|OUT FOR GOOD|
July 16, 1999
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Finally, a Gergen Dialogue. David Gergen engages Adam Nagourney and Dudley Clendinen, both of the New York Times and co-authors of Out for Good: The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America.
DAVID GERGEN: Gentlemen, thank you for joining us. Dudley, in this sweeping new book that the two of you have written, you say that the gay rights movement was the last great civil rights movement to come to America to this point. And you suggest that's because homosexuals are a unique class; tell us about that.
DUDLEY CLENDINEN: There's some things, several, that make this a different group from any other minority group. The first is that its members, homosexuals, men and women, are invisible. There's nothing visible or on the paper record to mark someone as homosexual. He, she, has to identify himself, herself to others. It's the only group whose members have to stand up and declare themselves in order to be discriminated against, if you will. That's not true for blacks, African Americans, women, Jews, Roman Catholics, Asian Americans, any others in the culture. And the other things which are true and which are different about this group, I think, than others, is that it's composed of every other group. There are members of Democrats, Republicans, people of both genders, all colors, every ethnic background, who are homosexual. And they can all pass. And the only thing which bonds homosexuals are feelings, feelings of being different as children, which is something that was remarked to us I think in almost all the 700 interviews we did with people when we asked them about their lives. Feelings of attraction to someone like themselves later in adolescence, and then the feeling of being oppressed, treated differently because of it, if they let people know.
DAVID GERGEN: Many of the early leaders of the gay rights movement came from the civil rights movement, the women's movement, and other resistance movements. Was it that chance to resist that gave them the courage to then become resistant on this front?
DUDLEY CLENDINEN: It did. Those other movements were all under way when this one, the modern movement, began in 1969. It was the most radical time in American history in this half of the century. And in the women's movement and the civil rights and black power movements and the student rights and anti-war movements, there were homosexuals, but they weren't out anywhere around them because there was no friendly feeling in any of those movements for people who are gay and lesbian. And it wasn't until the spark was struck at a bar called the Stonewall Inn in New York and people, drag queens in this case, asserted themselves and said, "no, we're not going peacefully to jail," that others -- it released that energy. And people who'd had training, if you will, in all those others movements, began to use it for the first time on their own behalf.
DAVID GERGEN: Help me understand Stonewall, and why it became so important to the movement. This was a bar in Greenwich Village.
ADAM NAGOURNEY: Right, a shoddy little bar on Christopher Street that had been raided many times before. Cops busted this bar again. I forget what the pretense of it was. It had happened before, and this time people in the bar fought back. Within a month after the raid at the Stonewall Bar, you saw the first creation of a Gay Liberation Front in New York, which was the first group that said, "we are a bunch of gay people," in a big way about gay liberation, out to talk about gay liberation. There'd been smaller groups before then. They never had the name "gay" in the title. It was an instant change. Then within a year, you began to see in New York and across the country the creation of variations of gay activists alliances, groups that were more about playing inside, trying to change government, trying to get gay rights bills through, but also trying to get people to come out, because the feeling was that the way to ultimate sort of -- whatever you define "victory" as, was coming out.
DAVID GERGEN: Dudley, you suggest in the book that the next great milestone after Stonewall was their success with the American Psychiatric Association.
DUDLEY CLENDINEN: Yes, yes. It was -- it was the first -- the only complete victory the movement has won, and a crucial one. One of the things that was different, again, about this population was that there were three strikes against anyone in 1969 who was homosexual. They were considered sinners by many people for reasons of conservative interpretation of the Bible. They were criminal in every state, if they were active sexually, but Illinois. And by definition of the American Psychiatric Association and a book called The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, they were crazy, mentally ill, by December of '73 after bearding a psychiatrist at their own meetings, after rushing the stages and the podiums, taking the microphones while psychiatrists stood on their chairs and said, "you maniacs, get out of here." They were forced to confront their own diagnosis and to consider whether it made any sense and vote it as a board in December of '73, and then as an entire professional group in the months after it, in early 1974. But it was not justified, and it was not so.
DAVID GERGEN: So that advanced the movement, but then the fight seemed to be joined by the Anita Bryant campaign in Florida.
ADAM NAGOURNEY: The Dade County Commission passed it was almost not remarked at all. It was just sort of like, "yes, we're against discrimination." It just sort of sailed through. Anita Bryant was a spokesman for selling orange juice down there. And a group of religious leaders and other conservative leaders caught notice of it and mounted a very, very successful campaign to overturn it. They gathered signatures and petitions. They framed the debate as one of children are a threat. Excuse me, homosexuals are a threat to children. And it was a devastating setback.
DAVID GERGEN: And then AIDS hits like a tornado, tearing through the gay community in the late 1980's. That seemed to be the next big milestone.
DUDLEY CLENDINEN: When AIDS began to affect people and people began to sicken and die in the summer of 1981, it was first seen, I think by a lot of people, for what Jerry Falwell said it was, which is basically God's judgment. And it seemed to mark people, I think to mark gay men in particular, in the eyes of much of the population, as people whose habits, whose personal habits were threatening and -- unhealthy, and marked them as people who were diseased. But by the mid-80's and by the late 80's, something else happened. And the perception turned around, and people began to be seen as sympathetic, as neighbors and friends, more importantly as the sons, the nephews, the brothers, and often the fathers of families who were watching this terrible disease proceed. And I think it finally began to earn gay men, in particular, and the women who came -- the lesbians who came to their aid, as people of a particularly sympathetic plight and condition, and earned them the respect. And I think the understanding had been very hard to come by in the decades before.
ADAM NAGOURNEY: One other fact I would like to quickly add, which is -- it seems obvious at the time, but it came along and it knocked out all these men. It killed all these men who had begun to get some experience in running a political campaign. There was a series of team leaders in the book who got sick and died, so it really sort of devastated the movement. The movement also at that point-- there were national groups in Washington-- it was not that sophisticated. And it had a hard time adjusting to the immediate demands of getting money to fight the virus, and also to deal with some of the civil rights stuff that came-- because of what Dudley was saying-- in terms of people looking at gay men as threats.
DAVID GERGEN: Was the movement very different for lesbian women versus gay men?
DUDLEY CLENDINEN: It's more complicated for women than men. On the one hand, they may be perceived as less threatening to a lot of people who don't happen to be a homosexual than gay males are perceived to be. But it's more confusing for women and more complicated because they have to deal on more levels. If they feel less than equal because they're women, that's the first issue. If they feel again less than equal because they're gay, because they're homosexual, that's another issue. And if they happen to have color, other than pink or white, you know, that's yet again an issue. And it was often economically harder for them to stand up for themselves than it was for men. They had less independence, and they were often beholden to others.
DAVID GERGEN: Final question if you could be brief. Where are we now within the revolution?
ADAM NAGOURNEY: Here's my -- (Laughter)
DAVID GERGEN: I'm not going --
ADAM NAGOURNEY: Right, okay. Here's my sort of take on this. By the time we had the earliest gay rights groups, the priority of it was people coming out, that the way to achieve whatever you considered victory is by people living openly in their jobs or in society. I think that what has happened over the past 30 years in big cities-- not small communities, where there's still obviously discrimination-- has been to see change in the way that gay people sort of -- "Tolerate" is a strong word, but sort of living their lives in an open way. I think that's been the biggest change. I think you see it in the way some politicians react to gays. You certainly see it in the day-to-day life of gay people. I think that's been the biggest change.
DAVID GERGEN: Thank you both, Adam Nagourney and Dudley Clendinen.
DUDLEY CLENDINEN: Thank you, David.