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The summer of ’69 – Stonewall


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dear Friends,

The summer of ’69 was a most interesting year.  For one, I was ordained a priest of Jesus Christ on May 24th in a small unassuming cathedral in Orlando, Florida by William Donald Borders, a man I deeply loved and who became Archbishop of Baltimore.  He’s now 96 living in Baltimore.  I hope I can visit with him this fall and express my deep love and gratitude to him for calling me to priestly ministry.

That’s one event.  And they say that only the priest and his mother care about ordination anniversaries, But perhaps you might be interested to know that I wrote an extended reflection on how I have seen my unconventional priestly journey in my May 2009 reflection letter Arise “Both Sides Now”.  It’s a long piece and I worked very hard on it because I value my dual vocations as a priest and a writer, which sometimes come into tension with one another.  It’s a download document, so you can print it out and save it for bathroom or bedtime reading if you’re interested in what an unconventional priest might have to say about his priesthood and the state of the church today — or to wrap your fish-leavings, if you are not.

The three other events of the Summer of ’69 are (1) The Stonewall Riots, the anniversary of which is today, (2) the Apollo 11 historic moon landing in July and (3) Woodstock in August.  All three events intertwine with my first summer as a priest and are worth reflecting on; I  will do so during the summer.

The Stonewall riots  happened 34 days after my ordination, 40 years ago today, and is still quite unknown today — the Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village that is marked as the beginning of the struggle for civil rights for gay people.  

I want to reprint part of a column by Frank Rich of the New York Times about that event because it is important.  But first I want to say I dislike the term “gay” and I do not like the word “marriage” in regard to same sex unions, though I believe that there should be the possibility of all sorts of domestic partnerships for anyone who chooses to enter into caring relationships.  Enough of that for now.  I was not afraid to enter and write about the struggle for civil rights for black and minority people 40 years nor to state my opposition to the Viet Nam and subsequent wars and did so courageously.   (My career as a writer precedes my status as an ordained priest by several years.)

Feel free to engage me in dialogue about this issue or any other.  I am interested in beginning several conversations — getting to know our homosexual sisters and brothers as persons, being one.  Use the comment box below.

Here is a portion of Mr. Rich’s article:

 

40 Years Later, Still Second-Class Americans
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By FRANK RICH
Published: June 27, 2009
LIKE all students caught up in the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s, I was riveted by the violent confrontations between the police and protestors in Selma, 1965, and Chicago, 1968. But I never heard about the several days of riots that rocked Greenwich Village after the police raided a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn in the wee hours of June 28, 1969 — 40 years ago today.
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Then again, I didn’t know a single person, student or teacher, male or female, in my entire Ivy League university who was openly identified as gay. And though my friends and I were obsessed with every iteration of the era’s political tumult, we somehow missed the Stonewall story. Not hard to do, really. The Times — which would not even permit the use of the word gay until 1987 — covered the riots in tiny, bowdlerized articles, one of them but three paragraphs long, buried successively on pages 33, 22 and 19.
But if we had read them, would we have cared? It was typical of my generation, like others before and after, that the issue of gay civil rights wasn’t on our radar screen. Not least because gay people, fearful of harassment, violence and arrest, were often forced into the shadows. As David Carter writes in his book “Stonewall,” at the end of the 1960s homosexual sex was still illegal in every state but Illinois. It was a crime punishable by castration in seven states. No laws — federal, state or local — protected gay people from being denied jobs or housing. If a homosexual character appeared in a movie, his life ended with either murder or suicide.
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.
Stonewall “wasn’t a 1960s student riot,” wrote one of them, Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, in a poignant handwritten flier on display at the New York Public Library in the exhibition “1969: The Year of Gay Liberation.” They had “no nice dorms for sleeping,” “no school cafeteria for certain food” and “no affluent parents” to send checks. They had no powerful allies of any kind, no rights, no future. But they were brave. They risked their necks to prove, as Lanigan-Schmidt put it, that “the mystery of history” could happen “in the least likely of places.”
After the gay liberation movement was born at Stonewall, this strand of history advanced haltingly until the 1980s. It took AIDS and the new wave of gay activism it engendered to fully awaken many, including me, to the gay people all around them. But that tardy and still embryonic national awareness did not save the lives of those whose abridged rights made them even more vulnerable during a rampaging plague.
On Monday, President Obama will commemorate Stonewall with an East Room reception for gay leaders. Some of the invitees have been fiercely critical of what they see as his failure, thus far, to redeem his promise to be a “fierce advocate” for their still unfulfilled cause. The rancor increased this month, after the Department of Justice filed a brief defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the most ignominious civil rights betrayal under the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton.
The Obama White House has said that the Justice Department action was merely a bureaucratic speed bump on the way to repealing DOMA — which hardly mitigates the brief’s denigration of same-sex marriage, now legal in six states after many hard-fought battles. The White House has also asserted that its Stonewall ceremony was “long planned” — even though it sure looks like damage control. News of the event trickled out publicly only last Monday, after dozens of aggrieved, heavy-hitting gay donors dropped out of a Democratic National Committee fund-raiser with a top ticket of $30,400.
In conversations with gay activists on both coasts last week, I heard several theories as to why Obama has seemed alternately clumsy and foot-dragging in honoring his campaign commitments to dismantle DOMA and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. The most charitable take had it that he was following a deliberate strategy, given his habit of pursuing his goals through long-term game plans. After all, he’s only five months into his term and must first juggle two wars, the cratered economy, health care and Iran. Some speculated that the president is fearful of crossing preachers, especially black preachers, who are adamantly opposed to same-sex marriage. Still others said that the president was tone-deaf on the issue because his inner White House circle lacks any known gay people.
But the most prevalent theory is that Obama, surrounded by Clinton White House alumni with painful memories, doesn’t want to risk gay issues upending his presidency, as they did his predecessor’s in 1993. After having promised to lift the ban on gays in the military, Clinton beat a hasty retreat into Don’t Ask once Congress and the Pentagon rebelled. This early pratfall became a lasting symbol of his chaotic management style — and a precursor to another fiasco, Hillarycare, that Obama is also working hard not to emulate.
But 2009 is not then, and if the current administration really is worried that it could repeat Clinton’s history on Don’t Ask, that’s ludicrous. Clinton failed less because of the policy’s substance than his fumbling of the politics. Even in 1992 a majority of the country (57 percent) supported an end to the military ban on gays. But Clinton blundered into the issue with no strategy at all and little or no advance consultation with the Joint Chiefs and Congress. That’s never been Obama’s way.
The cultural climate is far different today, besides. Now, roughly 75 percent of Americans support an end to Don’t Ask, and gay issues are no longer a third rail in American politics. Gay civil rights history is moving faster in the country, including on the once-theoretical front of same-sex marriage, than it is in Washington. If the country needs any Defense of Marriage Act at this point, it would be to defend heterosexual marriage from the right-wing “family values” trinity of Sanford, Ensign and Vitter.
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Sign in to Recommend Next Article in Opinion (2 of 31) » A version of this article appeared in print on June 28, 2009, on page WK8 of the New York edition.
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 LIKE all students caught up in the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s, I was riveted by the violent confrontations between the police and protestors in Selma, 1965, and Chicago, 1968. But I never heard about the several days of riots that rocked Greenwich Village after the police raided a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn in the wee hours of June 28, 1969 — 40 years ago today.Then again, I didn’t know a single person, student or teacher, male or female, in my entire Ivy League university who was openly identified as gay. And though my friends and I were obsessed with every iteration of the era’s political tumult, we somehow missed the Stonewall story. Not hard to do, really. The Times — which would not even permit the use of the word gay until 1987 — covered the riots in tiny, bowdlerized articles, one of them but three paragraphs long, buried successively on pages 33, 22 and 19.

But if we had read them, would we have cared? It was typical of my generation, like others before and after, that the issue of gay civil rights wasn’t on our radar screen. Not least because gay people, fearful of harassment, violence and arrest, were often forced into the shadows. As David Carter writes in his book “Stonewall,” at the end of the 1960s homosexual sex was still illegal in every state but Illinois. It was a crime punishable by castration in seven states. No laws — federal, state or local — protected gay people from being denied jobs or housing. If a homosexual character appeared in a movie, his life ended with either murder or suicide.

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.

Stonewall “wasn’t a 1960s student riot,” wrote one of them, Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, in a poignant handwritten flier on display at the New York Public Library in the exhibition “1969: The Year of Gay Liberation.” They had “no nice dorms for sleeping,” “no school cafeteria for certain food” and “no affluent parents” to send checks. They had no powerful allies of any kind, no rights, no future. But they were brave. They risked their necks to prove, as Lanigan-Schmidt put it, that “the mystery of history” could happen “in the least likely of places.”

After the gay liberation movement was born at Stonewall, this strand of history advanced haltingly until the 1980s. It took AIDS and the new wave of gay activism it engendered to fully awaken many, including me, to the gay people all around them. But that tardy and still embryonic national awareness did not save the lives of those whose abridged rights made them even more vulnerable during a rampaging plague.  — end of my quote of Mr. Rich’s article.

For many s0-called Christians this is a hot-button issue.  We are quick to condemn others.  There is pre-judging going on in the live of many who have never known an openly gay person, just as there was about blacks 40 years ago.  Jesus cast his lot with the sinners of his day because they were the ones who responded and needed his message of love.  He would do the same with gay people today.  All of us sin seriously against love most every day.  And the the ones who are closest to God know this.

So, there you have it.  I’ve introduced a new topic to this blog.  I not going to be a crusader for that or any cause.  My crusade is that Jesus loves everyone.  No matter what.  And he would love for each of us simply to accept his love and his loving embrace and be willing to be changed by it.

Now the question is what about Mark Sanford?  Maybe he has received his cumuppance for his hypocrisy.  Let’s just stop the condemning and reach out in friendship and get to know the goodness in each other rather than fear our differences.  

Now I realize that entering this fray may induce anger and misunderstanding, by some of my readers but it needs to be done.  There is plenty of sin to go around including a southern governor, ant-gay, outraged at Clinton and Lewinsky revealing his own hypocrisy this past weak (sic).  Let’s just listen and learn from one another.  And take the beam out of our own eye, like Jesus said instead of wanting to take the splinter out of our neighbor’s eye.

Heavenly Father,

we’ve got it all wrong.

We think we’re supposed to hate.

That you only smile on a few who get it right.

Well, I thank you for finally helping me understand why you sent us Jesus —

that getting it right or wrong is not the point.

You are the Father who created us and loves all of Your children,  no matter what.

All You want of us is to accept Your love and Your wisdom 

and to love one another as Jesus your Son has taught us.

Father, as we approach our celebration of the Fourth of July next weekend

may we reflect on how our our country was founded on the principle that 

we are all created equal.

Let us realize that fundamentally

we are simply  your daughters and sons.

And that makes us, therefore, simply brothers and sisters

each of us struggling in ourselves with our addictions, failures, guilts,

remorses, sins and regrets.

You sent Jesus to show us that You are not the one to impose that guilt.

Forgive us for wanting to impose guilt on others.  Help us to  let You alone  be the judge.

Today is a new day.

A new day to accept Your love and to transform our prejudices

and hates into understanding, caring and respect.

and to love one another as you have loved us.

And I personally thank you for teaching me that I cannot preach the gospel

unless I get to know and care about people as individual.

Thank you for teaching me to preach the gospel, one person at a time.

To You Father be all honor and glory and praise

through Your Son Jesus Christ our Lord

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

the spirit of life of love.

AMEN!

Bob Traupman

priest / writer

4 comments on “The summer of ’69 – Stonewall

  1. Hi! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to
    give a quick shout out and say I really enjoy
    reading your posts. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that deal with
    the same topics? Thanks a lot!

  2. Bob, I just read your reflections on the Summer of 69 and of course immediately recalled that Linda and I spent a weekend with you then as we went through Pre-Canaan for our wedding. We will be celebrating 40 years on the 2nd of August!! I recall watching the lift-off of Apollo 11 from your place on Merritt Island. It was truly a memorable summer.
    God Bless, Al

  3. Hello Fr. Bob,
    This is an interesting topic, and one that I struggle to make sense of with the youth group I lead. I too dislike the word “gay,” because it is used negatively often. Also, I am uncomfortable with calling same sex unions “marriage,” because I think that grouping these relationships under the same title connotes that they are the same in nature. I feel in my gut that they are not the same from my perspective of marriage being sacramental. I do not say that to belittle a same-sex relationship. I think it is wrong and unloving to do that. However, I do struggle with understanding same-sex relationships. Having friends who are homosexual challenges my feelings and forces me to be tolerant and understanding. Some times I do fall short because I am uncomfortable.
    -Loren

    • Loren,

      I remember when I was in the seminary in 1963 and our profs took some leadership in our civil rights education. Up to that point (my third year of college)
      I had not spoken to a black person personally. The profs divided us into small groups and we visited in the homes of black Catholics in the row houses of Baltimore. Boy! My misunderstandings and prejudices were opened up real quick!

      The same thing has to happen here. Except that gay people can be invisible unless they choose to reveal themselves. Most of us talk to gay folk all the time and don’t know it. And of course, we feel nervous and uncomfortable and even fearful. That’s the risk that is involved in reaching over a cultural divide. Understanding takes patience, a willingness to listen and hospitality, an open mind and an open heart, a willingness to learn.

      But the experience can be rewarding. In the Hebrew bible the Nomadic people were eager to learn from people who were different from them. Unfortunately, we here in America tend to judge people who are not a carbon copy of ourselves.

      And, by the way, to listen is not the same thing as to agree. Understanding is not the same thing as agreeing either. But understanding stretches us, opens us, makes us stronger, more capable of realizing that, though we are different, we are still part of one human family.

      The challenge is to transform our fear and hate into love. Remember the song from”South Pacific,” “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear?” Unfortunately, it has been the church that has perpetuated that hate and fear toward homesexuals who live and work right next to us without us realizing it.

      Human sexuality is a great mystery, a mystery that is kept in the darkness of our lives. We lie about it, cover it up, stuff it into the depths of our psyches or get succumbed by it. Very few reverence it and accept it as a wonderful life-giving gift, whether we are gay or straight. We fear its power; we fear that it will consume us, and it does consume some of us. We have to not be afraid to enter into that mystery and bring its secrets into the light. God knows the Church certainly needs to do this! But so do we all.

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