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Stonewall gives middle finger to oppressive heterosexist ‘normalcy’

Fight against the APA was just as profound

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Barbara Gittings, Frank Kameny, and John Fryer as ‘Dr. H. Anonymous’ at the APA meeting in 1972. (Photo courtesy Wikipedia)

In the Trump era, the massive LGBT parades in New York City and elsewhere on June 28, the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, commemorate more than an annual Pride event: they symbolize an LGBT people intent on joyfully countering white male-dominated heterosexism and the tentacles of hatred it inspires. This counter-culture moment in many ways mirrors the counter-culture movement of the 1960s and early 1970s where hope for full equality and the spirit of freedom and democracy clashed with oppressive hard-core conservatism. 

Stonewall was a line of demarcation between passive acceptance and courageous self-empowerment in a culture war that is not yet won.

Violent raids on gay bars were routine until Stonewall, as the Washington Post reported in their review of Howard Mann’s book “Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood, 1910-1969.” “The imposition of the notorious Production Code, for example, was accompanied by a crackdown on ‘pansy’ clubs in Los Angeles and elsewhere — all part of a reaction to the liberalization of the raucously roaring ’20s.”

Outside of dark hideouts and clandestine hookups, LGBT people survived by hiding in the closet, passing as straight. Those who couldn’t hide or got caught were often scandalized, humiliated, beaten or killed without repercussions.

Gays like Howard Efland, a nurse who checked into the SRO Dover Hotel in downtown LA on March 9, 1969—roughly four months before Stonewall—hoping to meet someone in those otherwise free-wheeling pre-bathhouse days of the 1960s. But the LAPD didn’t just bust the “faggot” on a trumped-up charge—they dragged him naked by the feet down a flight of stairs where they savagely beat him in front of horrified witnesses as he screamed for help. When he died shortly thereafter, they told his parents he suffered a heart attack. The Coroner called his death an “excusable homicide.”

The LA Advocate found out and reported the murder, prompting the Rev. Troy Perry and gay troublemaker Morris Kight to organize a march and rally at the site. But no one was ever held accountable.

Protest rallies had become common in the 1960s as more people joined civil rights marches and students protested the war in Vietnam. But the 1968 assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Rev. Martin Luther King, along with the televised brutality of the Chicago police during the Democratic National Convention, led the country to split asunder debating politics, ethics and morality. 

But Stonewall in 1969 and the less celebrated earlier LGBT rebellions against police in Los Angeles at the Cooper Do-Nuts in 1959, Compton’s Cafeteria in 1966, the Black Cat Tavern on Feb. 11, 1967 and at Lee Glaze’s The Patch in Aug. 1968 were significant for another reason, as well. They symbolized an arbitrarily constructed minority fighting back against the prevailing definition of homosexuality as an icky moral perversion worthy of degradation, condemnation—and as the Bible suggests, death.

As a result of the acceptance and promotion of that longstanding belief by society, the state, religion and families, in 1952, the American Psychiatric Association listed homosexuality as a mental disorder and a “sexual deviation” in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) during the height of the McCarthy era witch hunts.

Many LGBT individuals internalized that hate-based definition of homosexuality as a sin, a crime and a sick perversion, leading to suicide, profound shame, secrecy, and agonizing isolation.

“It took many years of vomiting up all the filth I’d been taught about myself, and half-believed, before I was able to walk in the earth as though I had a right to be here,” gay author James Baldwin once wrote.

“Cures” for homosexuality included lobotomies, electroshock aversion therapy, and chemical castration among other tortures—as well as the perennial “conversion” or “reparative” therapy, still thriving in many states today.

Not all LGBT people were cowed by the danger, however. Edythe Eyde (aka Lisa Ben) started the first known lesbian newsletter Vice Versa in 1947 during off time as a secretary for RKO Pictures. Harry Hay and a few others founded the Mattachine Society and ONE Inc, which published ONE Magazine, in LA in the early 1950s when poet Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” was all the rage. San Francisco drag queen and Army vet Jose Sarria ran for political office in 1961, before founding the Imperial Court System. Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon founded the Daughters of Bilitis in San Francisco in 1955, also publishing The Ladder for lesbians.

But most of the early organizations were clandestine since being discovered to be a homosexual led to instant unemployment, loss of family and friends and a myriad of other personal horrors, including depression, anxiety and other emotional and mental illnesses. Gradually activists such as Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings from the Washington DC chapter of the Mattachine Society publicly protested, promoting the argument that “Gay is Good.”

“The problems of the homosexual stem from discrimination by the heterosexual majority and are much more likely to be employment problems than emotional problems,” Kameny wrote in a letter to Playboy in 1969 in response to a story about “therapeutic methods” for treating gay men, according to the New York Review of Books.  Doctors “would be of greater service to the harassed homosexual minority,” Kameny concluded, “if they ceased to reinforce the negative value judgments of society and, instead, adopted a positive approach in which therapy for a homosexual would consist of instilling in him a sense of confident self-acceptance so he could say with pride, ‘Gay is good.’”

APA CEO Dr. Saul Levin (Photo courtesy APA)

Indeed, Dr. Saul Levin, the out gay CEO of the APA, tells the Los Angeles Blade, “LGBTQ folk have always been stereotyped and in some ways derided. There was a stigma to it.” But “as mental illness became more part of the medicalization,” some psychiatrists began to question the data-less assumptions about homosexuality, including Professor Sigmund Freud, a neurologist and psychiatrist.

“A mother bought her son and said that there was something wrong with him. And that’s when [Freud] began to really look at a sort of homosexuality,” Levin says. “In some of his writing, he did not think that this was a mental illness, per se—that in some ways it was a sexual variant. I’m paraphrasing his words….But by the 1970s, it became very clear that some asked why was it a mental illness? Show us that we had a different problem or a mental illness compared to someone who has depression or anxiety.”

That questioning led to an APA panel in 1972 with Kameny and Gittings and a masked “Dr. H. Anonymous,” the only gay psychiatrist who agreed to participate.

“Yes, we are sick—we are sick of your manipulation and exploitation of us,” Kameny said. He demanded that “homosexuality be removed permanently from the psychiatric list of diseases” and called for “treatment of the oppressing society instead of the attempted treatment of us, the oppressed homosexual.”

But, says Levin, it was “Dr. H. Anonymous” who really got them thinking.  

“John Fryer, a psychiatrist out of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, was a gay man who realized at that time he could lose his job, he could lose this apartment,” who came forward, says Levin. “The gay community was very much beginning to come out of the closet but it was also a time where we were highly discriminated against by legislation. And he eventually said to the APA that it was time for them to either take homosexuality out of the DSM, or they need to show the data of why it’s a mental illness. And the APA leaders at the time heard him, and within a year they had decided that there actually was not data so they took it out of the DSM,” in the 1973 publication.

“Today, we know that it’s not a mental illness. We are just a variant in who we love and who we want, and who we are inside,” Levin says. “And obviously, sometimes whether you’re straight or gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender, there may be parts of you that, because of some of the discrimination you may have had when you were younger, that’s the issue that has to be addressed as part of a good mental health, healthcare checkup….The bottom line is that it is a natural variant of the human being and, it does not need curing,” a position the APA continues to strongly advocate.

Though less colorful and public than the Stonewall Rebellion, the fight against the APA’s designation of homosexuality was also a significant resistance to the oppressive heterosexual construct of “normalcy.”

It is also the subject of the upcoming documentary “Cured.”

“We were drawn to this story because it’s such a pivotal but largely unknown moment in LGBT history,” Cured Co-Director Patrick Sammon tells the Los Angeles Blade. “In fact, following the Stonewall rebellion of 1969, the campaign that resulted in the American Psychiatric Association’s 1973 decision to remove homosexuality from its manual of mental illnesses marked the first major step on the path to equality for LGBT Americans.”

“At a time when every lesbian and gay man, no matter how well-adjusted, was automatically considered sick and in need of a cure, the diverse group of activists who took on the APA found the courage to stand up and tell the world that they — not psychiatrists — were the experts on their own lives,” says Bennett Singer, co-director of “Cured.” “Their tactics and strategy offer crucial lessons about how to create and sustain social change, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable opposition. And their insistence on speaking truth to power can inspire and guide every LGBTQ American — as well as our allies — who wants to ensure that hard-won progress toward equality is not rolled back.”

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New Public Justice President ‘sickened’ by anti-Trans attacks

“This is a critical moment for our country & Public Justice has a pivotal role to play in addressing it.”

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Dan Bryson courtesy of Public Justice

By Karen Ocamb | OAKLAND, Ca. – Native North Carolina attorney Dan Bryson loves people and emphatically hates discrimination. He still experiences a PTSD gut-punch whenever he recalls the national trauma visited on his beloved state in 2016 by rightwing conservatives ruthlessly seeking crass political power at the expense of the LGBTQ community through House Bill 2 (HB2), The Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, otherwise known as the anti-transgender “bathroom bill.”

“What absolutely just repels me to my very core throughout my whole life is discrimination of any type. Whatever it is, it sickens me and I don’t understand it. I really don’t understand why every single human being on this planet can’t treat every other single human being with the respect and professionalism and love that they deserve,” Bryson says. “[HB2 was] the worst thing ever. It makes my hair go on fire to this day.”

It is this visceral commitment to LGBTQ equality that Bryson, a founding partner at the global law firm of Milberg Coleman Bryson Phillips Grossman, is expected to bring to his new post as President of Public Justice, the national nonprofit legal advocacy organization based in Washington DC and Oakland, California. His personal response to HB2 also illustrates his desire to find creative ways to engage others in discussions aimed at the public interest. Not only did Bryson financially contribute to those who opposed HB2, he commissioned artists to paint a mural on the wall of his office building opposite a popular restaurant in Raleigh, North Carolina. 

“There is a big heart right in the middle, like a Valentine heart,” he says. “And on the sides are a number of arms reaching to try to get to the heart. Some are white, some are Black, some are green — they’re all different colors. The clothing on the arms may be female, may be male clothing. You just don’t know. But the point is that everyone is just to trying to find love — and why couldn’t we be a little bit more accepting as a society?”

Courtesy of Dan Bryson

While HB2 impacted him personally, Bryson’s deep commitment to civil rights actually reflects the work Public Justice has done throughout its almost 40-year history. To paraphrase a protest poster during the George Floyd demonstrations, Public Justice has been supportive of civil rights even “when it’s not trending.” Adele Kimmel, Director of Public Justice’s Students’ Civil Rights Project, for instance, is a widely recognized litigator on gender and sexual violence and the legal intricacies of Title IX. She has educated youth, families, school officials and other lawyers on how to use Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 to stop bullying of LGBT students. 

Along with Public Justice Kazan Budd Attorney Alexandra Brodsky, she represents out gay retired Army Major Steve Snyder-Hill in his sexual abuse lawsuit against Ohio State University and, in a case challenging former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s revised Title IX rules, represents Berkeley High School students, including nonbinary students, who are seeking to reverse DeVos’s changes, which significantly rolled back many protections for students.

Public Justice also teamed up with the National Women’s Law Center, Lambda Legal, the National Center for Transgender Equality and 46 other organizations and individuals in a 2017 campaign to reach the Departments of Education in each state telling them to properly follow federal law – and protect transgender students – or risk litigation. 

“Schools that discriminate against transgender students, such as by denying them access to bathrooms and other single-sex facilities that correspond with their gender identity or failing to protect transgender students from harassment, are violating Title IX and the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause,” the letter read in part. “Schools are obligated to protect transgender students in compliance with the law, regardless of whether they face legal recourse from the federal government. And when schools fail to comply with the law, they will continue to be subjected to lawsuits filed by and on behalf of aggrieved students.” 

Public Justice also strongly supports the Equality Act , has spoken out against the Republican wave of anti-trans bills, and works with civil rights coalition members such as The Leadership Conference, the Human Rights Campaign, as well as local groups such as the San Francisco-based Equal Rights Advocates. 

Under Bryson, fighting systemic oppression is only going to get deeper. “This is a critical moment for our country and Public Justice has a pivotal role to play in addressing it. As [recent Public Justice “Champion of Justice” honoree] Ben Crump’s own work shows, attorneys can be an essential part of addressing and ending injustice in America. That’s what this organization is all about and every aspect of our work aims to move us forward to a better, more equitable society and justice system,” Bryson told the audience during the organization’s recent gala. “As a North Carolinian, I’ve seen the impact of ugly, hateful laws up close. We fought hard in my home state to battle the so-called transgender ‘bathroom law’ and we’re fighting equally hard at Public Justice to take on the despicable effort to deny transgender athletes an opportunity to participate in school athletics.…. As President, I look forward to working with the staff to continue that expansion and maximize the impact of our work to tear down systemic injustice and work for a legal system – and a country – that is fairer, more inclusive and more equitable for all.”

Karen Ocamb, is the Director of Media Relations for the Oakland, California based Public Justice.

Public Justice is a national nonprofit legal advocacy organization. They protect consumers, employees, civil rights & the environment.

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West Virginia’s capital bans conversion therapy for LGBTQ kids

Conversion therapy is widely opposed by prominent professional medical associations including the American Medical Association

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The City of Charleston, West Virginia waterfront (Photo Credit: The City of Charleston)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The City Council of West Virginia’s capital city became the first municipality in the state to enact an ordinance banning the widely discredited practise of conversion therapy. In a 14-to-9 vote, the council passed the ordinance Monday to protect LGBTQ youth from the practise.

Conversion therapy is widely opposed by prominent professional medical associations including the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. The proposed ordinance carries a fine of up to $1,000 for violations.

“All of Charleston’s children deserve love and respect for who they are, and no one should be in the business of trying to shame or humiliate teenagers out of being LGBTQ,” said Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia. “Our city’s medical and faith communities came out strongly in support of this bill to ban the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy, and I congratulate members of city council for bravely approving it.”

“The Trevor Project is thrilled to see historic action being taken in West Virginia to protect LGBTQ youth from the dangers of conversion therapy. This discredited practice is not therapy at all — it’s been debunked by every major medical organization and shown to increase suicide risk,” said Troy Stevenson, Senior Advocacy Campaign Manager for The Trevor Project. “We are hopeful that this victory will help catalyze the passage of state-wide protections in the Mountain State, ensuring that no young person in West Virginia is subjected to this fraud at the hands of mental health providers.”

 A total of 20 states, as well as the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and 94 municipalities (mostly located in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota), have banned the practice of conversion therapy on minor clients. Minnesota and Michigan’s Governors earlier this year signed executive orders that prohibit state funds being expended on the practise.

Research Findings:

  • According to The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 13% of LGBTQ youth reported being subjected to conversion therapy, with 83% reporting it occurred when they were under age 18. LGBTQ youth who were subjected to conversion therapy reported more than twice the rate of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who were not.
  • According to a peer-reviewed study by The Trevor Project published in the American Journal of Public Health, LGBTQ youth who underwent conversion therapy were more than twice as likely to report having attempted suicide and more than 2.5 times as likely to report multiple suicide attempts in the past year.
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HRC sues Tennessee over bathroom bill as school year starts

“The state’s political leaders are making Tennessee a dangerous place for our daughter, & other children like her.”

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Estes Kefauver Federal Building & Courthouse, Nashville Tennessee (Photo Credit: U.S. Courts)

NASHVILLE – The Human Rights Campaign, (HRC) has filed suit in the U. S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee challenging the Tennessee law that denies transgender students, faculty, and staff access to the bathroom, locker rooms and other sex-segregated facilities consistent with their gender identity. 

The suit filed Tuesday by the Washington D.C. based LGBTQ advocacy group joined by the law firms of Linklaters and Branstetter, Stranch, & Jennings PLLC,  is on behalf of two Trans students currently enrolled in Tennessee schools and alleges that the law violates Title IX, the 1972 federal law that protects against sex discrimination in education.

HRC in a press release noted that its federal suit was brought on behalf of 14-year-old Alex* and his parents, Amy A. and Jeff S., as well as 6-year-old Ariel* and her parents, Julie and Ross B.

“Alex is excited to start high school this fall where he will be an honor student. His family relocated to Tennessee in 2018 to build their ‘forever home’ in an incredibly supportive and tight-knit neighborhood and Alex takes pride in being involved in his community and has created strong friendships among his peers at school.”

We didn’t know we had a trans child when we relocated to Tennessee—if Alex had come out to us before the move, we wouldn’t have come here. It makes me so angry that our elected officials have chosen to target trans kids. If lawmakers were to take the time to get to know my son, they would see that he is an amazing, smart, caring, creative person who has so much to offer. Alex just wants to be a regular kid. He should be able to look forward to starting high school without the added layer of anxiety about something as basic as using the bathroom

Amy and Jeff

He came out as transgender before the 7th grade, however, in 7th grade he was not allowed to use the boys’ restroom. Instead, Alex was forced to either use the school nurse’s private bathroom or the restroom that corresponded to his gender assigned at birth—not due to statewide legislation, but instead due to the school policy. Both options were alienating and isolating for Alex who instead stopped drinking liquids at school to avoid having to use the facilities.

Due to COVID-19 pandemic-related issues, Alex transferred to a private school for 8th grade that affirmed his gender identity, including permitting access to the boys’ restroom—Alex enjoyed a great year, without incident. He is also looking forward to starting high school at the public school near his home, but due to Tennessee’s anti-Trans bathroom law, He will again be forced into using restrooms that are stigmatizing or forgo using the bathroom altogether.

To protect Alex, Amy and Jeff are considering moving from their beloved community and leaving their ‘forever home’ behind out of fear for Alex’s safety at school and emotional wellbeing, the statement concludes.

In the case of the second plaintiff, HRC noted: Similar to Alex, Ariel’s family built their ‘forever home’ from the ground up in a neighborhood they fell in love with and that fills Julie, Ross, and Ariel with happiness and friendship.

Ariel began expressing her gender identity at 2 years old and when she was nearing 4 years old, Julie read the children’s book “I Am Jazz,” to Ariel that tells the story of a transgender girl. When the main character explains that she “has a boy body with a girl brain.” Ariel immediately lit up with excitement and eagerly told her mother, “that’s me, momma, I have a boy body with a girl brain.”

Since Ariel began her social transition at 4 years old, her classmates, their parents, teachers and school administrators have only known Ariel as her authentic self. When she was enrolled in kindergarten, her school was receptive and understanding of her gender identity and has largely protected Ariel from stigmatizing experiences.

In anticipation of Ariel starting 1st grade at a different school this fall, Julie reached out to the principal to discuss accommodations for her daughter.

Since Tennessee’s bathroom law is enacted, Ariel will have to use the boy’s restroom or the private nurse’s bathroom despite only ever using the girl’s restroom. Due to her young age, Ariel does not understand the law’s ramifications or why she is being told to use the boy’s bathroom.

The state’s political leaders are making Tennessee a dangerous place for our daughter, and other children like her. We are extremely worried about her future here, and the bills that are being passed have put us in panic mode. They are attacking children that cannot defend themselves for what appears to be political gain over a non-existent problem. We wish our leaders would take the time to speak with transgender youth and adults—instead, their fear of the unknown is unnecessarily leading their actions and causing irreparable harm to these children

Julie and Ross

Julie and Ross are also considering moving out of Tennessee due to these anti-transgender laws out of fear for their growing daughter, the statement concluded.

Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972; Title IX expressly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs. In June the U.S. Education Department announced it would expand its interpretation of federal sex protections to include transgender and gay students. The new policy directive means that discrimination based on a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity will be treated as a violation of Title IX.

The lawsuit also alleges that the law violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the U.S. Constitution. Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to deny certiorari in Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board left in place a federal circuit court decision recognizing the rights of transgender students under the Equal Protection Clause and Title IX.

In July a federal judge blocked a new law in Tennessee that required businesses and other entities that allow transgender people to use the public restroom that matches their gender to post a government-prescribed warning sign.

“This law is bad for businesses in Tennessee, and most importantly, harmful to transgender people,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU of Tennessee executive director. “We are glad the court saw that this law is likely unconstitutional and hope that the state gives up the wasteful effort to defend discrimination and a violation of the First Amendment.”

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