So, it’s June. June is in a dead heat with October for being the gayest months of the year. October may have Gay History Month, National Coming Out Day and Halloween. But June’s just busting out all over with Pride Days commemorating the Stonewall Rebellion on Christopher Street. Even President Obama wanted a piece of that action, having declared the entire month “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month.”
As someone born prior to any Pride Day celebration, I am simply amazed by how far we have come. This June, 33 states and 52 cities including the nation’s capitol are celebrating the modern gay rights movement in these United States. Even eight of Canada’s provinces are celebrating Pride Day in nine cities, while south of the U.S. border; celebrations are taking place in Mexico, Brazil and Argentina. Around the world there are 12 countries in Europe, Asia and the Middle East that are participating. South Korea and Israel are celebrating and, of course, the Aussies are whooping it up down under.
I know for some that the “Mardi Gras” attributes of Pride Day can make it feel like we’re just celebrating debauchery and decadence more than our civil rights. But, actually, I think we are just blowing off a little steam from having been pressured by society to assimilate into mainstream heterosexual conventionalities throughout the rest of the year. And after all, who doesn’t love seeing a man in a red dress?
Every June, I always like to remind people that Pride is much more than a party. We are using the word “pride” as an antonym for “shame” and not in the sense of being boastful — although we have a lot to boast about! Shame has been used to control and oppress queer folks throughout history. Humiliation, degradation, guilt and even capital punishment have been used for centuries by hegemonic church and state authorities to beat down this sexual minority feared by the heterosexual majority — sexual minority, I might add, that I am very fond of.
The notion of Gay Pride is older than most gay people might realize. Many of you would be surprised to learn that the concept of “same-sex affection and eroticism” was promoted not only in 1969, but way back in 1869. A mid-19th Century German named Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs is viewed today as the true founder of modern gay rights movement.
In 1862, Ulrich “came out” to his family and friends. But not having a word for his sexuality besides the pejoratives “sodomite” and “pederast,” he came up with the term “Urainian.” It referred to the philosopher Plato, another queer, and his term “Uranus,” which he used to describe what he called the highest form of love: when a man desires another man. Those Greek men sure were hot! Surprisingly, the term Uranian was quite popular in the late 19th Century and only lost out to “homosexual” when the medical community adopted that word for clinical purposes.
Ulrich the Uranian became the first to speak out publicly in defense of same-sex love. At the Congress of German Jurists in 1867, he urged the repeal of sodomy laws. He was booed.
About the same time, an Austrian named Karl-Maria Kertbeny began to write extensively on the issue of same-sex attraction, motivated, he said, by an “anthropological interest” combined with a sense of justice and a concern for the “rights of man,” and not because he was queer. Really, Mary? It was Kertbeny who, in 1869, coined the word “homosexual,” and won the etymologic battle over the use of “Uranian” to describe a self-identified homo.
By the 1870s, the subject of sexual orientation began to be widely discussed due to Ulrich and Kertbeny advancing the classic liberal argument that consensual sex acts in private should not be subject to criminal law. They also formulated the view that homosexuality was inborn and unchangeable, an argument which would later be called the “medical model” of homosexuality.
In early part of the 20th Century, because of the work of Ulrich, Kerbeny and sexologist Magnus Hirschfield, Germany became the center of the progressive gay rights movement until Adolf Hitler came to power. Der Fuhrer, who had used the homoerotic Brown Shirt militia to bully his way into office, swept homos from power during The Night of the Long Knives and used German laws that registered homosexuals, to send them to concentration camps. We get the pink triangle symbol from these camps, where it was put onto the sleeves of gay prisoners. Log Cabin Republicans, are you listening? Just saying.
The gay rights movement shifted to the Land of the Free after World War II, partly because of sexologist Alfred Kinsey’s 1946 book Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and communist’s Harry Hay’s Mattachine Society. Along with a group of comrades Hay started the homophile movement in America in 1950. He was soon expelled by right wing conservative homos who didn’t want to twist J. Edgar Hoover’s pink panties. That was Clyde Tolman’s job.
For nearly a hundred years, equality proponents have struggled to change centuries of ingrained notions that same-sex attraction is a deliberate sin against God and an immoral criminal act harmful to the state’s welfare. Early attempts to soften attacks against queers tried to chain homosexuality to the idea that it was a medical and biological pathology and not a crime. After Stonewall, this view that homosexuality should not be criminalized because it was a mental illness was also challenged and ended. I always say that I was insane until 1974 when the American Psychiatric Association said I was not. But what do they know?
In these past forty years since our first Pride March in 1970, the Gay Rights movement has had three premises that identify what we are fighting and marching for. They are: that people should be proud of their sexual orientation and gender identity; that diversity is a gift; and that sexual orientation and gender identity are inherent and cannot be intentionally altered.
Now, aren’t you proud to be gay?