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Stonewall ignited gay liberation

And even more LGBT history was made in 1970

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Morris Kight, center, in first CSW Pride parade with Rev. Troy Perry in black behind him. (Photo courtesy Brian Traynor and the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives, via ‘Making Gay History’)

The 1960s was the era of creative transformation as young people took up John F. Kennedy’s call to service and television changed life from black and white to vivid color. By May 18, 1969 Apollo 10 transmitted the first color images of the planet Earth as seen from space and suddenly “wonder” was no longer a fanciful promise offered by Walt Disney.

It was an era of peace, love, happiness and dreams that a shared humanity would eradicate poverty, racism, sexism, and entrenched inequality.

But it was also the era in which the government got caught lying about the war in Vietnam, about thousands of young men sent to ignoble and senseless deaths. Revolution was on the lips of thousands of Parisian students, Maoists in China and fans of the Beatles’ “White Album” in 1968. Changing the world was not a theory, a desire, but an action.

And action was fraught with danger. Two of the most prominent progressive heroes expected to lead that non-violent revolution and restore faith in America – Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy – were assassinated. Eyes on the prize were refocused, turning darkly inward as protests for justice and equality transformed into liberation movements with sharper edges and a pall of violence.

No one thought limp-wristed sissies who couldn’t throw a softball would even know how to throw a punch. But after Stonewall in June 1969, police and tabloid reporters in cities around the country speculated about all the pent up rage boiling behind those secret closet doors. It was clear to young New Yorkers that Stonewall was not a one-and-done reaction to a police raid. By November, some activists had organized into the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Alliance and NYU’s Student Homophile League proposed an annual commemorative demonstration in New York on the last Saturday in June called CHRISTOPHER STREET LIBERATION DAY. The activists contacted gay activists in other cities to share their idea.

Being gay was no longer an arbitrary individual behavior; a chosen community was being born.

Meanwhile in Hollywood, anti-war activist/organizer Morris Kight also decided to start a Gay Liberation Front—LA was one of five cities launch GLFs in the aftermath of Stonewall. Kight’s GLF provided direct services to gays and lesbians, especially homeless youth, and pro bono legal advice for those being discharged from the military, STD shots, or busted for being gay. Kight also set up rap groups to develop self-esteem through shared story-telling akin to AA shares and feminist consciousness raising.

In November 1969, Kight took out a small ad in the leftist L.A. Free Press saying he wanted to hold a homosexual organizing meeting. He later told Eric Markus of Making Gay History that Stonewall “had not one trace of an influence upon my work.”

In fact, Kight said, “I had a number of telephone calls from payphones by Christopher Park, by Sheridan Square, while the Stonewall rebellion was going on, and since I was in the midst of a whole variety of rebellions, since I was up to my neck in civil disobedience, since I was up to my neck in television and radio and newspapers, I was up to my neck in organizing…against the war in Vietnam, and against poverty, and against racism, and against classism, and against redlining. I was involved in super-radical activities, and so I absorbed it as just one more interesting activity, except it was us instead of them. And that was the only difference, uh, that came in my mind, I said, “Well, fine, thank you for calling, that’s very interesting, I’m happy it’s happening.” Uh, the Stonewall, uh, rebellion did not influence my founding the Gay Liberation Front of Los Angeles.”

But it may well have influenced those who joined him, which in turn influenced Kight’s response.

“The country was ripe with discontent and rebellion, people were already mobilized and Kight seized the momentum, as he liked to put it, to ‘free my people.’ When Morris Kight shifted his thinking and refocused his energy, he made sure that it created a rippling effect. He tapped organizational muscle, skills, and funds from the Peace Movement, Black Power, Feminism, and the LA Mission,” writes Mary Ann Cherry in her upcoming biography MORRIS KIGHT: Humanist, Liberationist, Fantabulist A Story of Gay Rights and Gay Wrongs due out in April 2020 from Process Media.

Among those who joined GLF was a young activist named Don Kilhefner, with whom Kight would disrupt an American Psychiatric Association Conference and later found the Los Angeles Gay Community Services Center. Their first headquarters in a rented old Victorian on Wilshire Boulevard stopped traffic with residents and tourists alike shocked to see such an open display of the word “Gay.”

“After Stonewall, we were on fire. Something was unleashed in us. After all those decades of being told who we are, we began to define ourselves and found ourselves to be good, decent people,” Kilhefner told filmmakers Patrick Sammon and Bennett Singer for their forthcoming documentary Cured.  “So part of our work was not only fighting back against the shrinks, but also working with gay people to undo the harm that had been done to us. And it felt like ripples went out across the country. In every major city, something happened. In San Francisco and Chicago, in Atlanta, in New York, in Boston, something happened, and in each town it was different depending on what the circumstances were, who was meeting, and what was going on there — but we were everywhere.”

In LA, Kight wanted to ensure that GLF meetings were radical, democratic, and based in the spirit of non-violence, no matter how much rage spilled out at rap meetings tackling the root cause of gay oppression—lack of self-acceptance. That pain also created bitchy attacks on one another, which Kight called “oppression sickness.” 

But Kight was a keen organizer.

“Kight saw the big picture of gay rights as building-up one person at a time, and he didn’t let anyone leave those meetings without being affected in some positive way or learning something,” Cherry writes. “Often described as a ‘warm and encouraging leader’ and ‘father figure’ in the Gay Liberation Front, Kight did a private appraisal of every able body that expressed interest in the movement and then found a specific function for each person to contribute to their liberation. He gave every young person at these meetings a direction or an assignment, to give them a new purpose.”

Cherry cites an anonymous GLF paper that expresses the point. “Look out straights, here comes the Gay Liberation Front… Understand this–that the worst part of being a homosexual is having to keep it secret. Not the occasional murders by police or teenage queer-baiters, not the loss of jobs or the expulsion from schools or dishonorable discharges–but the daily knowledge that what you are is so awful that it cannot be revealed. The violence against us is sporadic. Most of us are not affected. But the internal violence of being made to carry–or choosing to carry–the load of your straight society’s unconscious guilt–this is what tears us apart, what makes us want to stand up in the offices, in the factories and the schools and shout out our true identities.”

To press the point, get media attention and give GLFers an action to take, Kight planned zaps, some of which were potentially dangerous, such as the protest against Barney’s Beanery demanding the removal of their “Fagots Stay Out” sign

Another zap was a theatrical stunt declaring March 1,1970 “Lavender Sunday” during which gays protested the church of their choice then presented the church with a reparations bill for $90 billion for all the harm done to gays over the years. The reaction was mixed. Some said “God bless you!” and shouted “Gay Power!” while others screamed, “You will all burn in hell!”

Mattachine Society member and gay journalist Jim Kepner attended GLF meetings, as did the Rev. Troy Perry, founder of the Metropolitan Community Church with whom Kight subsequently co-founded Christopher Street West and the first gay Pride parade. By the spring of 1970 as planning began, three gay men had died in police custody and countless police beatings received no justice or accountability.

“It was outright dangerous to be openly gay much less part of gay liberation,” Cherry writes.

Nonetheless, Kight, Perry, and homeless advocate Rev. Bob Humphries made plans for a parade, not a demonstration, down Hollywood Boulevard.  The May 14, 1970 Parade Permit Application said the purpose of the parade was: “A joyous celebration of the total freedom of homosexuals in Los Angeles, with their families and friends, indicating that they are full citizens of this community and their rights to use the streets in the city of Los Angeles.”

The permit was denied but they appealed, including an extraordinary bond the LAPD required for extra police in case a Stonewall-like gay riot broke out.

On Friday June 26, California Superior Court Judge Richard Schauer ordered the Police Commissioner to issue the permit for a “Hollywood Blvd. homosexual-oriented parade without requiring a $1,500 cash bond.” It was the first official recognition of “gay” in California. 

Death threats against Kight intensified.

“Someone telephoned in the morning [of the Pride parade] and said, ‘How would you like it if I came over and killed you today?’ And I told him, ‘No, I cannot do that today. I have a very big day ahead of me and I must attend a parade.’ And I hung up,” Kight told Cherry. 

It took courage to step off the corner of McCadden Place and Hollywood Boulevard that June 28—but 1800 people showed up with thousands more lining the streets to watch gays and lesbians holding hands and more creative participants. Two men walked sheep dogs with signs saying, “Not all of us walk poodles.” The Guerrilla Theatre showcased “vice cops chasing screaming fairies wearing paper wings.” And The Militant Gay Movement floated a blown-up super-sized Vaseline jar. The GLF marched behind Kight.

“Los Angeles activists, by participating in a Stonewall commemoration the first year, played a crucial role in the survival of the Stonewall story,” the American Sociological Review reported in 2006. “The first commemoration of Stonewall was gay liberation’s biggest and most successful protest event.”

Gay Community Services Center with Executive Director Don Kilhefner, Vice President Morris Kight, Jim Kepner, June Herrle, President Martin Field, and John Platania, 1970. (Photo courtesy ©Lee Mason/ONE Archives at the USC Libraries via ‘Making Gay History’)

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The White House

White House, Don’t Say Gay law: “This is discrimination, plain and simple”

“State officials who claim to champion liberty are limiting the freedom of their fellow Americans simply to be themselves”

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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre (The White House)

WASHINGTON – The White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre released a statement Friday as Florida’s notorious ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law took effect, saying “[…] state officials who claim to champion liberty are limiting the freedom of their fellow Americans simply to be themselves.”

President Biden also tweeted about the law prior to leaving for Camp David to spend the July 4th holiday weekend, calling the law “the latest attempt by Republicans in state houses to target LGBTQI+ students, teachers, and families.”

In her statement, Jean-Pierre said:

“Today, some of Florida’s most vulnerable students and families are more fearful and less free. As the state’s shameful “Don’t Say Gay” law takes effect, state officials who claim to champion liberty are limiting the freedom of their fellow Americans simply to be themselves.

“Already, there have been reports that “Safe Space” stickers are being taken down from classrooms. Teachers are being instructed not to wear rainbow clothing. LGBTQI+ teachers are being told to take down family photos of their husbands and wives—cherished family photos like the ones on my own desk.

“This is not an issue of “parents’ rights.” This is discrimination, plain and simple. It’s part of a disturbing and dangerous nationwide trend of right-wing politicians cynically targeting LGBTQI+ students, educators, and individuals to score political points.

“It encourages bullying and threatens students’ mental health, physical safety, and well-being. It censors dedicated teachers and educators who want to do the right thing and support their students. And it must stop.

“President Biden has been very clear that every student deserves to feel safe and welcome in the classroom.

“The Department of Education will be monitoring this law, and any student or parent who believes they are experiencing discrimination is encouraged to file a complaint with the Department’s Office for Civil Rights.

“Our Administration will continue to fight for dignity and opportunity for every student and family—in Florida and around the country.”

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Florida

Florida county’s school policy critics say “essentially targets LGBTQ+ kids”

“Sending out a parent notification could be seen as placing a target on a student’s back,” said Lauren Kelly-Manders, a Tallahassee resident

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Screenshot/YouTube students in a classroom generic news coverage

TALLAHASSEE – The Leon County School Board this week unanimously approved its “LGBTQ Inclusive School Guide” after a rancorous and at times heated debate Tuesday. At the heart of the new policy are guidelines that critics charge will harm LGBTQ+ youth in the school system.

The Tallahassee Democrat newspaper reported what drew the most debate was a provision that a school will notify parents — by form — if a student who is “open about their gender identity” is in a physical education class or on an overnight trip. 

Some teachers and students during the Tuesday night meeting said the policy will “out” LGBTQ+ students — revealing their sexual orientation or gender identity without their permission. 

While the policy language does explicitly say a student’s sexual orientation, gender identity or expression “should not be shared with others without their input and permission,”  advocacy groups and activists claim that in “real world” application the policy’s danger to Outing LGBTQ+ kids remains regardless.

Los Angeles-based writer and actor Benjamin Siemon took to Twitter angrily noting that the policy “essentially paints these children as sex offenders that require warnings.”

Supporters of the school board’s new policy included the Leon County chapter of Mom’s for Liberty, a national far-right anti-LGBTQ+ activist group which has sought to ban LGBTQ+ books and curriculum nationwide. But the sticking point for the group is the provision doesn’t go far enough.

According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Sharyn Kerwin, head of the Leon County chapter of Mom’s for Liberty and who also served on the advisory committee to the School board as it crafted the new policy, told board members and the audience Tuesday: “Any attempt to withhold information from a parent or try to influence a child in a knowing way is against Florida law.”

Kerwin and other parents argued that the Parental Rights in Education bill, HB 1557, colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” law requires school administrators to notify parents and many in the audience Tuesday citing biblical verses maintained discussions about sexual orientation have no place in schools.

Opponents charge that this policy will effectively weaponize bigotry and target LGBTQ+ kids, especially trans youth.

Critics of the notification policy say the district’s language is equating “gender identity” with LGBTQ sexuality. They note that even someone who is “straight” expresses themselves via their clothing choices or appearance and can be “open about their gender identity,” the Tallahassee Democrat noted.

“Sending out a parent notification could be seen as placing a target on a student’s back,” said Lauren Kelly-Manders, a Tallahassee resident. 

In the end, even with the policy approved, none were happy with the outcome as one side claiming not enough consideration was given to parental rights and opponents charging this will simply increase bullying of LGBTQ+ kids.

“Normally when we have something on the agenda, we have a group that’s for, and a group that’s against,” school board Vice Chair Alva Striplin noted adding, “Well, tonight we had everyone against.”

The school board voted to approve the guide unanimously 4-0.  According to the Tallahassee Democrat school board members will schedule another meeting to revisit the guide in six months to adjust the policy if needed. 

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The White House

White House announces 17 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients

The nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom will be presented to those named at the White House on July 7, 2022

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Megan Rapinoe, an Out Olympic gold medalist is among those named ((Screenshot/YouTube via U.S. Soccer )

WASHINGTON – The White House today released President Joe Biden’s selection of recipients for bestowing the nation’s highest civilian honor,  the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The awards will be presented at the White House on July 7, 2022.

Included among the seventeen honorees are Megan Rapinoe, the Out Olympic gold medalist and two-time Women’s World Cup champion. She also captains OL Reign in the National Women’s Soccer League. She is a prominent advocate for gender pay equality, racial justice, and LGBTQI+ rights.

Also selected by the president for a posthumous recognition was Richard Trumka, the powerful labor leader and longtime Democratic ally of the LGBTQ+ community who passed away last August. Trumka had led the AFL-CIO since 2009 and who throughout his career, was an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ+ Americans, social and economic justice.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant societal, public or private endeavors.

Presidential Medal of Freedom (The White House)

The following individuals will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom:

Simone Biles
Simone Biles is the most decorated American gymnast in history, with a combined total of 32 Olympic and World Championship medals. Biles is also a prominent advocate for athletes’ mental health and safety, children in the foster care system, and victims of sexual assault.

Sister Simone Campbell
Sister Simone Campbell is a member of the Sisters of Social Service and former Executive Director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice organization. She is also a prominent advocate for economic justice, immigration reform, and healthcare policy.

Julieta García
Dr. Julieta García is the former president of The University of Texas at Brownsville, where she was named one of Time magazine’s best college presidents. Dr. García was the first Hispanic woman to serve as a college president and dedicated her career to serving students from the Southwest Border region.

Gabrielle Giffords
Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was the youngest woman ever elected to the Arizona State Senate, serving first in the Arizona legislature and later in the U.S. Congress. A survivor of gun violence, she co-founded Giffords, a nonprofit organization dedicated to gun violence prevention.

Fred Gray
Fred Gray was one of the first black members of the Alabama State legislature since Reconstruction. As an attorney, he represented Rosa Parks, the NAACP, and Martin Luther King, who called him “the chief counsel for the protest movement.”

Steve Jobs (posthumous)
Steve Jobs (d. 2011) was the co-founder, chief executive, and chair of Apple, Inc., CEO of Pixar and held a leading role at the Walt Disney Company. His vision, imagination and creativity led to inventions that have, and continue to, change the way the world communicates, as well as transforming the computer, music, film and wireless industries.

Father Alexander Karloutsos
Father Alexander Karloutsos is the former Vicar General of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. After over 50 years as a priest, providing counsel to several U.S. presidents, he was named by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew as a Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Khizr Khan
Khizr Khan is a Gold Star father and founder of the Constitution Literacy and National Unity Center. He is a prominent advocate for the rule of law and religious freedom and served on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom under President Biden.

Sandra Lindsay
Sandra Lindsay is a New York critical care nurse who served on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic response. She was the first American to receive a COVID-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials and is a prominent advocate for vaccines and mental health for health care workers.

John McCain (posthumous)
John McCain (d. 2018) was a public servant who was awarded a Purple Heart with one gold star for his service in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam. He also served the people of Arizona for decades in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate and was the Republican nominee for president in 2008.

Diane Nash
Diane Nash is a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who organized some of the most important civil rights campaigns of the 20th century. Nash worked closely with Martin Luther King, who described her as the “driving spirit in the nonviolent assault on segregation at lunch counters.”

Megan Rapinoe
Megan Rapinoe is an Olympic gold medalist and two-time Women’s World Cup champion. She also captains OL Reign in the National Women’s Soccer League. She is a prominent advocate for gender pay equality, racial justice, and LGBTQI+ rights.

Alan Simpson
Alan Simpson served as a U.S. Senator from Wyoming for 18 years. During his public service, he has been a prominent advocate on issues including campaign finance reform, responsible governance, and marriage equality.

Richard Trumka (posthumous)
Richard Trumka (d. 2021) was president of the 12.5-million-member AFL-CIO for more than a decade, president of the United Mine Workers, and secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO. Throughout his career, he was an outspoken advocate for social and economic justice.

Wilma Vaught
Brigadier General Wilma Vaught is one of the most decorated women in the history of the U.S. military, repeatedly breaking gender barriers as she rose through the ranks. When she retired in 1985, she was one of only seven women generals in the Armed Forces.

Denzel Washington
Denzel Washington is an actor, director, and producer who has won two Academy Awards, a Tony Award, two Golden Globes, and the 2016 Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award. He has also served as National Spokesman for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America for over 25 years.

Raúl Yzaguirre
Raúl Yzaguirre is a civil rights advocate who served as CEO and president of National Council of La Raza for thirty years. He also served as U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic under President Barack Obama.

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