PRIDE 2021

Queer ’21: For Every Ten Steps Forward, There Are Nine Back

We’re tired of endlessly consoling ourselves with, “At least things are better than they were.”

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Being queer in America nowadays is like having to crash a party that you helped organize. Every time a new Presidential administration comes in, you’re either handed a fab slew of rights or the ones you were just given are rudely snatched away. You develop whiplash looking back at either the equality or the oppression that just left you behind like a hit-and-run driver. Between 2009 and ’17, President Obama and Vice President Biden put in scores of LGBTQ protections, which were obsessively removed in the next four years by President Trump (who refused to acknowledge Pride month, unless you count the fact that he shamelessly sold Pride merch). With Biden back in the White House, he and Veep Harris have dutifully been restoring those protections, while ushering in renewed respect for (and by) the LGBTQ community. But we can never relax in our combat boots. By now, we know that the next time a Republican comes in, it’ll be back to square queero and we’ll have a hard time holding onto any acquired equality in housing, health care, adoption, and other realms where your dignity can be so readily stripped.

It’s amazing that, as taxpaying citizens, our right to simply exist is up for grabs on a constant basis — and that it’s a sketchy bunch of insurrectionists who retain so much power in trying to withhold those rights. The Supreme Court helps determine how we queers can live, even though the Court happens to include an accused sexual harasser and an accused rapist, among other morally dubious jurists. Perhaps these are not the people who should be the arbiters of which human rights can be attached to sexuality and which can’t. 

Trans people are special targets for the Republican agenda because they’re so vulnerable to begin with, and it’s so easy to get power-hungry MAGAs to gather ’round and kick sand in their face. Being a black trans person in the age of Trump was a double whammy that made you a walking punching bag. Those that survived may never feel at peace in this country, but at least the Biden/Harris team is putting out messages to uplift and celebrate them — at the same time that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis spent the first day of Pride Month in a Christian Academy that excludes LGBTQs, where he signed an anti-trans bill, with his little daughter — you know, “a real girl” — sitting by his side for the cameras.

Of course, the Republicans have their own trans mascot — Caitlyn Jenner — though I don’t think they’re much more enthusiastic about her than Democrats are. Hoping to unseat Gavin Newsom as Governor of California, Jenner is a rich, white woman who affects a pathetic “I didn’t realize” look every time she’s busted for being a Republican. Jenner is against trans people competing in the sports events of their gender, though she herself participated in a women’s golf tournament with no reservation. She’s a “Do as I say, not as I do” Republican, who has enough money to get out of icky situations (like fatal car crashes), so her trans self-loathing doesn’t cause much damage to her own life. Her reality show did open eyes and offer some education, but today, Jenner boils down to a bitter pill for other trans people to swallow, just like Milo and Richard Grenell are gays who harm gay rights and Candace Owens is an African American who’s bad for African Americans. 

When your Family Values brigade consists of them, plus bottom-dwelling Matt Gaetz (an accused sex trafficker), Jim Jordan (who covered up miles of abuse), and Lindsey Graham (whose closet runneth over), it becomes the equivalent of O.J. Simpson starting an organization called Be Nicer To Your Spouse. (Not to give him any ideas.)

A Republican “hero” right now is Liz Cheney for standing up to Trump’s treacherous lies, which normally wouldn’t seem like all that brave a thing to do. In fact, Graham and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy both were going there, until flip-flopping back up Trump’s ass — though McCarthy flip-flopped back out by admitting the election wasn’t stolen. Then, how is Cheney saying so a problem? Oh, right — she says it too often. But in today’s swamp of a Republican party, telling the truth in order to defy the attempted overthrow of democracy makes Cheney a shining light, even though we must never forget that she has been a vile homophobe who wouldn’t even go to bat for her lesbian sister. And this year, her rep used a homophobic smear in a battle with Matt Gaetz, bizarrely crowing, “In Wyoming, the men don’t wear makeup.” This being the state where Matthew Shepard was tortured and left to die in 1998 makes that remark even more harrowing. But stop everything. Republican Anthony Bouchard, who plans to run against Cheney in Wyoming, turns out to have impregnated a 14-year-old girl when he was 18. They married (in Florida, of course), then split, then she killed herself, and now their son’s an accused sex offender himself. As Bouchard tried to pre-emptively spin this as a touching tale of teenagers in love, Liz Cheney started looking better and better. But stop everything again! Cheney then expressed support for some of the current wave of Republican voter suppression laws, clearly not drawing a connecting line between this shameful agenda and Trump’s antics, which she voted to impeach him for. She’s still Liz Cheney!

Mind you, I’m thrilled that we’ve come so far from a year ago, when we were in the grips of a new pandemic and when Trump was treating that as dismissively as he handled queer rights. But we’re tired of endlessly consoling ourselves with, “At least things are better than they were.” Yes, the queer plight has progressed light years from the 1960s, when I grew up learning that homosexuality was considered a mental illness and you could get arrested for holding hands in the street. Whoop-de-do! After the Stonewall rebellion in 1969, the community further mobilized and queers became more visible, propelling us into the ’70s, which were a relatively sexy time to be a gay man in NYC — post-Stonewall and pre-AIDS. 

But in the ’80s, the scourge decimated young gays as well as IV drug users, reigniting homophobic rhetoric aimed at “sinners” who’d brought this upon themselves and should basically be left to rot. President Reagan willfully ignored the plague as it mounted (a dry run for Trump and Covid), but the resulting horror back then politicized us and we protested in the streets while urging public figures to come out of the closet to let the youth out there know they were not alone.

Jump ahead to now and everything’s changed, but nothing’s changed. We have same-sex marriage and lots of visibility on cable and streaming services, but our rights are still only available on a day-by-day basis. People still use selective readings from the Bible to claim we’re second-class citizens, and the anti “cancel culture” crowd will gladly refuse to make a same-sex wedding cake while also stopping a drag queen from reading to perfectly enchanted kids. Politicians now crave our votes, but in a pandering way, as witnessed by mayoral wannabe Andrew Yang’s cringe-worthy speech to the Stonewall Democrats of New York City in April. Yang robotically gushed that gays are “so beautiful and human” and “a secret weapon.” Yes, Andrew, we’re people — like Soylent Green. But guess what? We’re out of the closet and other people know about us! We haven’t been a secret since 1969! 

And that’s not the end of the queer queasiness. As beautiful and human as it is, the community is as divided as ever, with the upcoming Pride weekend a perfect example. The long-running Heritage of Pride organization will have a June 27th virtual parade based on corporate support. (Some of these companies routinely participate in the parade to look “with it” and appeal to the gay dollar, only to ignore the issue the rest of the year). But on the same day, the Reclaim Pride Coalition’s Queer Liberation March comes back in person for a third year, eschewing corporate sponsors, politicians, and police in favor of old-style righteous anger. 

In May, Heritage of Pride surprised people with a radical move, deciding on a similar exclusion of cops in uniform from now till 2025. (The membership reversed the exclusion of GOAL — Gay Officers Action League — from the parade, but then the board un-reversed it. The divisions keep on coming.) One can easily see where the distrust of cops comes from. The Stonewall rebellion was a result of brutes with badges harassing bar patrons for the millionth time, and after all these years, some blue lives still haven’t gotten the memo. Last year, when the Queer Liberation March ended up in Washington Square Park, cops used pepper spray and batons to abuse various protestors — all the more sickening considering that the march had been done in conjunction with Black Lives Matter, which was formed to protest police brutality. HoP taking a stand on this issue is refreshing, though their banning GOAL from marching in uniform makes us dangerously similar to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which for many years would not allow gay Irish contingents to march. 

But Reclaim Pride has little sympathy for GOAL, saying the group never publicly condemned all the police attacks on queer-led protests for black lives in the past year. That doesn’t mean Reclaim Pride is backing HoP either. They say that HoP’s move is “too little, too late” and besides, the private security firms HoP wants to bring in generally consist of retired or off-duty cops! It’s all very complicated and very now, but I suspect that by the time there’s a live HoP parade, the re-reversal will have been reversed once again and the cops will be back in the mix, angrier than ever.

Thankfully, Biden and Harris have been a blast of empathy and enlightenment, some queer rights are back on the upswing, and so many celebs are out, out, out. So why am I not popping open the pink champagne? Because this queer knows better. Happy Pride, everyone. Be afraid.   ❖

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