If memory serves, I was about five months away from being shipped off to Vietnam when the Stonewall Riots occurred spontaneously in Greenwich Village on June 28, 1969, giving rise to June LGBT Pride Month observances now scheduled nationwide, including Iowa --- this weekend in Cedar Rapids and Davenport; next weekend in Des Moines, the weekend after in Iowa City and finally June 30 in Omaha.
Pride, which sometimes goeth before a fall, has not in this instance. But then "pride" here has little to do with self-congratulation but rather with self-affirmation by people upon whom shame and social stigma previously had been imposed.
It's still mildly surreal, however, to see President Obama officially declare June Pride Month, as he did yesterday for the fourth consecutive year, saying among other things:
"The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community has written a proud chapter in this fundamentally American story. From brave men and women who came out and spoke out, to union and faith leaders who rallied for equality, to activists and advocates who challenged unjust laws and marched on Washington, LGBT Americans and allies have achieved what once seemed inconceivable. This month, we reflect on their enduring legacy, celebrate the movement that has made progress possible, and recommit to securing the fullest blessings of freedom for all Americans."
The Gilbert Baker-designed rainbow flag, now a universal LGBT emblem, made its deput during 1978 in the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Freedom Day parade. Rather than marching, I was editing small weekly newspapers in far north Iowa at the time.
As planned, each color in that rainbow display was intended to convey meaning --- red for life, orange for healing, yellow for the sun, green for nature, blue for harmony and violet for spirit --- although the parts by now have been obscured by the whole.
Whether or not we're at the tipping point for full inclusion remains to be seen --- and the range of inclusive issues has grown to include same-sex marriage. But achieving the goal is inevitable, if not today --- tomorrow. The last 43 years have demonstrated, despite occasional setbacks, the power of visibility, persistence, truth --- and pride.
Dumb-ass evangelical preachers have been getting a good deal of attention lately for extremist statements about LGBT people delivered from pulpits and platforms, then inadvertently or purposely aired --- fence LGBT people in, beat the devil out of kids, kill the gays. That sort of thing.
It's hard to know how widely such sentiments are held among evangelicals in part because most of their preachers are smarter when it comes to outrageous declarations and incendiary language. But where there's smoke, there quite often is fire.
I've been interested in a couple of commentaries by LGBT folks, including one at Huffington Post yesterday by author, commentator and activist Michelangelo Signorile that concludes:
"It may be true that the "death to gays" pastors and their followers represent a tiny portion of evangelicals. But a much larger group of white evangelicals (and their leaders), which represented half of all GOP primary voters in the current presidential race, is not speaking out against the people making claims in the name of their religious faith. And by not doing so they are giving tacit approval to calls for violence, murder and genocide."
And this from LGBT senior statesman David Mixner on his own Web site, referring to incendiary words from both evangelical preachers and good old boys of the Roman Catholic heirarchy:
"Their power is not limited to their church or diocese but serves like a drug for unstable individuals in society who could be the perpetrators of enormous violence directed toward the community. They hear bishops or ministers proclaim that being gay is a more important issue to their God than poverty, war or destroying our environment. The endless litany of lies, distortions and pure hate coming out of their mouths is like pointing a loaded gun at the (LGBT) community."
After encouraging vigilance, Mixner goes on to say: "Most importantly LGBT Americans have to rise above this hate filled speech and reach out to our fellow citizens with our talents, love and being good neighbors. Never should we allow ourselves to be dragged into the sinkhole of anger and hatred. Becoming like them only makes our struggle more difficult and steals our souls."
It's sometimes a tempting to see the rainbow flag at the head of a procession leading the church out of its current muddle of bile, fear and indifference. Perhaps we should send forth missionaries.