, Gloucester, MA

July 17, 2013

Letter: Tracking history of gay rights movement

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — To the editor:

In his latest letter (the Times, Tuesday, July 16), Gerald Mahieu claimed the gay rights movement was born just 40 years ago with “... four people sitting around a dining room table wanting to be recognized for their beliefs.”

Now, I mean no disrespect, but in an earlier letter Mr. Mahieu described a very similar scene in which he claimed he, along with a couple of gay friends and “... a high powered Washington attorney ...”, sat around a dining room table forty years ago and drafted a “legal document” that guaranteed the rights of gay and lesbian Americans throughout the country.

In that letter, Mr. Mahieu claimed his “legal document” still has standing today and, therefore, the Supreme Court’s recent decisions to affirm a gay couple’s right to due process and equal protection in relation to marriage were unnecessary.

So, my question to Mr. Mahieu is, “Sir, are you telling us you were at that table 40 years ago when you claim the gay rights movement was born?”

I ask that question with all due respect because the gay rights movement is much older than just 40 years.

To be sure, the gay rights movement picked up speed in the 1970s. But that had much more to do with the Stonewall Riots, the election of Harvey Milk as the first openly gay politician in the country, the defeat of Proposition 6 in California that would have barred gay Americans from being public school teachers, and the emergence of urban neighborhoods like the Castro in San Francisco and Greenwich Village in New York as the hubs of thriving gay communities and political activism, than it did with Mr. Mahieu, his two gay friends, and a “...high powered Washington attorney...” drafting some mythical “Gay Bill of Rights” while sitting around a dining room table somewhere.

The gay rights movement began long before the 1970s and was led by activists like Harry Hay, the founder of the Mattachine Society, and artists, writers, and intellectuals like Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and Will Geer —yes “Grandpa Walton” — who quietly and courageously worked to advance the principle that all people’s rights, including those of homosexuals, are protected and guaranteed by the Constitution.

I share this because, in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decisions, the gay rights movement is entering a whole new phase that is as fraught with peril as it is opportunity.

The community can ill afford to have its history distorted and misrepresented.