It was May 22, 1979. Boston. Police cars were still smoldering in San Francisco. Hundreds of LGBT people had marched through the streets there, some looting, others setting fires and breaking windows.
Most of them, though, angry beyond belief, marched loudly but peacefully. The man who assassinated openly-gay City Supervisor, Harvey Milk, got a lenient sentence based on his diminished capacity, and over-consumption of Twinkies.
The Boston LGBT community gathered for speeches in front of the state capitol. A handful of anarchists screamed throughout the speeches, “Gay riots now!” The Fag Rag Collective wanted to instigate the same burning, breaking, and looting that created international headlines the night before. They went home disappointed.
We have been privileged to witness the U.S., as well as other countries, having the first serious consideration of systemic racism, and police brutality against people of color. There are some people who broke windows and looted during the soul-level, anguished response to the death of George Floyd at the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer. And among their number were professional agitators who hoped to discredit the protestors. They, too, went home disappointed.
If you’re like me, an older gay man who has witnessed assassinations of black prophets in his lifetime, you can feel overwhelmed with myriad feelings of outrage, the self-consciousness of privilege, frustration, excitement, and the numbness of the brain that results from being useless. Black lives matter, but where to begin? Police unions? Dilapidated schools? Prison slavery? Ray and I watched program after program, immersing ourselves in the black experience to the degree that Netflix documentaries, movies, and series are able to truly capture the wounded souls of black Americans.
In the midst of this national consciousness-raising, and sincere efforts to address racism at every level, from NASCAR rebel flags to Aunt Jemima syrup, the Supreme Court came down with a totally surprising ruling, written by a conservative Trump nominee, that the 1964 Civil Rights Act, that prohibited workplace discrimination on the basis of race, sex, and other factors, also protects gay and transgender people from such bias.
LGBT Lives Matter. It was June. Gay Pride Month. The timing of the 6-3 Supreme Court ruling seemed perfect. Let’s talk about it at the same level of intensity that we’re giving racism. But, maybe not now, not when it will draw attention away from our racism. That’s the subject the Universe has brought us to confront at this moment in history. But, let’s have a national forum later, on homophobia and heterosexism.
We’ve made great progress since I was fired for being gay in 1974, but there is still so much ignorance and fear in the populace, in government, in churches, and in the workplace.
The issues of racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, heterosexism, and transphobia are all linked by the fear and hatred that is created by ignorance, or lack of exposure. Yes, there are people who even when educated, even when enabled to sympathize, nevertheless are insecure predators. But, in my experience, most people live in a higher level of awareness. If they’re culturally uninformed, they’re usually open or eager to learn and change. Education works.
I have an upcoming virtual diversity training on LGBT workplace issues with 300 employees. I’m told that there are no openly gay people in the organization. The company has focussed a lot of attention on racism in response to the nation's convulsion of self-consciousness, in response to the undeniable police brutality of black men.
My job will be to bring their attention not away from racism, but also to heterosexism and cisgenderism. Both terms refer to the assumption of, and preference for heterosexuality and being cisgender. (Cisgender means not being transgender.)
To have and to hold the attention of these young men and women, I can’t be one who breaks windows and sets fires to their consciousness. Education on LGBT issues isn’t looting the minds of those who don’t understand. It’s peaceful protest, in the kindest, most thoughtful way, of the “normal” in which they live, and in which they assume everyone else does too.
The same is true of educating others about racism, sexism, etc. Sometimes, it takes breaking windows, figuratively, to get someone’s attention, but long-term changes in attitudes and behaviors don’t happen as a result of threat. It happens when a face is put on the issue to which the uninformed can comfortably relate.
I have enough anger in me to break a window. I suspect that everybody does. But, we know that emotional anarchy is our issue, and not that of the person whose window we might want to break.
Could it happen? Possibly, but then I’d need to take responsibility for my actions. I’d much rather create an ally than sweep up glass. I’ve successfully done that over the years in workplaces around the world, by being vulnerable, but strong, patient, persistent, and gentle in the opening of minds. Peaceful protests that LGBT lives, and daily experiences at work matter.