Thursday, February 19, 2015

It Gets Worse

I've complained before about the disappearing of history, including GLBT history, by people who lived through the period in question and should know better.  I've also complained that the people who appoint themselves our leaders and defenders against bigotry are too often ignorant about our lives and our history, but imagine that their professional credentials somehow qualify them anyway.  Ignorance isn't a bad thing, but pretending to know more than you know is.

So I'm slogging through Standing Out, Standing Together: The Social and Political Impact of Gay-Straight Alliances (Routledge, 2005) by the sociologist Melinda Miceli. The book has some value as an account of American gay youth's struggles since (roughly) Stonewall, but it exhibits the same willed amnesia that I mentioned before.  I hope to address that problem in another post, but for now I want to point to an example of the second problem, of ignorant professionals.

One of the earliest official initiatives to help gay youth within a US school system was Project 10 in Los Angeles, founded in 1984 by Virginia Uribe, a lesbian teacher who'd been approached by some gay and lesbian students with their experiences of harassment in school.  Project 10 was approved by her principal and proceeded successfully for two or three years, working throughout the Los Angeles school system, before the Christian right learned about it and tried unsuccessfully to abolish it.  Uribe told Miceli in an interview:
I didn't realize the power of the right wing at that time.  This was twenty years ago and I was basically na├»ve about the political implications of all this at that time [97].
I realize that a teacher doesn't have as much free time as I did at that time to follow gay politics and controversies.  But -- really?  In 1984 Uribe had never heard of Proposition 6, known as the Briggs Initiative, a 1978 ballot initiative which "would have banned gays and lesbians, and possibly anyone who supported gay rights, from working in California's public schools"?  Perhaps Uribe could have missed the repeal of a gay-rights ordinance in Dade County Florida, thanks to a campaign led by the Christian-right singer Anita Bryant in 1977; it was at the other end of the country, after all, though Bryant's crusade got national news coverage.  But the Briggs Initiative was in California, and would have affected Uribe personally if it had passed.  It nearly passed, but thanks to a statewide grass-roots and the (very surprising) condemnation of the proposition by former California Governor Ronald Reagan, it was defeated.  (It's another sign of how much the Right has caved in to the Politically Correct Gay Agenda that this 2009 article from the far-right American Spectator tries to give Reagan most of the credit for the defeat of Proposition 6.)

And, of course, there was also the assassination in San Francisco of gay city supervisor Harvey Milk and mayor George Moscone in the fall of 1978 by a disgruntled Roman Catholic, Dan White.  White was convicted of manslaughter rather than murder, and was paroled after a few years in prison.  (He committed suicide in 1985.)  The Christian Right played a major role in the election of Ronald Reagan to the Presidency in 1981, and groups like the Moral Majority gained national attention, taken seriously by the mainstream media.  Even here in the backwoods of southern Indiana, Anita Bryant and the Christian Right were well known among gay people.   By 1987, the Christian Right was also vocal and effective in blocking sensible responses to the AIDS epidemic, then in its seventh year by the usual chronology.

It may be that in retrospect, twenty years after she started Project 10, Uribe had forgotten the national atmosphere of those days.  But I still find it hard to believe.  The events I just mentioned were just some of the most visible evidence of the "power of the right wing" in the early 1980s.  I don't say this to deny Uribe's achievement and contribution in organizing and maintaining Project 10, only to express again my amazement at the ignorance educated, presumably sentient adults can entertain about the society they live in.  I imagine that in twenty years, there'll be middle-aged GLBT people saying that they didn't know about the power of the Christian right in the mid 2010s.