On Stonewall and ‘the first brick’

GA Voice - - Sometimes 'Y' -

“I con­sider [Larry] Kramer a role model and hero, but his gay world, art and history have al­ways been al­most ex­clu­sively white, so it’s no sur­prise that he would be in­dig­nant to­ward oth­ers de­mand­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tion.”

Larry Kramer has al­ways been my type of jack­ass.

The iconic gay cur­mud­geon came to mind dur­ing the pro­gres­sive con­fu­sion and out­rage over two Black Lives Mat­ter ac­tivists storm­ing the stage at a Bernie San­ders rally, com­man­deer­ing the mi­cro­phone from the speaker of honor, then chastis­ing the lib­eral can­di­date and crowd for ac­qui­esc­ing to white supremacy. Re­gard­less of the sub­stance or mer­its of the BLM protest, the re­ac­tion of many lib­er­als re­minded me of the back­lash di­rected to­ward Kramer and the or­ga­ni­za­tion he founded, ACT UP, dur­ing the height of the AIDS cri­sis.

Many up­right LGBT Amer­i­cans, along with het­ero­sex­ual al­lies, ob­jected to the rowdy and bel­liger­ent an­tics of ACT UP—protests that were de­cried as mis­guided, coun­ter­pro­duc­tive and an­tag­o­nis­tic.

In­de­pen­dently, many of these ac­tions were ab­surd and in­ef­fec­tive, or sab­o­taged progress and re­pelled would-be sym­pa­thiz­ers; but on the whole, they were crit­i­cally nec­es­sary, and un­doubt­edly suc­cess­ful in sav­ing gay lives and rev­o­lu­tion­iz­ing pa­tient ad­vo­cacy across health care.

I adore San­ders, who has an ad­mirable record on equal­ity mat­ters, but also a dog­matic fo­cus on class that dan­ger­ously mutes the im­pact of skin color (and sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion) in such dis­cus­sions. I be­lieve he can sharpen his un­der­stand­ing of the unique ex­pe­ri­ences and ob­sta­cles mi­nori­ties en­dure, just as the BLM de­mon­stra­tors can more fully de­velop and hone their tac­tics.

While I was con­tem­plat­ing the sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween BLM and ACT UP, Kramer de­scended from his throne of gay history to, with char­ac­ter­is­tic orner­i­ness, chas­tise those who were threat­en­ing to boy­cott the movie “Stonewall” af­ter the trailer showed a cis­gen­der white boy throw­ing the first brick in the his­toric ri­ots.

“Don’t lis­ten to the cra­zies,” Kramer wrote in a Face­book com­ment to “Stonewall” di­rec­tor Roland Em­merich. “As with so much history there is no way to ‘prove’ a lot of stuff, which al­lows artists such as your­self (and me I might add) to take essences and at­tempt to find and con­vey mean­ing and truth.”

At one point, Kramer asks those protest­ing the film “Where the fuck were you,” an au­da­ciously id­i­otic ques­tion from some­one who him­self wasn’t at the Stonewall Ri­ots. I con­sider Kramer a role model and hero, but his gay world, art and history have al­ways been al­most ex­clu­sively white, so it’s no sur­prise that he would be in­dig­nant to­ward oth­ers de­mand­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

LGBT his­to­rian David Carter di­vided those who were present dur­ing the first night of ri­ot­ing into two gen­eral cat­e­gories: have and have nots.

Among the lat­ter were white, black and Latino home­less youth, drag queens and other out­casts who had noth­ing to lose and were no longer will­ing to let the po­lice take their dig­nity; the other group was com­posed of clos­eted pro­fes­sion­als, most of whom were white men, who were will­ing to sac­ri­fice their dig­nity to avoid jeop­ar­diz­ing their priv­i­lege. It was also a group of ex­clu­sively white gay men who urged “peace­ful and quiet con­duct” in lieu of the ri­ot­ing that changed our world.

While there was no “first brick,” Carter cred­its a bull dyke who was “tall, stout, with a short, man­nish hair­cut” with ig­nit­ing the riot, while drag queens and street kids pelted law en­force­ment into a de­fen­sive po­si­tion. The same artis­tic li­cense that trans­formed this char­ac­ter into a pixie les­bian in the “Stonewall” trailer could have—and most cer­tainly should have—been em­ployed to cap­ture the di­verse “essence” of how that his­toric upris­ing be­gan.

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