Refugees from Amerika: A Gay Manifesto


by Carl Wittman
written slightly before 1969 Stonewall uprising, but first published December 1970
Text from Gay Flames Pamphlet No. 9 (including the stray quotation mark ;o)
New York, NY
See also The Red Butterfly “Comments on Carl Wittman’s ‘A Gay Manifesto'” (coming soon)

San Francisco is a refugee camp for homosexuals. We have fled here from every part of the nation, and like refugees elsewhere, we came not because it is so great here, but because it was so bad there. By the tens of thousands, we fled small towns where to be ourselves would endanger our jobs and any hope of a decent life; we have fled from blackmailing cops, from families who disowned or ‘tolerated’ us; we have been drummed out of the armed services, thrown out of schools, fired from jobs, beaten by punks and policemen.

And we have formed a ghetto, out of self-protection. It is a ghetto rather than a free territory because it is sill theirs. Straight cops patrol us, straight legislators govern us, straight employers keep us in line, straight money exploits us. We have pretended everything is OK, because we haven’t been able to see how to change it—we’ve been afraid.

In the past year there has been an awakening of gay liberation ideas and energy. How it began we don’t know; maybe we were inspired by black people and their freedom movement; we learned how to stop pretending form the hip revolution. Amerika in all its ugliness has surfaced with the war and our national leaders. And we are revulsed by the quality of our ghetto life.

Where once there was frustration, alienation, and cynicism, there are new characteristics among us. We are full of love for each other and are showing it; we are full of anger at what has been done to us. And as we recall all the self-censorship and repression for so many years, a reservoir of tears pours out of our eyes. And we are euphoric, high, with the initial flourish of a movement.

We want to make ourselves clear: our first job is to free ourselves; that means clearing our heads of the garbage that’s been poured into them. This article is an attempt at raising a number of issues, and presenting some ideas to replace the old ones. It is primarily for ourselves, a starting point of discussion. If straight people of good will find it useful in understanding what liberation is about, so much the better.

It should also be clear that these are the views of one person, and are determined not only by my homosexuality, but my being white, male, middle class. It is my individual consciousness. Our group consciousness will evolve as we get ourselves together—we are only at the beginning.

I. ON ORIENTATION

1. What homosexuality is: Nature leaves undefined the object of sexual desire. The gender of that object is imposed socially. Humans originally made homosexuality taboo because they needed every bit of energy to produce and raise children: survival of species was a priority. With overpopulation and technological change, that taboo continued only to exploit us and enslave us.

As kids we refused to capitulate to demands that we ignore our feelings toward each other. Somewhere we found the strength to resist being indoctrinated, and we should count that among our assets. We have to realize that our loving each other is a good thing, not an unfortunate thing, and that we have a lot to teach straights about sex, love, strength, and resistance.

Homosexuality is not a lot of things. It is not a makeshift in the absence of the opposite sex; it is not a hatred or rejection of the opposite sex; it is not genetic; it is not the result of broken homes except inasmuch as we could see the sham of American marriage. Homosexuality is the capacity to love someone of the same sex.

2. Bisexuality: Bisexuality is good; it is the capacity to love people of either sex. The reason so few of us are bisexual is because society made such a big stink about homosexuality that we got forced into seeing ourselves as either straight or non-straight. Also, many gays go turned off to the ways men are supposed to act with women and vice-versa, which is pretty fucked-up. Gays will begin to turn on to women when 1) it’s something that we do because we want to, and not because we should, and 2) when women’s liberation changes the nature of heterosexual relationships.

We continue to call ourselves homosexual, not bisexual, even if we do make it with the opposite sex also, because saying “Oh, I’m Bi” is a copy out for a gay. We get told it’s OK to sleep with guys as long as we sleep with women, too, and that’s still putting homosexuality down. We’ll be gay until everyone has forgotten that it’s an issue. Then we’ll begin to be complete.

3. Heterosexuality: Exclusive heterosexuality is fucked up. It reflects a fear of people of the same sex, it’s anti-homosexual, and it is fraught with frustration. Heterosexual sex is fucked up too; ask women’s liberation about what straight guys are like in bed. Sex is aggression for the male chauvinist; sex is obligation for the traditional woman. And among the young, the modern, the hip, it’s only a subtle version of the same. For us to become heterosexual in the sense that our straight brothers and sisters are is not a cure, it is a disease.

II. ON WOMEN

1. Lesbianism: It’s been a male-dominated society for too long, and that has warped both men and women. So gay women are going to see things differently from gay men; they are going to feel put down as women, too. Their liberation is tied up with both gay liberation and women’s liberation.

This paper speaks form the gay male viewpoint. And although some of the ideas in it may be equally relevant to gay women, it would be arrogant to presume this to be a manifesto for lesbians.

We look forward to the emergence of a lesbian liberation voice. The existence of a lesbian caucus within the New York Gay Liberation Front has been very helpful in challenging male chauvinism among gay guys, and anti-gay feelings among women’s lib.

2. Male Chauvinism: All men are infected with male chauvinism – we were brought up that way. It means we assume that women play subordinate roles and are less human than ourselves. (At an early gay liberation meeting one guy said, “Why don’t we invite women’s liberation – they can bring sandwiches and coffee.”) It is no wonder that so few gay women have become active in our groups.

Male chauvinism, however, is not central to us. We can junk it much more easily than straight men can. For we understand oppression. We have largely opted out of a system which oppresses women daily – our egos are not built on putting women down and having them build us up. Also, living in a mostly male world we have become used to playing different roles, doing or own shit-work. And finally, we have a common enemy: the big male chauvinists are also the big anti-gays.

But we need to purge male chauvinism, both in behavior and in thought among us. Chick equals nigger equals queer. Think it over.

3. Women’s liberation: They are assuming their equality and dignity and in doing so are challenging the same things we are: the roles, the exploitation of minorities by capitalism, the arrogant smugness of straight white male middle-class Amerika. They are our sisters in struggle.

Problems and differences will become clearer when we begin to work together. One major problem is our own male chauvinism. Another is uptightness and hostility to homosexuality that many women have – that is the straight in them. A third problem is differing views on sex: sex for them has meant oppression, while for us it has been a symbol of our freedom. We must come to know and understand each other’s style, jargon and humor.

III. ON ROLES

1. Mimicry of straight society: We are children of straight society. We still think straight: that is part of our oppression. One of the worst of straight concepts is inequality. Straight (also white, English, male, capitalist) thinking views things in terms of order and comparison. A is before B, B is after A; one is below two is below three; there is no room for equality. This idea gets extended to male/female, on top/on bottom, spouse/not spouse, heterosexual/homosexual, boss/worker, white/black and rich/poor. Our social institutions cause and reflect this verbal hierarchy. This is Amerika.

We’ve lived in these institutions all our lives. Naturally we mimic the roles. For too long we mimicked these roles to protect ourselves – a survival mechanism. Now we are becoming free enough to shed the roles which we’ve picked up from the institutions which have imprisoned us.

“Stop mimicking straights, stop censoring ourselves.”

2. Marriage: Marriage is a prime example of a straight institution fraught with role playing. Traditional marriage is a rotten, oppressive institution. Those of us who have been in heterosexual marriages too often have blamed our gayness on the breakup of the marriage. No. They broke up because marriage is a contract which smothers both people, denies needs, and places impossible demands on both people. And we had the strength, again, to refuse to capitulate to the roles which were demanded of us.

Gay people must stop gauging their self-respect by how well they mimic straight marriages. Gay marriages will have the same problems as straight ones except in burlesque. For the usual legitimacy and pressures which keep straight marriages together are absent, e.g., kids, what parents think, what neighbors say.

To accept that happiness comes through finding a groovy spouse and settling down, showing the world that “we’re just the same as you” is avoiding the real issues, and is an expression of self-hatred.

3. Alternatives to Marriage: People want to get married for lots of good reasons, although marriage won’t often meet those needs or desires. We’re all looking for security, a flow of love, and a feeling of belonging and being needed.

These needs can be met through a number of social relationships and living situations. Things we want to get away from are: 1. exclusiveness, propertied attitudes toward each other, a mutual pact against the rest of the world; 2. promises about the future, which we have no right to make and which prevent us from , or make us feel guilty about, growing; 3. inflexible roles, roles which do not reflect us at the moment but are inherited through mimicry and inability to define equalitarian relationships.

We have to define for ourselves a new pluralistic, rolefree social structure for ourselves. It must contain both the freedom and physical space for people to live alone, live together for a while, live together for a long time, either as couples or in larger numbers; and the ability to flow easily from one of these states to another as our needs change.

Liberation for gay people is defining for ourselves how and with whom we live, instead of measuring our relationship in comparison to straight ones, with straight values.

4. Gay ‘stereotypes’: The straight’s image of the gay world is defined largely by those of us who have violated straight roles. There is a tendency among ‘homophile’ groups to deplore gays who play visible roles—the queens and the nellies. As liberated gays, we must take a clear stand. 1. Gays who stand out have become our first martyrs. They came out and withstood disapproval before the rest of us did. 2. If they have suffered from being open, it is straight society whom we must indict, not the queen.

5. Closet queens: This phrase is becoming analogous to ‘Uncle Tom.’ To pretend to be straight sexually, or to pretend to be straight socially, is probably the most harmful pattern of behavior in the ghetto. The married guy who makes it on the side secretly; the guy who will go to bed once but won’t develop any gay relationships; the pretender at work or school who changes the gender of the friend he’s talking about; the guy who’ll suck cock in the bushes but won’t go to bed.

If we are liberated we are open with our sexuality. Closet queenery must end. Come out.

But: in saying come out, we have to have our heads clear about a few things: 1) closet queens are our brothers, and must be defended against attacks by straight people; 2) the fear of coming out is not paranoia; the stakes are high: loss of family ties, loss of job, loss of straight friends – these are all reminders that the oppression is not just in our heads. It’s real. Each of us must make the steps toward openness at our own speed and on our own impulses. Being open is the foundation of freedom: it has to be built solidly. 3) “Closet queen” is a broad term covering a multitude of forms of defense, self-hatred, lack of strength, and habit. We are all closet queens in some ways, and all of us had to come out – very few of us were ‘flagrant’ at the age of seven! We must afford our brothers and sisters the same patience we afforded ourselves. And while their closet queenery is part of our oppression, it’s more a part of theirs. They alone can decide when and how.

IV. ON OPPRESSION

It is important to catalog and understand the different facets of our oppression. There is no future in arguing about degrees of oppression. A lot of ‘movement’ types come on with a line of shit about homosexuals not being oppressed as much as blacks or Vietnamese or workers or women. We don’t happen to fit into their ideas of class or caste. Bull! When people feel oppressed, they act on that feeling. We feel oppressed. Talk about the priority of black liberation or ending imperialism over and above gay liberation is just anti-gay propaganda.

1. Physical attacks: We are attacked, beaten, castrated and left dead time and time again. There are half a dozen known unsolved slayings in San Francisco parks in the last few years. “Punks,” often of minority groups who look around for someone under them socially, feel encouraged to beat up on “queens” and cops look the other way. That used to be called lynching.

Cops in most cities have harassed our meeting places: bars and baths and parks. They set up entrapment squads. A Berkeley brother was slain by a cop in April when he tried to split after finding out that the trick who was making advances to him was a cop. Cities set up ‘pervert’ registration, which if nothing else scares our brothers deeper into the closet.

One of the most vicious slurs on us is the blame for prison ‘gang rapes’. These rapes are invariably done by people who consider themselves straight. The victims of these rapes are us and straights who can’t defend themselves. The press campaign to link prison rapes with homosexuality is an attempt to make straights fear and despise us, so they can oppress us more. It’s typical of the fucked-up straight mind to think that homosexual sex involves tying a guy down and fucking him. That’s aggression, not sex. If that’s what sex is for a lot of straight people, that’s a problem they have to solve, not us.

2. Psychological warfare: Right from the beginning we have been subjected to a barrage of straight propaganda. Since our parents don’t know any homosexuals, we grow up thinking that we are alone and different and perverted. Our school friends identify ‘queer’ with any non-conformist or bad behavior. Our elementary school teachers tell us not to talk to strangers or accept rides. Television, billboards and magazines put forth a false idealization of male/female relationships, and make us wish we were different, wish we were ‘in’. In family living class we’re taught how we’re supposed to turn out. And all along, the best we hear if anything about homosexuality is that it’s an unfortunate problem.

3. Self-oppression: As gay liberation grows, we will find our uptight brothers and sisters, particularly those who are making a buck off our ghetto, coming on strong to defend the status quo. This is self oppression: ‘don’t rock the boat’; ‘things in SF are OK’; ‘gay people just aren’t together’; ‘I’m not oppressed’. These lines are right out of the mouths of the straight establishment. A large part of our oppression would end if we would end if we would stop putting ourselves and our pride down.

4. Institutional: Discrimination against gays is blatant, if we open our eyes. Homosexual relationships are illegal, and even if these laws are not regularly enforced, they encourage and enforce closet queenery. The bulk of the social work psychiatric field looks upon homosexuality as a problem, and treats us as sick. Employers let it be known that our skills are acceptable as long as our sexuality is hidden. Big business and government are particularly notorious offenders.

The discrimination in the draft and armed services is a pillar of the general attitude towards gays. If we are willing to label ourselves publicly not only as homosexual but as sick, then we qualify for deferment; and if we’re not ‘discreet’ (dishonest) we get drummed out of the service. Hell, no, we won’t go, of course not, but we can’t let the army fuck over us this way, either.

V. ON SEX

1. What sex is: It is both creative expression and communication: good when it is either, and better when it is both. Sex can also be aggression, and usually is when those involved do not see each other as equals; and it can also be perfunctory, when we are distracted or preoccupied. These uses spoil what is good about it.

I like of think of good sex in terms of playing the violin: with both people on one level seeing the other body as an object capable of creating beauty when they play it well; and on a second level the players communicating through their mutual production and appreciation of beauty. As in good music, you get totally into it – and coming back out of that state of consciousness is like finishing a work of art or coming back from an episode of an acid or mescaline trip. And to press the analogy further: the variety of music is infinite and varied, depending on the capabilities of the players, both as subjects and as objects. Solos, duets, quartets (symphonies, even, if you happen to dig Romantic music!) are possible. The variations in gender, response, and bodies are like different instruments. And perhaps what we have called sexual ‘orientation’ probably just means that we have not yet learned to turn on to the total range of musical expression.

2. Objectification: In this scheme, people are sexual objects, but they are also subjects, and are human beings who appreciate themselves as object and subject. This use of human bodies as objects is legitimate (not harmful) only when it is reciprocal. If one person is always object and the other subject, it stifles the human being in both of them. Objectification must also be open and frank. By silence we often assume or let the other person assume that sex means commitments: if it does, ok; but if not, say it. (Of course, it’s not all that simple: our capabilities for manipulation are unfathomed—all we can do is try.)

Gay liberation people must understand that women have been treated exclusively and dishonestly as sexual objects. A major part of their liberation is to play down sexual objectification and to develop other aspects of themselves which have been smothered so long. We respect this. We also understand that a few liberated women will be appalled or disgusted at the open and prominent place that we put sex in our lives; and while this is a natural response from their experience, they must learn what it means for us.

For us, sexual objectification is a focus of our quest for freedom. It is precisely that which we are not supposed to share with each other. Learning how to be open and good with each other sexually is part of our liberation. And one obvious distinction: objectification of sex for us is something we choose to do among ourselves, while for women it is imposed by their oppressors.

3. On positions and roles: Much of our sexuality has been perverted through mimicry of straights, and warped from self-hatred. These sexual perversions are basically anti-gay:

“I like to make it with straight guys”
“I’m not gay, but I like to be ‘done’”
“I like to fuck, but don’t want to be fucked”
“I don’t like to be touched above the neck”

This is role playing at its worst; we must transcend these roles. We strive for democratic, mutual, reciprocal sex. This does not mean that we are all mirror images of each other in bed, but that we break away from the roles which enslave us. We already do better in bed than straights do, and we can be better to each other than we have been.

4. Chickens and Studs: Face it, nice bodies and young bodies are attributes, they’re groovy. They are inspiration for art, for spiritual elevation, for good sex. The problem arises only in the inability to relate to people of the same age, or people who don’t fit the plastic stereotypes of a good body. At that point, objectification eclipses people, and expresses self-hatred: “I hate gay people, and I don’t like myself, but if a stud (or chicken) wants to make it with me, I can pretend I’m someone other than me.”

A note on exploitation of children: kids can take care of themselves, and are sexual beings way earlier than we’d like to admit. Those of us who began cruising in early adolescence know this, and we were doing the cruising, not being debauched by dirty old men. Scandals such as the one in Boise, Idaho—blaming a “ring” of homosexuals for perverting their youth—are the fabrications of press and police and politicians. And as for child molesting, the overwhelming amount is done by straight guys to little girls: it is not particularly a gay problem, and is caused by the frustrations resulting form anti-sex puritanism.

5. Perversion:  “We’ve been called perverts enough to be suspect of any usage of the word. Still many of us shrink from the idea of certain kinds of sex: with animals, sado/masochism, dirty sex (involving piss or shit). Right off, even before we take the time to learn any more, there are some things to get straight:

1. we shouldn’t be apologetic to straights about gays whose sex lives we don’t understand or share;

2. it’s not particularly a gay issue, except that gay people are probably less hung up about sexual experimentation;

3. let’s get perspective: even if we were to get into the game of deciding what’s good for someone else, the harm done in these ‘perversions’ is undoubtedly less dangerous or unhealthy than is tobacco or alcohol.

4. While they can be reflections of neurotic or self-hating patterns, they may also be enactments of spiritual or important phenomena: e.g. sex with animals may be the beginning of interspecies communication: some dolphin-human breakthroughs have been made on the sexual level; e.g. one guy who says he digs shit during sex occasionally says it’s not the taste or texture, but a symbol that he’s so far into sex that those things no longer bug him; e.g. sado/masochism, when consensual, can be described as a highly artistic endeavor, a ballet the constraints of which are thresholds of pain and pleasure.

VI. ON OUR GHETTO

We are refugees from Amerika. So we came to the ghetto—and as other ghettos, it has its negative and positive aspects. Refugee camps are better than what preceded them, or people never would have come. But they are still enslaving, if only that we are limited to being ourselves there and only there.

Ghettos breed self-hatred. We stagnate here, accepting the status quo. The status quo is rotten. We are all warped by our oppression, and in the isolation of the ghetto we blame ourselves rather than our oppressors.

Ghettos breed exploitation: Landlords find they can charge exorbitant rents and get away with it, because of the limited area which us safe to live in openly. Mafia control of bars and baths in NYC is only one example of outside money controlling our institutions for their profit. In San Francisco the Tavern Guild favors maintaining the ghetto, for it is through ghetto culture that they make a buck. We crowd their bars not because of their merit but because of the absence of any other social institution. The Guild has refused to let us collect defense funds or pass out gay liberation literature in their bars—need we ask why?

Police or con men who shake down the straight gay in return for not revealing him; the bookstores and movie makers who keep raising prices because they are the only outlet for pornography; heads of ‘modeling’ agencies and other pimps who exploit both the hustlers and the johns – these are the parasites who flourish in the ghetto.

SAN FRANCISCO—Ghetto or Free Territory: Our ghetto certainly is more beautiful and larger and more diverse than most ghettos, and is certainly freer than the rest of Amerika. That’s why we’re here. But it isn’t ours. Capitalists make money off of us, cops patrol us, government tolerates us as long as we shut up, and daily we work for and pay taxes to those who oppress us.

To be a free territory, we must govern ourselves, set up our own institutions, defend ourselves, and use our won energies to improve our lives. The emergence of gay liberation communes, and out own paper is a good start. The talk about gay liberation coffee shop/dance hall should be acted upon. Rural retreats, political action offices, food cooperatives, a free school, unalienating bars and after hours places—they must be developed if we are to have even the shadow of a free territory.

VII. ON COALITION

Right now the bulk of our work has to be among ourselves—self educating, fending off attacks, and building free territory. Thus basically we have to have a gay/straight vision of the world until the oppression of gays is ended.

But not every straight is our enemy. Many of us have mixed identities, and have ties with other liberation movements: women, blacks, other minority groups; we may also have taken on an identity which is vital to us: ecology, dope, ideology. And face it: we can’t change Amerika alone:

Who do we look to for collaboration?

1. Women’s Liberation: summarizing earlier statements, 1) they are our closest ally; we must try hard to get together with them. 2) a lesbian caucus is probably the best way to attack gay guys’ male chauvinism, and challenge the straightness of women’s liberation; 3) as males we must be sensitive to their developing identities as women, and respect that; if we know what our freedom is about, they certainly know what’s best for them.

2. Black liberation: This is tenuous right now because of the uptightness and supermasculinity of many black men (which is understandable). Despite that, we must support their movement, particularly when they are under attack form the establishment; we must show them that we mean business; and we must figure out which our common enemies are: police, city hall, capitalism.

3. Chicanos: Basically the same problem as with blacks: trying to overcome mutual animosity and fear, and finding ways to support them. The extra problem of super up-tightness and machismo among Latin cultures, and the traditional pattern of Mexicans beating up “queers” can be overcome: we’re both oppressed, and by the same people at the top.

4. White radicals and ideologues: We’re not, as a group, Marxist or communist. We haven’t figured out what kind of political/economic system is good for us as gays. Neither capitalist or socialist countries have treated us as anything other than non grata so far.

But we know we are radical, in that we know the system that we’re under now is a direct source of oppression, and it’s not a question of getting our share of the pie. The pie is rotten.

We can look forward to coalition and mutual support with radical groups if they are able to transcend their anti-gay and male chauvinist patterns. We support radical and militant demands when they arise, e.g. Moratorium, People’s Park; but only as a group; we can’t compromise or soft-peddle our gay identity.

Problems: because radicals are doing somebody else’s thing, they tend to avoid issues which affect them directly, and see us as jeopardizing their ‘work’ with other groups (workers, blacks). Some years ago a dignitary of SDS on a community organization project announced at an initial staff meeting that there would be no homosexuality (or dope) on the project. And recently in New York, a movement group which had a coffee-house get-together after a political rally told the gays to leave when they started dancing together. (It’s interesting to note that in this case, the only two groups which supported us were the Women’s Liberation and the Crazies.)

Perhaps most fruitful would be to broach with radicals their stifled homosexuality and the issues which arise from challenging sexual roles.

5. Hip and street- people: A major dynamic of rising gay lib sentiment is the hip revolution within the gay community. Emphasis on love, dropping out, being honest, expressing yourself through hair and clothes, and smoking dope are all attributes of this. The gays who are the least vulnerable to attack by the establishment have been the freest to express themselves on gay liberation.

We can make a direct appeal to young people, who are not so uptight about homosexuality. One kid, after having his first sex with a male said, “I don’t know what all the fuss is about, making it with a girl just isn’t that different.”

The hip/street culture has led people into a lot of freeing activities: encounter/sensitivity, the quest for reality, freeing territory for the people, ecological consciousness, communes. These are real points of agreement and probably will make it easier for them to get their heads straight about homosexuality, too.

6. Homophile groups: 1) reformist or pokey as they sometimes are, they are our brothers. They’ll grow as we have grown and grow. Do not attack them in straight or mixed company. 2) ignore their attack on us. 3) cooperate where cooperation is possible without essential compromise of our identity.

CONCLUSION: AN OUTLINE OF IMPERATIVES FOR GAY LIBERTATION

1. Free ourselves: come out everywhere; initiate self defense and political activity; initiate counter community institutions.

2. Turn other gay people on: talk all the time; understand, forgive, accept.

3. Free the homosexual in everyone: we’ll be getting a good bit of shit form threatened latents: be gentle, and keep talking & acting free.

4. We’ve been playing an act for a long time, so we’re consummate actors. Now we can begin to be, and it’ll be a good show!

Pride 2010 Update



Be sure to check out new additions to the archive during this year’s LGBT Pride Month. Apart from the formal speeches, a couple texts stand out. In particular, make sure to read Gloria Nieto’s statement “Poverty is a Queer Issue”. Also, David Mixner writes of the importance of preserving queer history.

Crisis in the LGBT Community: We Are Losing Our History by David Mixner
Remarks by President Obama at the LGBT Pride Month Reception
Remarks By Secretary of State Clinton at An Event Celebrating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Month

Poverty is a Queer Issue by Gloria Nieto
Google: Celebrating Pride 2010
On Equality by Alexi Giannoulias

Please email me if you have other important texts to add for Pride 2010!

Crisis in the LGBT Community: We Are Losing Our History


by David Mixner
June 30, 2010
(source)

Aristotle once wrote,

“If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development.”

The quote contains enormous wisdom for young LGBT Americans. For them to understand the current epic battle for civil rights, they must understand how it emerged over time and was fashioned by heroes and heroines. The story of our journey is a magnificent one filled with amazing moments and astounding individuals. The LGBT community has emerged from a real greatness that must never be forgotten.

However, we are on the brink of losing a good portion of our history. Those individuals who fought in the trenches in the period from the 1950’s through the 1980’s are soon to become endangered species as more and more die from natural causes. As with World War II veterans, time is rapidly running out to capture their stories. The recent “New York Times” article on Stonewall pioneer lesbian Storme DeLarverie (photograph) reminds us all how important these stories are to be preserved for future generations.

Deeply aggravating the situation was the deliberate destruction of so much of our history during the HIV/AIDS crisis in the dark years of the 1980’s and early 1990’s. When some of our early pioneering activists died of HIV/AIDS their families, ashamed of them for both being gay and also dying of AIDS, destroyed any document, record or letter that would shine light on their journey as a homosexual. When I was organizing my papers for the “David Mixner Collection at Yale University,” I was shocked at what little information was left from the early stages of the movement. For example, thinking I had just one of thousands of newsletters printed by organizations in the 1970’s that no longer exist, I quickly found out that I had one of maybe a dozen that still survive! Entire sections of materials were erased by our families ashamed that we were homosexuals.

No sophisticated oral history project has surfaced and been well-financed to capture the remaining survivors of this period. Our LGBT pioneers are rapidly disappearing and along with them so are their stories. As the article on Storme illustrates, due to the stress of getting older, many who remain have trouble recalling details even now.

Our current young activists and future generations need to understand that we come from giants and a history of courage, dignity and bravery. Let’s not lose our storie to those who wanted to erase our journey. Time is running out …..quickly.

Remarks at An Event Celebrating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Month


by Hillary Clinton
Department of State
Loy Henderson Auditorium
Washington, D.C.
June 22, 2010

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Loy Henderson Auditorium
Washington, DC
June 22, 2010

Thank you. Thank you all very much. (Applause.) Thank you. Gee, let’s do this every week. (Laughter.) It’s great after a hard week to tell you how delighted I am to join with all of you from the State Department and USAID and indeed from departments across our government and many guests who are here in the State Department celebrating Pride Month.

And the purpose of this occasion is to recognize with gratitude the contributions made by LGBT members of the State Department family every single day. We celebrate the progress that is being made here in our own country toward advancing the rights of LGBT Americans, and we recognize that there is still a lot of work to be done but that we are moving together in the right direction. And we reaffirm our commitment to protect and advance the rights of all human beings, as Cheryl just said, of members of the LGBT community around the world. I want to thank Administrator Raj Shah who we are so delighted, is leading USAID into a very positive future. I want to thank Eric Schwartz, who has traveled tirelessly on behalf of his bureau here at the State Department, dealing with population, refugees, migration. And I want to thank Bob Gilchrist, the outgoing GLIFAA president, for his leadership.

I look around this room and there are not only familiar faces, but there are some longtime friends whom I have had the great personal pleasure of knowing over the years. And I must say that knowing my friends who are here, and assuming much about many of you, I know that this occasion is really part of a deeply personal effort that has impacted lives and has helped to create, as Cheryl said, more space and time for people to lead their own lives. And people in this room – I know from experience – have marched in parades and demonstrations; have lobbied our government and other governments to overturn discriminatory laws; have demonstrated courage, both in public and private, to confront hatred and intolerance; and have helped to build a national movement that reflects the diversity of America.

I have been really moved and greatly motivated by the personal stories and the testimonies of so many whom I have known over so many years. Ten years ago, I was the first First Lady – that is often a phrase that I hear – I was the first First Lady to march in a Pride parade, and it was so much fun. (Applause.) And one or two of you marched with me and I am still grateful to you. (Laughter.) As a senator from New York, I was proud to co-sponsor the Employment Non-Discrimination Act; the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, which would grant equal benefits to same-sex domestic partners of federal employees; and the Matthew Shephard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which President Obama signed into law this year. (Applause.)

Now, we, though, in the State Department have to continue the work that many of you have begun and many of you carry on around the world. And I’m very proud that the United States, and particularly the State Department, is taking the lead to confront the circumstances that LGBT people face in just going about their daily lives. So as we enjoy today’s celebration and as we mark the progress that has been truly remarkable – I know that when you’re in the midst of a great movement of change it seems like it is glacial, but any fair assessment, from my perspective, having lived longer than at least more than 75 percent of you that I see in this room – (laughter) – is that it is extraordinary what has happened in such a short period of time.

But think about what’s happening to people as we speak today. Men and women are harassed, beaten, subjected to sexual violence, even killed, because of who they are and whom they love. Some are driven from their homes or countries, and many who become refugees confront new threats in their countries of asylum. In some places, violence against the LGBT community is permitted by law and inflamed by public calls to violence; in others, it persists insidiously behind closed doors.

These dangers are not “gay” issues. This is a human rights issue. (Applause.) Just as I was very proud to say the obvious more than 15 years ago in Beijing that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, well, let me say today that human rights are gay rights and gay rights are human rights, once and for all. (Applause.)

So here at the State Department, we will continue to advance a comprehensive human rights agenda that includes the elimination of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. We are elevating our human rights dialogues with other governments and conducting public diplomacy to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons.

Our Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor produces an annual Human Rights Report that include a section on how LGBT persons are treated in every country. And recently, that bureau announced a new grant to provide emergency aid to human rights defenders in Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East who are at risk, either because they work on these issues or because of their LGBT status.

Our regional bureaus are working closely with our embassies on this issue. The Bureau of African Affairs has taken the lead by asking every embassy in Africa to report on the conditions of local LGBT communities. And I’m asking every regional bureau to make this issue a priority. (Applause.)

Today, we are joined by four human rights activists from Africa who are working to protect LGBT rights in their communities. I want to welcome them to the State Department and ask if they would stand: our four African activists. (Applause.) I thank you for the work you do, often in unfriendly, even dangerous circumstances, to advance the rights and dignity of all people.

Now, the United States is also focused on threats facing LGBT refugees. Eric Schwartz is working to increase protection for refugees who face persecution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Dr. Eric Goosby, through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, PEPFAR, is working to ensure that HIV prevention, treatment, and care are provided to all members of the LGBT population. For example, in the greater Mekong sub-region, we support the Purple Sky Network, which helps protect the health of gay men and transgender people who are too often overlooked or excluded from lifesaving social services.

And around the world, members of the U.S. Foreign Service continue to stand with LGBT communities in ways both large and small. There are two people who are not here that I want to mention and recognize, because they are indicative of both what people face as they fight for these rights and what our embassies and posts across the globe are doing to support them.

In Albania, a young man named Klodian Cela recently came out on a popular television program called Big Brother. Soon after, our ambassador, John Withers, went on television to publicly express support for this man. He visited his hometown and he invited him to an event at our Embassy, conveying to all Albanians that the United States supports his rights and respects his courage.

In Slovakia, at that nation’s first ever Pride Parade last month, our chargé, Keith Eddins, marched to represent the United States. There were anti-gay protestors who became violent and the police used tear gas, which our chargé and other diplomats were exposed to – a quite unpleasant experience, but in service to a just cause.

So as we continue to advance LGBT rights in other countries, we also must continually work to make sure we are advancing the agenda here.

At the State Department, USAID, and throughout the Administration, we are grateful for the contributions of all of our team. And I just want to say thank you, thank you to those of you who serve, thank you for doing so by being open and honest about who you are and helping others see the dignity and purpose of every individual. Our work is demanding and we need every person to give 100 percent. And that means creating an environment in which everyone knows they are valued and feels free to make their contribution.

Last year, I received a petition with more than 2,200 signatures supporting equal benefits to same-sex partners. And I was delighted that soon after, the President signed an executive order to that effect. This month, the Bureau of Consular Affairs issued new regulations making it easier for transgender Americans to amend their passports, ensuring dignified and fair processing. And today, I’m pleased to announce that for the first time, gender identity will be included along with sexual orientation in the State Department Equal Employee Opportunity Statement. (Applause.)

Now, we know that a lot of work lies ahead, and I really want to challenge each and every one of you. Whether you’re LGBT or not, if you’re here, you obviously care about or at least were curious enough to come, and therefore are exhibiting an interest in what we are attempting to achieve here. And in looking at you and seeing a group of accomplished, successful, well-educated, professionally challenged people reminds me that many in our own country, let alone around the world, who are LGBT don’t have those tools, don’t have those assets to be able to speak for themselves, to stand up for themselves, to be in a position to claim who they are.

I used to, when I represented New York, have the great joy and honor of traveling across New York state, so I could go to a Pride Parade in New York City and then I could be a few days later somewhere in upstate New York, where someone would take me aside after an event and whisper their fears about the life they led and wonder whether there was anything we could do. And I used to remind my very activist friends in the Pride movement that they were doing this not for themselves, because basically many of them were well enough off to be able to construct a life that would be fairly immune from the outside world, but they were doing it for so many others who did not have that opportunity, that luxury, if you will.

Well, I still believe that. We’ve come such a far distance in our own country, but there are still so many who need the outreach, need the mentoring, need the support, to stand up and be who they are, and then think about people in so many countries where it just seems impossible. So I think that each and every one of you not only professionally, particularly from State and USAID in every bureau and every embassy and every part of our government, have to do what you can to create that safe space, but also personally to really look for those who might need a helping hand, particularly young people, particularly teenagers who still, today, have such a difficult time and who still, in numbers far beyond what should ever happen, take their own lives rather than live that life. So I would ask you to please think of ways you can be there for everyone who is making this journey to defend not only human rights globally, but to truly defend themselves and their rights. The struggle for equality is never, ever finished. And it is rarely easy, despite how self-evident it should be. But the hardest-fought battles often have the biggest impact. So I hope that each and every one of us will recommit ourselves to building a future in which every person – every, single person can live in dignity, free from violence, free to be themselves, free to live up to their God-given potential wherever they live and whoever they are. And I thank you for being part of one of history’s great moments.

Thank you all very much. (Applause.)

Why We Fight


by Vito Russo of ACT UP
ACT UP “9 Days of Protest” Demonstration
Albany, NY,
May 9, 1988
Also delivered at the ACT UP Demonstration at the Department of Health and Human Services, Washington D.C. October 10, 1988
(source, includes video)

VITO RUSSO: A friend of mine in New York City has a half-fare transit card, which means that you get on buses and subways for half price. And the other day, when he showed his card to the token attendant, the attendant asked what his disability was and he said, I have AIDS. And the attendant said, no you don’t, if you had AIDS, you’d be home dying. And so, I wanted to speak out today as a person with AIDS who is not dying.

You know, for the last three years, since I was diagnosed, my family thinks two things about my situation. One, they think I’m going to die, and two, they think that my government is doing absolutely everything in their power to stop that. And they’re wrong, on both counts.

So, if I’m dying from anything, I’m dying from homophobia. If I’m dying from anything, I’m dying from racism. If I’m dying from anything, it’s from indifference and red tape, because these are the things that are preventing an end to this crisis. If I’m dying from anything, I’m dying from Jesse Helms. If I’m dying from anything, I’m dying from the President of the United States. And, especially, if I’m dying from anything, I’m dying from the sensationalism of newspapers and magazines and television shows, which are interested in me, as a human interest story — only as long as I’m willing to be a helpless victim, but not if I’m fighting for my life.

If I’m dying from anything — I’m dying from the fact that not enough rich, white, heterosexual men have gotten AIDS for anybody to give a shit. You know, living with AIDS in this country is like living in the twilight zone. Living with AIDS is like living through a war which is happening only for those people who happen to be in the trenches. Every time a shell explodes, you look around and you discover that you’ve lost more of your friends, but nobody else notices. It isn’t happening to them. They’re walking the streets as though we weren’t living through some sort of nightmare. And only you can hear the screams of the people who are dying and their cries for help. No one else seems to be noticing.

And it’s worse than a war, because during a war people are united in a shared experience. This war has not united us, it’s divided us. It’s separated those of us with AIDS and those of us who fight for people with AIDS from the rest of the population.

Two and a half years ago, I picked up Life Magazine, and I read an editorial which said, “it’s time to pay attention, because this disease is now beginning to strike the rest of us.” It was as if I wasn’t the one holding the magazine in my hand. And since then, nothing has changed to alter the perception that AIDS is not happening to the real people in this country.

It’s not happening to us in the United States, it’s happening to them — to the disposable populations of fags and junkies who deserve what they get. The media tells them that they don’t have to care, because the people who really matter are not in danger. Twice, three times, four times — The New York Times has published editorials saying, don’t panic yet, over AIDS — it still hasn’t entered the general population, and until it does, we don’t have to give a shit.

And the days, and the months, and the years pass by, and they don’t spend those days and nights and months and years trying to figure out how to get hold of the latest experimental drug, and which dose to take it at, and in what combination with other drugs, and from what source? And, how are you going to pay for it? And where are you going to get it? Because it isn’t happening to them, so they don’t give a shit.

And they don’t sit in television studios, surrounded by technicians who are wearing rubber gloves, who won’t put a microphone on you, because it isn’t happening to them, so they don’t give a shit. And they don’t have their houses burned down by bigots and morons. They watch it on the news and they have dinner and they go to bed, because it isn’t happening to them, and they don’t give a shit.

And they don’t spend their waking hours going from hospital room to hospital room, and watching the people that they love die slowly — of neglect and bigotry, because it isn’t happening to them and they don’t have to give a shit. They haven’t been to two funerals a week for the last three or four or five years — so they don’t give a shit, because it’s not happening to them.

And we read on the front page of The New York Times last Saturday that Anthony Fauci now says that all sorts of promising drugs for treatment haven’t even been tested in the last two years because he can’t afford to hire the people to test them. We’re supposed to be grateful that this story has appeared in the newspaper after two years. Nobody wonders why some reporter didn’t dig up that story and print it 18 months ago, before Fauci got dragged before a Congressional hearing .

How many people are dead in the last two years, who might be alive today, if those drugs had been tested more quickly? Reporters all over the country are busy printing government press releases. They don’t give a shit, it isn’t happening to them — meaning that it isn’t happening to people like them — the real people, the world-famous general public we all keep hearing about.

Legionnaire’s Disease was happening to them because it hit people who looked like them, who sounded like them, who were the same color as them. And that fucking story about a couple of dozen people hit the front page of every newspaper and magazine in this country, and it stayed there until that mystery got solved.

All I read in the newspapers tells me that the mainstream, white heterosexual population is not at risk for this disease. All the newspapers I read tell me that IV drug users and homosexuals still account for the overwhelming majority of cases, and a majority of those people at risk.

And can somebody please tell me why every single penny allocated for education and prevention gets spent on ad campaigns that are directed almost exclusively to white, heterosexual teenagers — who they keep telling us are not at risk!

Can somebody tell me why the only television movie ever produced by a major network in this country, about the impact of this disease, is not about the impact of this disease on the man who has AIDS, but of the impact of AIDS on his white, straight, nuclear family? Why, for eight years, every newspaper and magazine in this country has done cover stories on AIDS only when the threat of heterosexual transmission is raised?

Why, for eight years, every single educational film designed for use in high schools has eliminated any gay positive material, before being approved by the Board of Education? Why, for eight years, every single public information pamphlet and videotape distributed by establishment sources has ignored specific homosexual content?

Why is every bus and subway ad I read and every advertisement and every billboard I see in this country specifically not directed at gay men? Don’t believe the lie that the gay community has done its job and done it well and educated its people. The gay community and IV drug users are not all politicized people living in New York and San Francisco. Members of minority populations, including so called sophisticated gay men are abysmally ignorant about AIDS.

If it is true that gay men and IV drug users are the populations at risk for this disease, then we have a right to demand that education and prevention be targeted specifically to these people. And it is not happening. We are being allowed to die, while low risk populations are being panicked — not educated, panicked — into believing that we deserve to die.

Why are we here together today? We’re here because it is happening to us, and we do give a shit. And if there were more of us AIDS wouldn’t be what it is at this moment in history. It’s more than just a disease, which ignorant people have turned into an excuse to exercise the bigotry they have always felt.

It is more than a horror story, exploited by the tabloids. AIDS is really a test of us, as a people. When future generations ask what we did in this crisis, we’re going to have to tell them that we were out here today. And we have to leave the legacy to those generations of people who will come after us.

Someday, the AIDS crisis will be over. Remember that. And when that day comes — when that day has come and gone, there’ll be people alive on this earth — gay people and straight people, men and women, black and white, who will hear the story that once there was a terrible disease in this country and all over the world, and that a brave group of people stood up and fought and, in some cases, gave their lives, so that other people might live and be free.

So, I’m proud to be with my friends today and the people I love, because I think you’re all heroes, and I’m glad to be part of this fight. But, to borrow a phrase from Michael Callen’s song: all we have is love right now, what we don’t have is time.

In a lot of ways, AIDS activists are like those doctors out there — they’re so busy putting out fires and taking care of people on respirators, that they don’t have the time to take care of all the sick people. We’re so busy putting out fires right now, that we don’t have the time to talk to each other and strategize and plan for the next wave, and the next day, and next month and the next week and the next year.

And, we’re going to have to find the time to do that in the next few months. And, we have to commit ourselves to doing that. And then, after we kick the shit out of this disease, we’re all going to be alive to kick the shit out of this system, so that this never happens again.

VITO RUSSO

All Together Now (A Blueprint for the Movement)


by Evan Wolfson
September 11, 2001
(source)
Originally published in The Advocate (via Google Books archive)

Just as the far right is launching another attack against the freedom to marry — this time in the form of a proposed constitutional amendment — marriage-rights expert Evan Wolfson outlines the blueprint for a new campaign to secure equal marriage rights for all lesbians and gay men.

Why marriage and why now?

We can win the freedom to marry. Possibly within five years. This bold declaration, which I hope becomes a rallying cry, raises many questions – not the least of which are: Why marriage and why now? Who’s “we”? How do we do it? And, five years?

Before I tackle those questions, though, let’s savor the possibilities: We can seize the terms of the debate, tell our diverse stories, engage the nongay persuadable public, enlist allies, work the courts and the legislatures in several states, and achieve a legal breakthrough within five years. I’m talking about not just any legal breakthrough but an actual change in the law of at least one state, ending discrimination in civil marriage and permitting same-sex couples to lawfully wed. This won’t just be a change in the law either; it will be a change in society. For if we do it right, the struggle to win the freedom to marry will bring much more along the way. It is not just the attainment but the engagement that will move us furthest and fastest.

But first, let me tackle those questions.
Why marriage and why now?

Marriage is many things in our society. It is an important choice that belongs to couples in love. In fact, many people consider their choice of partner the most important choice they ever make. Civil marriage is also a legal gateway to a vast array of protections, responsibilities, and benefits (most of which cannot be replicated in any other way). These include access to health care and medical decision making for your partner and your children; parenting and immigration rights; inheritance, taxation, Social Security, and other government benefits; rules for ending a relationship while protecting both parties; and the simple ability to pool resources to buy or transfer property without adverse tax treatment.

After passing the federal antimarriage law marketed as the “Defense of Marriage Act” in 1996, the government cataloged more than 1,049 ways in which married people are accorded special status under law. Add in the state-level protections and the intangible and tangible privileges marriage brings in private life, and that makes more than 1,049 ways in which lesbians and gay couples are ripped off.

Marriage is a known commodity, permitting couples to travel without playing “now you’re legally next of kin; now you’re legally not.” It is a social statement, describing and defining one’s relationships and place in society. It is also a personal statement of commitment that receives public support and can help achieve common aspirations for stability and structure in life. It has spiritual significance for many of us and familial significance for nearly all of us.

Finally, marriage is the vocabulary in which nongay people talk of love, family, dedication, self-sacrifice, and stages of life. It is the vocabulary of love, equality, and inclusion. While recognizing that marriage should not be the sole criterion for benefits and support, nor the only family form worthy of respect, the vast majority of lesbians and gay men want the freedom to marry for the same mix of reasons as nongay people.

In the past several years we have turned an idea virtually no one talked about into a reality waiting to happen. A 1999 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll reported that two thirds of all Americans have come to believe that gay people will win the freedom to marry. And we know that if they believe it will happen, on some level they are learning to live with it – the positive precondition to our achieving it. This extraordinary new receptivity comes only eight years after the Hawaii supreme court first launched this national discussion.

We can call the first chapter of our ongoing freedom to marry movement the “Hawaii/Vermont” chapter. Its successes were enormous. Through court cases in both states we showed that there is no good reason for sex discrimination in civil marriage, just as there was no good reason for race discrimination in civil marriage a generation ago.

We also redefined the national debate over lesbian and gay inclusion, fostering recognition that marriage is central to any discussion about lesbian and gay equality. This was dramatically demonstrated by last year’s vice presidential debate between Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman, both of whom answered a question about gay love by talking about their evolving (and increasingly supportive) positions on marriage.

The Hawaii/Vermont chapter moved the center of our country to the “all but marriage” position. Whereas before the marriage debate, the nongay majority did not support any kind of partner recognition for same-sex couples, now we see majority support for health benefits, inheritance, and other kinds of recognition of our family relationships. That is a product of talking about our lives in the vocabulary of full equality and a happy consequence of asking nongay people to hear our stories.

In June 2000 an Associated Press poll put opposition to our freedom to marry at only 51% ; the latest Gallup Poll puts it at 52%. A recent survey shows college freshmen strongly supporting our freedom to marry as well. My latest favorite poll, however, came in New York magazine early this year. It reported that 58% of nongay New Yorkers support civil marriage for gay people, and that 92% (!) of gay people agree.

All of this is occurring, of course, against a backdrop of international advances. It has been only 12 years since Denmark became the first country to create “gay marriage” (not marriage itself but a parallel marital status for same-sex couples). This year the Netherlands became the first to dispense with separate and unequal formulas and allow same-sex couples to lawfully wed. Other European nations, and possibly the European Union as a whole, will certainly follow suit in the years to come. Meanwhile, Canada — which already has recognized same-sex couples’ legal entitlement to “all but marriage” — is also in the midst of a campaign aimed at securing the freedom to marry.

Finally, the Hawaii/Vermont chapter brought us “gay marriage” — though not yet marriage itself — here at home. With the passage of the civil union law, Vermont created a parallel nonmarriage marital status for same-sex couples, upon which we can build.

It is worth remembering that we didn’t get civil unions by asking for civil unions. We got this separate and unequal status by pressing for the freedom to marry. In Vermont local activists, New England’s Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, and our allies mounted a campaign of public outreach, enlisting clergy, speaking at county fairs, and then folding in litigation — groundwork that led to victory through sustained engagement. With these successes as our new starting point, it’s time for us to open the next chapter in our movement.
What about asking for less?

Civil unions are a tremendous step forward, but they are not good enough. They do not provide equal benefits and they leave couples and those who deal with them exposed to legal uncertainty. What we want is not separate and unequal “gay marriage” but marriage itself, the full range of choice and protections available to our nongay sisters and brothers. We do ourselves no favor when we enter this civil rights discussion bargaining against ourselves.

The attempt not to talk about marriage, to have a discussion without using the m word, increasingly fails. The fierce (and ongoing) right-wing backlash against civil unions in Vermont (and the right wing’s use of marriage and civil unions as a club against us in campaigns in other states) shows that we do not gain much ground by calling it something else or running away from the debate. Our opponents are against us no matter what we seek. When we fight merely not to be beaten up in the streets, they are against us. If we were asking for oxygen, they would be against us. Our opponents will redefine everything we seek as “a slippery slope to gay marriage” and attack us with equal ferocity, no matter what.

If we are going to have to face opposition and work to engage the middle no matter what we strive for, why not ask for all we deserve? Remember, it is no coincidence that the two states in which we have the most expansive protections and recognition for gay people are the two in which we framed the discussion in terms of full equality.
Who’s “we,” and what is the new approach?

It is time for a peacetime campaign to win the freedom to marry. We cannot win equality by focusing just on one court case or the next legislative battle — or by lurching from crisis to crisis.

Rather, like every other successful civil rights movement, we must see our struggle as long-term and must set affirmative goals, marshal sustained strategies and concerted efforts, and enlist new allies and new resources.

More than ever, then, “we” means key organizations in key battleground states working in partnership; a national resource center doing what is best done centrally; talented and dedicated individuals who bring new resources and new focus to the table; existing and new national groups prioritizing real work on marriage; and most critically, nongay allies.

Clearly we can — and must — motivate nongay allies to become vocal advocates. Fortunately, we have good models for doing so. For instance, we can examine and replicate how the parents of students creating gay-straight alliances — or the parents, funders, and others who have taken action against Boy Scouts discrimination — have defined their relation to our civil rights and created a public responsibility and role for themselves.

Since there is no marriage without engagement, we must make enhanced efforts to have our allies speak out in a variety of forums — everything from advertorials to interfaith dialogues to TV talk shows such as Oprah and Larry King Live — describing to other nongay Americans why it’s important for them to support the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian couples.

We also can enlist diverse allies among other constituencies (religious, labor, child welfare, youth, seniors, business, etc.) and seek ways to work together with overlapping communities such as women and people of color. For example, we can find common ground through joint projects to deal with problems we all face with immigration discrimination or access to health care.

Imagine, for example, a collaboration between the National Center for Lesbian Rights and La Raza or the Japanese American Citizens League, in which each group agreed to send collective information on immigration concerns to its mailing lists and then cohost a program that included gay concerns, spokespeople, and stories.

The good news here is that nongay people live in the world of marriage, and in many cases they will be more responsive to our call to join this work. As the growing list of signatories on the Marriage Resolution (www.lambdalegal.org) attests, many of them have already. We must give nongay opinion leaders at the national level as well as local clergy or organizations the impetus and framework for engaging the public on our freedom to marry.
How do we do it?

Our opponents have announced yet another antigay campaign – an effort to promote a federal constitutional amendment to permanently exclude lesbians and gay men from all family protections, including marriage. Outrageous as this latest assault is, there are lessons we can learn from them: the power of a campaign over time, the importance of framing the terms of the debate, the need to present diverse and compelling stories and allies, the ability to make attainable what at one time seemed radical. The good news here is that their attack offers us an occasion to take our case to the people. We should not shy away.

I envision a sustained effort to win the freedom to marry, centering on focused work to attain a legal breakthrough in one or more states, together with sophisticated national work to create a climate of receptivity. The elements of this sustained effort would be serious multimethodology, multiyear freedom-to-marry efforts under way in the most promising breakthrough states. The partners in these efforts would strategically mount litigation or legislative measures to end discrimination in civil marriage, but the specific vehicles would take place within the context of our undertaking enhanced public education and outreach work.
development of a clear and sophisticated understanding of what demographics we need to reach in order to firm up our 30%-35% base and soften up and move the 15%-20% of the public who are movable.
deployment of resources, trainings, messages, messengers, and vehicles to help nongay and gay partners in different states and constituencies communicate transformative information and enlist additional nongay support.

For example, we need to communicate resonant portrayals that show how the exclusion of gay people from marriage has a real and detrimental impact on children, families, and society; how withholding marriage does injustice and cruel harm to lesbian and gay seniors; how the United States is lagging behind other countries; how separate and unequal treatment is wrong; and why the government should not interfere with same-sex couples who choose to marry and share fully and equally in the rights, responsibilities, and commitment of civil marriage.

Let’s relate the stories of seniors and how they are denied the social safety net that comes with marriage. Let’s talk about the California schoolteacher who died after 30 wonderful years teaching kids, leaving her partner unable to share her pension or Social Security death benefits — or even remain in the home they shared. Or we can discuss how, if the teacher had survived and sought to move with her partner into an assisted-living facility, they might have found themselves forbidden to live together.

Marriage discrimination wreaks real harms — kids teased because they don’t have a “real family,” a nonbiological parent told he or she cannot pick up an ailing child at the school because of not being legally related, couples unable to transfer income or property between them.

Let’s trace the experiences — good and bad — of the 2,000-plus couples that have joined in civil union in Vermont. Let’s pick up on reports such as the 1999 Stanford University study that showed how denying marriage to same-sex couples hurts kids. Let’s describe the cruel sundering of binational couples, the partners turned away at hospitals, the callous dismissal of a lifetime of love in cases such as Sharon Smith’s claim for wrongful death when her partner was killed in a horrible dog mauling. Let’s also convey the strengths and vibrancy of many gay and lesbian couples such as my former clients Richard and Ron, who just celebrated their 31st anniversary, or my friends Jamie and Mark, who gathered friends and family from around the country to celebrate their wedding in a lovely church ceremony. Let’s make sure that America hears the voice of Jamie’s father, describing his growth in acceptance and wish that society could now do the same. Our job is to develop and deploy a strategic mix of messages that tell the diverse and real stories of our lives and love in a vocabulary of equality that reaches the middle.
Why five years?

Obviously no one can promise this breakthrough on any specific timetable, so of course I mean that this is doable within five years, but the victory may happen later … or sooner. We had victory within our reach in Hawaii years ago, only to see it blocked there because of our failure to act swiftly and strongly enough. But our opponents know the importance of sticking with the fight, and so must we. We must be prepared to ride the ups and downs. Our leaders and national organizations need to understand the lessons of the previous marriage battles as well as the lessons we should have learned from the battles over the military, federal civil rights legislation, and the Boy Scouts. Among those lessons: We cannot expect to win equality in one short burst of attention or one wartime campaign alone. Rather, we must lay the groundwork and not just try to cherry-pick the easy wins or “flavor of the month” issues.

Another lesson is that it is a mistake to define our cultural engagement and the work of our civil rights movement by what seems currently realistic or attainable in the legislatures (or the courts). For one thing, our ability to predict is often limited. I have seen us win battle after battle in state legislatures, even when our lobbyists and some of our groups said it couldn’t be done; likewise, courts sometimes surprise us. More broadly, the larger work we must do (the multimethodology peacetime campaign) should not be reduced to the bills. We do the groundwork in order to build up ammo and allies for eventual legislative battles, and in order to create the climate of receptivity to prepare and embolden the courts. Our job, of course, is not to make it easy for politicians or judges (even friendly ones) to do what they want; rather, it is to make it easier for politicians to do what we want – to do justice. We should not dumb-down our demand for equality, for possibilities open up not in some linear, tidy way but in spurts of creeping and leaping. Through our work and by aiming high, we make room for luck.
What do we want to build now?

Last year marked the end of an extraordinarily successful chapter in the history of our civil rights movement, from the attainment of “gay marriage” to the nongay response against the Boy Scouts’ discrimination. Now, in this next chapter, each of us must ask what we want to create for the young gay and nongay people watching our work and finding their voice.

To me the answer is clear: Let us build not a building or a halfway house or a better ghetto but rather a movement unafraid to seek what we and all others deserve, unafraid to reach beyond itself to talk with our nongay fellow Americans. Shimmering within our reach is a legal structure of respect, inclusion, equality, and enlarged possibilities, including the freedom to marry. Let us build the new approach, partnership, tools, and entities that can reach the middle and bring it all home.

Evan Wolfson is Executive Director of Freedom to Marry, a gay and non-gay partnership working to win marriage equality nationwide. Before founding Freedom to Marry, Mr. Wolfson served as marriage project director for Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund, was co-counsel in the historic Hawaii marriage case, Baehr v. Miike, and participated in numerous gay rights and HIV/AIDS cases. Citing his national leadership on marriage equality and his appearance before the U.S. Supreme Court in Boy Scouts of America v. James Dale, the National Law Journal named Mr. Wolfson one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America.