streets. It was a turning point for gay men and lesbians who years later would trace their own coming out or activism to the Anita Bryant victory. She did do damage, prompting the repeal of antidiscrimination ordinances in Miami and elsewhere. But her movement was remarkably short-lived. "Anita Bryant is the best thing ever to happen to American homosexuals," wrote The Nation at the time. Thanks Anita, you are the reason I became an activist.

The Rev. Fred Phelps Sr., the fiery founder of the small Westboro Baptist Church drew international condemnation for outrageous and hate-filled protests that blamed almost everything, including the deaths of AIDS victims and U.S. soldiers, on America's tolerance for gay people. Throughout his life, Phelps tested the boundaries of free speech, violating accepted societal standards for decency in his unapologetic assault on gays and lesbians. In the process, he helped the cause of gay rights by serving as a provocative symbol of intolerance forcing people to confront their own views and rousing a protective instinct in parents and friends of gays and lesbians. Thank you Sir, God Bless YOU!

After the attacks of 9/11 Jerry Falwell, appearing as a guest on Pat Robertson's daily 700 Club program, expressed his sorrow and outrage over the attacks but he then elaborated on who, in addition to the terrorists, was responsible for them. "The pagans, the abortionists, the feminists, the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'" He had already descended into the absurd on February 1999, when he stated that the purple Teletubby named Tinky Winky was intended as a gay role model. "He is purple – the gay pride color; and his antenna is shaped like a triangle – the gay-pride symbol." Jerry, I wish you were still here today to see 21st-century America: multiracial, multi-ethnic, global in outlook and moving beyond centuries of racial, sexual, marital and religious tradition.

Pat Robertson on June 10, 1998, said that Orlando should beware of hurricanes, since it, and Disney World, allow Gay Days to be held there "I would warn Orlando that you're right in the way of some serious hurricanes, and I don't think I'd be waving those flags in God's face if I were you,'' Robertson said on his TV show, The 700 Club. In the months following the statement, Orlando was spared, but hurricanes Charley and Frances made landfall in Texas, dumping heavy rains, killing more than 14 people, and both hitting the town of Corpus Christi. So much for the "God Hates Fags" theory. Apparently even the Almighty has a sense of humor.

Memo to all of them: If you want to tout your own morality, you better come up with something more substantive than your misguided beliefs. Don't use religion to abdicate your responsibility to be thinking and caring human beings. And face it: a vast number of religious people find your self-righteous sanctimonious claptrap repugnant. God is not for the privileged majority, and God knows we have committed no sin.


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