Brian McNaught: The ‘A’ Should Start the Acronym ‘LGBT’
Instead of being at the end of the ever-growing alphabet soup name of our community, the “A” should be at the beginning. There would be no success in our long, hard struggle for equality without the active support and sacrifices of our heterosexual allies. When our most influential ally, President Barack Obama, publicly equated our movement with that of blacks and women, he did so as the result of millions of straight Americans standing with us long before Stonewall.
From recently-deceased “Dear Abby” (Pauline Phillips) and Jeanne Manford (founder of P-FLAG), to the school librarians and the ER nurses who have insisted over the years on our being recognized and treated fairly, we witnessed our Victory Day at the inauguration in huge part because of our straight supporters, many of whom were out as allies long before many of us were out as gay or transgender.
People my age fondly recall watching popular TV host Phil Donahue interview a gay person in 1968, a year before Stonewall. Sexual educators, like Mary Calderone, and those working for Planned Parenthood, were publicly scourged in the 1970s and 1980s for teaching and writing that homosexual orientation is normal.
Although no straight person was physically crucified for their pro-gay stand, as was young Matthew Shepard, they have been pushed and spit upon by people like Fred Phelps and his family for standing between them and gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, and intersex people. They have been voted out of their jobs as ministers by congregations. They have been passed over for promotions, castigated by their principals, punished by their advertisers, and ostracized by their family, friends, and neighbors because of their open support.
We gay and transgender men and women who have devoted our lives to our liberation deserve to feel vindicated and affirmed by the President’s inaugural speech. We have labored long and hard to bring our community to this place of social acceptance. But we couldn’t have done it by ourselves. For every step we took forward, there were straight people with us, fighting for us, without our recognition or our thanks.
When we accurately write our history, it will contain the names of Barry Goldwater, Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Shepard, Ted Kennedy, Sol Gordon, Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem, Sr. Jeannine Gramick, Bishops Walter Sullivan and Thomas Gumbleton, Sally Jesse Raphael, Ann Landers, Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, John Lewis, Gavin Newsom, Dennis Kucinich, Brad Pitt, and Chris Kluwe, among many others. In fact, there are so many other well-known, straight allies whose inclusion in our history is essential, that even naming a few here feels unfair.
When I polled Facebook friends about who they considered our most significant straight allies, most people focused on the present time and named Barack Obama. This was even before his inaugural address. Lady Gaga and Madonna were also mentioned frequently. The list they created includes the names of Sister Margaret Farley, RSM, a moral theologian, who has written and spoken publicly since the early 1980′s that sexual ethics is/should be “orientation blind”; Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata, founders of Fortunate Families, a “Catholic PFLAG” organization; Dr. Evelyn Hooker; Vice President Joe Biden; the ACLU LGBT Project; Emma Goldman, one of the only Americans to support Oscar Wilde during his trial; Alfred Kinsey and the Kinsey Institute; 2012 voters in Minnesota, Washington, Maryland, and Maine; Mildred Deloris Loving; Eleanor Roosevelt; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; George Shibley, the lawyer who won the Dale Jennings trial; Mary Lee Tatum; the Rev. Jimmy Creech; The Rev. Bill Stayton; U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop; Billy Crystal, as “Jodie Dallas” in Soap; Gov. Jerry Brown; Susan Sarandon; Angelina Jolie; Martin Sheen; Nelson Mandela; Desmond Tutu; Garth Brooks; Tom Hanks; Sean Penn; Rev. Al Sharpton; The Huffington Post; Beacon Press; Routledge Press; University of Chicago Press; MSNBC; MTV; HBO; Showtime; Oprah Winfrey; Marlo Thomas; Henry Waxman; Diane Feinstein; George Moscone; Bill Lucy; Jesse Jackson; United Church of Christ; Unitarian Universalist Association; Reform Judaism; Progressive Muslims; and Progressive Hindus.
Others who are significant to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are Debbie Wasserman-Schultz; the National Organization for Women; Jackson Katz & Mentors in Violence Prevention; Cyndi Lauper; Ryan White’s family; Mary Griffith, mother of Bobby Griffith; Sylvia Guerrero, mother of Gwen Araujo; Bishop Bob DeWitt: Bishop Paul Moore: Bishop John Spong; Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo; Deb Dagit (Merck); Ana Duarte McCarthy (Citi); Ricki Lake; Debra Haffner; John Irving; Margaret Meade; Chuck Olsen; Lawrence Tribe; Willie Brown; Julian Bond; Richard Gere; the Rev. James Siefkes; Pennsylvania Gov. Milton Shapp; Judith Light; Charlize Theron; Sally Field; Ben Cohen; Carol Costello (CNN); Starbucks; Intel; Pink (Alicia Beth Moore); Bette Midler; Pat Nidorf, founder of Dignity; Admiral Mike Mullen; Louise Hay; Hunter College; Mayor Michael Bloomberg; Keith Olbermann; and Whoopi Goldberg.
Many of the respondents included “My mom,” “My family,” “My friends,” and “My company.” I have my own personal list of family members and friends whose names I’ve included in previous books or columns. I have thanked them before but I never stop feeling grateful to them for the support they gave me when I needed it most.
If you are reading this, and saying to yourself, “How could they (or he) forget to mention…?” your frustration makes my point. We can’t ever list everyone who has helped us survive and overcome the horror of growing up terrified of telling our secret for fear of what would happen to us. We can’t properly thank all of the individuals who helped us eliminate the psychological designations of disease, overturn sodomy laws, guarantee that we’d be treated with equity in the workplace, fought to allow us to serve openly in the military, wrote books and ordered them for the school library so that no child felt like an ugly duckling, carried food into the hospital rooms of gay men with AIDS when other nurses wouldn’t, married us in defiance of their congregation’s position, voted for us, hired us, marched with us, engaged in civil disobedience with us, named us as guardians of their children, and helped ensure we could have our own children, among many other successes.
Let’s never, ever forget that the extraordinary progress that lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, questioning, and intersex people have experienced in the past 60 years wouldn’t have happened without our “A”s. I, for one, believe the “A” belongs at the beginning of the acronym so that no one feels for a moment that our allies are afterthoughts. The “A” in ALGBTQI has never been silent.