On Gay Pride Sunday, June 13, 2010, marking the 40th anniversary of the first Gay Pride parade, I had the honor of delivering remarks to those assembled a few blocks from the Pride festival at the First Congregational Church in downtown Washington, D.C.
I titled my remarks, “What Now Lazarus?,” drawing from the question a seminary professor put to me long ago. The Biblical figure Lazarus was raised from the dead, but there is no account of what he did after that. “Did he go back to growing dates, or did he make something more of his life?,” my adroit professor asked.
I applied that question to the gay movement today. We have been raised from the dead, metaphorically, in three ways: from the oppression of our closets, from the terrible AIDS epidemic, and, soon, from second-class status in the eyes of the law (while huge fights still need to be fought against a lot of persisting bigotry and hate, this is inevitable). After all this, then what?
Do we assimilate into the the male-dominated, profoundly unequal and militaristic prevailing society, becoming as stupid TV sitcoms or right-wing scions seeking to co-opt us would have it, absorbed into and indistinguishable from all that? Do we angrily repudiate assimilation with radical, post-modern “queer theories” and behaviors that define us in terms of perpetual rage?
Or do we follow the alternative approach that has been the subject of this series, which concludes now after being published weekly since October 2010 in the web edition of my Falls Church News-Press and reprinted on the pages of the superb Metro Weekly gay news magazine in Washington, D.C.
This alternative is consistent with what history shows are core expressions of our naturally inherent and vitally important gay souls.
Preponderant qualities of heightened empathy and compassion for the underdog, of an alternate sensual perspective (our same-sex erotic attraction being a natural derivative of humanity’s powerful impulse for empathy and not a variant of the drive for species reproduction) applied to all aspects of life, and a constructive non-conformity account for the amazing contributions our “tribe” has brought to the benefit of all humanity for thousands of years.
Contrary to the shallow conceits of current, hedonistic urban gay culture, we gay souls have been a major, constructive factor in civilization since before the beginning. Sensitive to the plight of women, children, the elderly and downtrodden in savage patriarchal male chauvinist, war-mongering cultures, we worked to build the institutions over eons that have advanced compassion over cruelty, science over superstition, beauty over corruption and equality over tyranny.
We, with our natural feminist allies (and our natural inclination to identify and align with strong women struggling in all stations in life), sparked the American revolution as an epochal blow against the male-chauvinist right of monarchies to hereditary succession, and built a constructive alternative in the U.S. Constitution’s framework for fair and just governance that had embedded within it what has slowly progressed to equal rights under the law for everybody.
The enormously positive new development of the post-Stonewall era has been our increasing capacity to “come out,” gaining for us a degree of personal integrity before the world that was always denied before. It promises to result in an explosion of our creativity and beneficial role to society as a whole, although that was stalled by the radical, anarcho-hedonism imposed on our urban culture in the 1970s that devolved into the AIDS horror and stubbornly persists to this day in urban centers.
But now, the fight for marriage represents for us a fresh constructive front in the struggle for full human equality, not just because we’ll have the right to it, but more importantly, because gay marriage advances the notion of loving bonds of equals, striking another blow against the male supremacist paradigm. Some who favor it on gay rights grounds alone may overlook this.
Like Lazarus in the Bible, gay souls have been raised from the tomb of the closet, of AIDS, and second-hand citizen status to a purpose, to the meaning in life we derive through dedication to our creative work, our love and our courage on behalf of humanity, as a whole.
Our gay liberation will be complete only when all humanity enjoys the benefits of the same kind of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness we set as our purpose long, long ago.
I close quoting the final words in Tony Kushner’s magnificent play, “Angels in America,” spoken by its principle character Prior, living with AIDS. He steps away from his friends at the Bethesda fountain in New York’s Central Park, turns to all of us, his gay sisters and brothers, and says,
“We are not going away. We won’t die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come.
“You are fabulous creatures, each and every one.
“And I bless you: More Life.
“The Great Work Begins.”