Posted by: Randy Allgaier | June 28, 2009

Stonewall 40- Reflections of a Hopeful Cynic

It is 40 years ago since the Stonewall Riots. The LGBT community has made significant strides in the past four decades. When I first became involved with LGBT activism in the 1980’s I never dreamed that we would ever be talking about gay marriage in my lifetime. But now it is a reality in 6 states and for 18,000 Californians of which I am one.

We’ve taken pride in our political prowess and our clout. When the first gay leaders were invited to the White House in 1977 during the Carter administration they were met by a mid-level official on a quiet Saturday when the President or anyone who truly mattered was no where near the Executive Mansion. Tomorrow about 250 of our community will commemorate the 40th anniversary of Stonewall at a East Room Reception at the White House.

Yeah- you’ve come a long way baby…. But have we forgotten our roots? Has our money, our access to power and our relationships with those in power and the power we have achieved caused us to forget that, at its heart, our movement is a social justice movement?

I know that I am sometime guilty of forgetting these roots.

As a former member of the Board of Governors of the Human Rights Campaign, a founder of the California Alliance for Pride and Equality- now named Equality California and as someone who had enough connections to have a California State Assemblyman (now State Senator) officiate at my wedding, I have the credentials to mark me as part of that gay establishment that often forgets those roots.

Sure I admit that being in meetings at the White House, with the Speaker of the House and various members of the House and Senate instill an intoxicating effect on me- not because of the proximity to power but because people who make policy will listen to you. Or at least one hopes that they are listening to you.

Frank Rich aptly pointed out in his excellent opinion piece for “The New York Times” that the younger gay men — and scattered women — who acted up at the Stonewall on those early summer nights in 1969 had little in common with their contemporaries in the front-page political movements of the time. They often lived on the streets, having been thrown out of their blue-collar homes by their families before they finished high school. They migrated to the Village because they’d heard it was one American neighborhood where it was safe to be who they were.

There is still an awful lot of our LGBT community that live on the streets.

A Social Justice movement is about more than political access; it refers to the concept of a society in which “justice” is achieved in every aspect of society, rather than merely the administration of law. It is generally thought of as a world which affords individuals and groups fair treatment and an impartial share of the benefits of society and the distribution of advantages and disadvantages within a society.

Do those of us who are fortunate enough to have this access truly keep true to the idea of social justice? Are we doing enough to support poor LGBT people? Have we turned away from HIV/AIDS more than we should have?  Have we addressed some of the racial and gender biases that are part of our own community?

As we celebrate the very real and exciting change that we have seen for LGBT Americans we should also take stock of our own houses. As 250 of the most influential in our community hobnob at the White House there are thousands of homeless and poor LGBT people that fall through the cracks of our society and they need tending to.

There is still a lot of injustice within our own community and we need to realize that we have much to do to make our community healthy and safe. Simply said- for some LGBT people – a roof over one’s head is more an immediate issue than our right to get married. I’m not saying we should forgo our fight for marriage, but we must not do so without also addressing the very real problems our own community faces.

I hope it doesn’t seem like I’m preaching, I’m not. I’m reminding myself.

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