June 29, 2009
NOT IN OUR STARS BUT IN OURSELVES
A few months ago I was on the phone with a friend who was visiting family in her old home town. She’d just challenged her parent’s boast about the diversity of their church, by asking where the gays were seated amongst all the recently-immigrated Africans and Asians in the pews. I’d just come out of a meeting in San Francisco’s Castro district. As I began walking back to my neighborhood, listening to my friend vent frustration, I passed a group of men with very long grey beards, dressed in matching kilts and leather bodices, chatting in the middle of the sidewalk. I walked by, as did various individuals, couples, and families. Some may have smiled or said good evening, others just moved along without much thought. I have no idea who was holding hands with whom or whether the families were comprised of heterosexual or same-sex parents — I was just out doing my thing, as was everyone else. The contrast between my friend’s home town norms and the scenes of daily life in my City stuck me a block or so later. What might have been a notable scene on her parent’s street was just pedestrian traffic on mine.
It’s PRIDE weekend in San Francisco. The 39th annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Parade and Celebration is an all-City affair. An article in the local paper notes that square dancing, strollers, sensible shoes, and straight people are ubiquitous, largely replacing the defiant displays of bare bottoms and boas from years past. Nakedness is honestly more a right than a revolt in San Francisco. (Witness the public outrage at suggestions of a clothing requirement for runners participating in the annual Bay to Breakers race). Normalcy, in a sense, is the ultimate victory. Isn’t that what pride is all about? Just being able to be who you are, to celebrate life by living it…that’s a universal aspiration. The fact that there is a car show at this year’s PRIDE festival means that collecting classic cars isn’t a gender- or orientation-specific hobby. Geez, who knew? Some of my best friends are car collectors.
This is not to say that all is well and easy and that intolerance and injustice have been defeated. The fight over Proposition 8 rages on and bigotry remains. It’s important to both celebrate successes and to understand the struggles through which they were achieved. When we forget how what was once a source of individual fear becomes a place a public pride, then we lose the insights that keep us vigilant.
I happened to watch Good Night, and Good Luck last night. The film centers on Edward R. Murrow challenge to the anti-communist investigations and witch-hunt tactics used by Senator Joseph McCarthy. The movie reminds us that fear-mongering works frighteningly well until someone stands up to call bullshit, even in the face of being themselves attacked. We’ve come a long way in the past few decades. “Communist” or “Gay” are not stigmatic labels anymore in most places, but prejudice remains. It continues to damage.
At the end of Good Night, and Good Luck, the Murrow character gives the famous “wires and light” speech on media responsibility. He warns against treating viewers as “complacent, indifferent, and isolated.” The danger is that when treated as such, they become so. He notes that television – the new media of the time – is an instrument that can “illuminate and inspire but only if humans are determined to use it that way.”
Our age has its own new media. You are using it now. The internet has revolutionized access to information and ideas. We have not yet begun to exhaust this potential. If you are reading this, you already have something that Edward R. Murrow, Harvey Milk, Martin Luther King, and the many to whom we owe the legacy of today’s freedoms did not have. You can participate in the kind of real-time global activism that vigilance in the days ahead will require. The choice is yours. Complacent, indifferent, and isolated is always an option. I’m betting you’re way cooler than that. Tune it, turn on, and turn someone else’s orbit around. Oh yeah, do it again. Again.
The Blind Sheep
by Randall Jarrell
The Sheep is blind; a passing Owl,
A surgeon of some local skill,
Has undertaken, for a fee,
The cure. A stump, his surgery,
Is licked clean by a Cate; his tools –
A tooth, a thorn, some battered nails –
He ranges by a shred of sponge,
And he is ready to begin.
Pushed forward through the gaping crowd,
“Wait,” bleats the Sheep. “Is all prepared?”
The Owl lists forceps, scalpel, lancet –
The old Sheep interrupts his answer:
“These lesser things may all be well,
But tell me, friend, how goes the world?”
The Owl says blankly, “You will find it
Goes as it went ere you were blinded.”
“What?” cries the Sheep. “Then take your fee,
But cure some other fool, not me.
To witness that enormity
I would not give a blade of grass.
I am a Sheep, not an Ass.” Follow me on Twitter