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Revolution v. Reform: Marriage, Floats, and Rose Parades

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Coming up on June 28, 2014: The 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn-surrection

Two men, Aubrey Loots and Danny Leclair, made history of sorts by holding their marriage ceremony atop a giant wedding cake float in front of an estimated 80 million viewers world-wide at the 125th Rose Parade on January 1, 2014 in Pasadena, California. The float, titled "Living the Dream: Love Is the Best Protection," was sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation of Los Angeles.

For me, watching the proceedings on TV brought to the surface a full array of feelings and emotions ranging from surprise, to subdued optimism, to discomfort, to great concern.

Among the positives for me included the realization that for young people of current generations, these two men represented the gains made in marriage equality in many states and countries around the world, all of which has increased the visibility of long-term same-sex couples publicly proclaiming their love and commitment. This in turn has given others hope and the belief that conditions for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans people have improved over the years.

In addition, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation's backing highlights brilliantly the shinning advancements in transforming an HIV diagnosis from a death sentence, as it was believed to be toward the beginning of the pandemic, to more of a long-term, chronic but manageable condition, at least for many.

Reform vs. Revolution

There are moments in history when conditions come together to create the impetus for great social change. Many historians and activists place the beginning of the modern movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality at a series of 1969 riots at the Stonewall Inn, a small bar frequented by trans people, lesbians, bisexuals, gay men, students, and others of all races located at 53 Christopher Street in New York City's Greenwich Village.

Out of the ashes of the Stonewall riots, people, primarily young, formed a number of militant groups. One of the first was the Gay Liberation Front (GLF). GLF was not a formalized organization per se, but rather a series of small groups across the U.S. and other countries. Members insisted on the freedom to explore new ways of living as part of a radical project of social transformation.

GLF adopted a set of principles emphasizing coalition-building with other disenfranchised groups -- women, minoritized racial and ethnic groups, working-class people, young people, elders, people with disabilities -- as a means of dismantling the economic and social structures they considered inherently oppressive.

My discomfort and concern when watching the marriage ceremony above a wedding cake floating down Colorado Boulevard stems from my understanding and experience as a political activist and as a student of history, an understanding of the Stonewall rebellion as representing an impetus for revolutionary change within an overridingly oppressive social structure, as opposed to mere reform, accommodation, or assimilation.

Looking back over the years, as our visibility has increased, as our place within the culture has become somewhat more assured, much certainly has been gained, but also, something very precious has been lost. That early excitement, that desire -- though by no means the ability -- to fully restructure the culture, as distinguished from mere reform, seems now to lie dormant in many sectors of our communities.

In our current so-called "neoliberal" age, emphasis is placed on privatization, global capital, reduced governmental oversight and deregulation of the corporate sector, attacks on labor organizing, and competition. We are living in an environment in which property rights hold precedence over human rights.

In our communities, the "pride" marches of the past have morphed into parades and festivals funded on a base of major corporate sponsorship, and capitalist consumption. Parade contingents now include large canvas banners affixed with familiar logos of national and local banks, and insurance, soft drink and beer, and real estate companies. Ironically, some of these same companies not so long ago refused to hire "out" members of our communities, but seeing how our business will improve their economic bottom line, they now happily welcome us.

A Call to Further and Wider Action

While what I refer to as the "4 Ms" (marriage equality, military inclusion, media visibility, and making money) of the mainstream movement are all laudable goals, I believe that if we are going to achieve a truly equitable society, we must reach even higher, wider, and broader. As important as these goals may be, I hope we do not envision them as the final resting place over the rainbow.

Metaphorically, oppression operates like a wheel with many spokes. If we work to dismantle only one or a few specific spokes, the wheel will continue to roll over people. Let us, then, also work on dismantling all the many spokes to conquering all the many forms of oppression in all their many forms.

Until and unless we can join in coalition with other groups, I consider that the possibility for achieving a genuine sense of community and a genuine sense of equity will be unattainable.

I believe also that sexual and relational attractions and gender identities and expressions alone are insufficient to connect a community, and by extension, a movement for progressive social change, and that we must, therefore, look beyond ourselves and base a community and a movement not simply on social identities, but also on shared ideals and values among individuals from disparate social identities, with like minds, political philosophies, and strategies for achieving their objectives.

To be clear, I hope we can revel in our past victories, for we have fought tirelessly for them. However, let us not dwell here, because we have further to go to ensure a truly just and equitable society and world. In the final analysis, whenever anyone is diminished, we are all demeaned; when anyone or any group remains institutionally and socially marginalized, excluded, or disenfranchised from primary rights and benefits, the possibility for authentic community cannot be realized unless and until we become involved, to challenge, to question, and to act in truly transformational ways.

I hope, therefore, that we can reignite the revolutionary and transformational flame that was Stonewall.