National Commentary

Nick Benton’s Gay Science No. 19, This Week: What Led to Sparking That ‘Stonewall Moment’

While the Stonewall riots of June 1969 are considered the storied launch of the modern gay movement, they were but one inflection point in the gradual progress of self-esteem and empowerment of same-sex oriented persons in the U.S., a progress which accelerated fiercely in the context of the pro-civil rights and anti-Vietnam War ferment of the late 1960s.

While the Stonewall riots of June 1969 are considered the storied launch of the modern gay movement, they were but one inflection point in the gradual progress of self-esteem and empowerment of same-sex oriented persons in the U.S., a progress which accelerated fiercely in the context of the pro-civil rights and anti-Vietnam War ferment of the late 1960s.

That progress was integrally tied to notions of human dignity and moral fortitude applied to the struggle for justice and peace for all persons. Regrettably, it was not long after that Stonewall moment that for the gay movement, a descent in the early 1970s toward inward-directed hedonistic excess overtook it, and the demand for “rights” became little more than a demand to perpetuate such excesses without interference.

Recognized accurately, homosexuality and its inherent humanistic sensibility and constructive non-conformity was both a driver and derivation of the universal notion of gay poet Walt Whitman’s “great poet,” as presented in his epochal “Leaves of Grass,” advancing progress, evolution and enlightenment against tyrants and despots since the beginning of time.

History is as a fugue of these hostile contenders – tyrants fighting a desperate battle against the aspirations of “great poets” for justice, beauty and the empowerment of all persons – on the grand panorama of centuries and in the intimate struggles of individuals in their households and private settings.

In Western Civilization, tyrants have grudgingly given ground to “great poets” since the Renaissance, when access to the great intellectual and poetic contributions of the gay Socrates and other brilliant ancient Greeks and the invention of moveable type combined to unleash, in a manner similar to the ways modern forms of Internet social networking are changing the face of the Middle East today, the dignity and aspirations of individuals against brutal, superstition-enforced religious and political tyrannies.

Thus came the American Revolution carried out by the seminal roles of our same-sex oriented “great poet” forefathers Hamilton, Lincoln, Whitman and many more.

Still, in the manner of a fugue, the tyrants have fought back, reasserting their claim to dominion through force and every divisive trick in the books, making their final and most resolute stand on a bedrock of an imperialist, patriarchal, male supremacist social order.

In the U.S., they were forced to abandon slavery, child labor and a propertied male-only right to the vote as legions of racial minorities, working poor and women struggled for their freedom and enfranchisement. This has not unfolded overnight, and the effort is far from over.

But with every advance, in one form or another “great poets” inspired downtrodden and oppressed people to, as the Rev. Martin Luther King expounded, “Stand up straight, because its only if you’re bent over that oppressors can hold you down.”

Those great words of fortitude by Dr. King, as he echoed them at a rally of Memphis sanitation workers just before his assassination in 1968, were at the heart of all struggles for freedom and equality, a struggle that does not end until that imperialist, might-makes-right patriarchal, white male chauvinist tyrant paradigm is finally vanquished once and for all.

In 1968, those of us who knew ourselves to be gay, myself being a seminary student at the time, stood with Dr. King in the framework of centuries of “great poet” struggles, taking his words to heart on behalf not only of all peoples, but on behalf of ourselves as homosexuals, as well.

This is what sparked the rise of the modern gay liberation movement. With pioneers like Frank Kameny, Lilli Vincenz and others igniting the flame in the mid-1960s, following the assassinations of Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy in 1968, it became no longer possible for millions of us who were secretly gay to do anything but stand up straight, in response to Dr. King’s admonitions, ourselves.

We claimed the moral integrity and personal liberation associated with Dr King’s call by “coming out proud and fighting,” standing tall by claiming our gayness not only for ourselves, but as a beacon of hope to all others – gays, women, minorities, children – laboring under the burden of white male domination and oppression.

We would no longer allow society to force us to compromise our personal integrity and dignity. Living “in the closet” was living a lie, a structural internalization of a duplicity of spirit and character that led to deceit and self-destruction. Once we “came out” in that context, nothing mattered more than claiming the personal integrity we felt from such a defiant act, despite the hostility encountered not only in the wider society, but in countless individual households.

On all levels, the tyrant paradigm lurched in anger and horror. Combined with the mobilized aspirations of women, minorities and youth, aroused for civil rights and against the war, the rise of gay liberation from among society’s “great poets,” its most creative artists, educators, scientists and humanitarians, shook the foundations of that paradigm’s very existence.

To be continued.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*