Activism didn’t occur in a vacuum

Posted on 27 Nov 2013 at 4:55pm

The human proclivity to subdue others ensured there never has been a ‘perfect time’ in our history

Screen shot 2013-11-27 at 4.48.56 PMA friend recently posted a status on Facebook, asking everyone “to pray with me to ask God to turn our country back to His perfect ways.”

I’ve seen such requests numerous times, and I always shake my head in amazement. To which “perfect” time should our country return? To the hundreds of years of physical and social slavery? To the days when women couldn’t vote and were treated as property?

Or how about to the McCarthy era when the public jumped on the communist witch-hunt bandwagon and allowed the government to destroy people’s lives and careers? If those choices don’t interest you, we can always return to those halcyon days when psychiatry treated homosexuality as an emotional disorder. Yes, those were lovely years.

Just a cursory review of American history shows there was never a “perfect” time. Yes, there was a time when prayer was allowed in schools, but black and white children didn’t pray together. Segregation laws kept the blacks in second-rate classrooms using outdated books discarded by the whites. Jewish children were forced to pray in the name of Jesus.

Talk to your mothers and grandmothers. Their professional choices were pretty much limited to teaching and nursing. Women did venture out into law, medicine and other areas, but only the intrepid dared to knock on those doors manned by, well, — men.

There never was a “perfect” time in American history, and that’s why we’ve always had activists. While the time we live in now isn’t perfect, it’s better, and we owe a great debt to those people who wouldn’t shut up, who wouldn’t take the back seat in the bus or who wouldn’t accept that being gay is a sin.

Decades of activism, decades of voices roaring together have reached a crescendo in the last couple of years, and I’m staggered by the changes that have been made in our legal and political systems and by the changes that are imminent.

Sixteen states now recognize same-sex marriage. The walls that kept LGBT people in the ghettos are crumbling, and the creation of a more united American community is forming. Gays and lesbians are serving openly in the military, so certainly it won’t be long before trans people can defend their country, too.

I’ve long held that our community owes a tremendous debt to the drag queens and butch lesbians who ignited the smoldering revolution. No, they weren’t as demure as Rosa Parks, but it was New York City. Demure people get trampled there. Those drag queens and lesbians kicked and screamed and, boy, am I proud of them.

The debt we owe to the drag queens is colossal. Through the horrific years of the AIDS epidemic, they raised millions of dollars to help ease the suffering of the sick and dying. Dallas lesbians jumped into the trenches with their gay brothers and established organizations to help make some sense of the devastation. It was a war. Make no mistake about that.

Had America ever enjoyed a “perfect time” as my friend implies, there wouldn’t have been a need for the abolitionists, Susan B. Anthony, Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King, Harvey Milk or, yes, even Ellen.

It’s easy to look at our history through a maudlin lens. If you were a straight, white, Christian male, then chances are you had it pretty good. Even better if you were rich. But God, ever the humorist, created diversity. A segment of His creation didn’t like that and lost no time in subjugating everyone they could get their hands on.

Fortunately, some of the conquered were born with loud voices and a stubborn streak. They stood up to beatings, incarceration and humiliation. Many of them did it wearing wigs and size 12 heels. I love them for it.

When I attend Pride, my heart swells with pride. I never tire of the celebration because I attend to honor all my friends who died of AIDS. I attend to honor the men and women who made it possible to hold that parade without us being arrested or shot. How could anyone tire of a blowout that exalts LGBT successes?

So when anyone says there was some “perfect time” in American history, he negates the sacrifices of the thousands of men and women who moved us forward socially, politically and legally. It came at a cost.

The next time you complain that a drag queen is old, you should thank her for all those shows she performed in the 80s and 90s to raise money for AIDS. She took to the stage because she wasn’t happy with that “perfect time” and did something about it.

You should, too.

Steve Ramos is senior editor at Dallas Voice. He can be reached at ramos@dallasvoice.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 29, 2013.

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