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Michael DeJong Headshot

40 Years Old and All I Get is This Damn Rainbow Flag?

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Okay, okay, it's the 40th Anniversary of Stonewall. I have more pride than I know what to do with or where to put it. There are actually gay and lesbian scholars who are parsing every crumbling edition of Daughters of Belitis and The Mattachine Society and then there are even scholars who are studying those scholars. But in last week's New York Times, Jeremy W. Peters (who did not disclose his sexual orientation or gender identity) wrote an article, "Why There's No King or Steinem for the Gay Movement" -- which is a very profound question to pose, but he missed some very fine points in arriving at his conclusion. (Oh, and for the purposes of full disclosure, my sexual orientation is gay and my gender identity is male -- in case you were wondering.)

Even disregarding the fact that Dr. King, in early adulthood, was a highly charismatic, prescient preacher within an African-American society with high regard for the Church; and forgetting the fact that the Women's Rights Movement in its beginnings was primarily a white, middle and upper middle class movement that purged lesbian members and wasn't all that involved in the rights of women-of-color; the modern "Gay Rights Movement" has had and still has racism, classism, misogyny, ageism, and trans-phobia at its core.

It is only in the last few years or so, that most so-called gay leaders have even embraced the fact that it was primarily a group of angry transgender and cross-dressing women who beat back New York City's "Finest" that historic night at the Stonewall Bar, though gays and lesbians immediately appropriated that day to mark the beginning of their civil rights movement, pushing our trans sisters and brothers way to the back of the line. Even during the battles with the US Department of Justice over the Federal Hate Crimes Bill, our most (in)famous Gay Human Rights organization was vehemently against including anyone who wasn't gay or lesbian. Our own "leaders" had originally and deliberately excluded the transgender community for fear that their inclusion would be too radical for passage, in spite of the fact that transgender individuals are the most vulnerable in our community to hate crimes just because of who they are or who they are perceived to be by their perpetrators.

Lesbians, gay men, transgender women and men, and bisexual, intersex, two-spirited, and sexual orientation- and gender identity-questioning people are everywhere, in every community, in every socio-economic strata, every religion or no organized religion, every race, every age, every gender, every ethnicity, every state of the Union, etc. And yet, as if a microcosm of the country in which we were raised, regardless of how progressive we professed to be, we mimicked the patriarchal pecking order of the way our country "values" members of society -- middle class white men first, white women second, those aged 25-45 over seniors, people of color next (with their own pecking order, including those who, for instance, are men who have sex with other men but do not consider themselves gay), bisexual men and women as a disdained or joked about sub-group who could "have their cake and eat it, too," and transgender women and men relegated to invisibility. And it is disingenuous to talk about the LGTB community without speaking about the convenience of "the closet," and our ability to compartmentalize ourselves within it..."out" to our gay friends but not at work or to our families; "out" to our friends and families but not at work, etc. If polled, it would be interesting to see how many "Queer" people consider themselves 100% out -- even I am reluctant to hold my partner of 20 years' hand in some areas. And unlike African-Americans or women, Queer people, in order to live a genuine life, have to "come out" every day, in any number of social, business, family, classroom, and congregational situations.

Therefore, unlike the Civil Rights Movement, in which African-Americans had/have no closet in which to safely hide, yet have a long and strong history of Church-based leadership; and unlike the Feminist Movement which demanded equal pay for equal work, and gave permission to mothers to leave the "closet of the home" to step into the workplace, the so-called "Gay Rights Movement" has so many competing interests, that to even have a rally on the Mall in D.C. has taken on the high level of diplomatic negotiations of a Palestinian-Israeli peace settlement (and I mean no offense to either Palestinians or Israelis, I'm just trying to make a dramatic point with flair!)

Even today, if you studied the leadership of our national lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender organizations, you would be hard-pressed to find a person of color serving as the executive director or board chair of a group that wasn't primarily focused on Queer people of color; few women of any race in executive director positions of non-lesbian-specific groups, etc. Furthermore, you will also find a great disparity in the annual budgets for national lesbian groups, people of color organizations, and gender identity groups as compared to those of groups considered fighting for supposed "white" gay rights.

Even though we are a homosexual movement, there is little to no homogeneity among us or our purported leaders; whereas, in the Civil Rights and Women's Rights movements, it was the homogeneity and common cause that moved them from success to success (in-fighting, splinter groups, conflicting ideologies, notwithstanding).

If asked, I could give you a list of my top 12 Queer leaders, and the list is diverse in every way. But unfortunately, 12 people are a "cabinet" yet we have no Mr. or Ms. President. But on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, I want to publicly acknowledge the trannies and drag queens who finally said, "enough is enough!" and rather than allowing the police raid to cart them away as usual, fought back, fought hard, fought proudly, and gave isolated gay kids like me the notion that not only were there others out there like me, but also gave me the chutzpah to challenge my psychiatrist at the time that I wasn't "sick," three years before the American Psychiatric Association changed its definition of homosexuality.

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