In reading Conduct Unbecoming by Randy Shilts, I’ve been engrossed not only with the stories of gay veterans but the beginning of the gay rights movement in the 1960s and early 70s. Many of the issues and complaints that gay moderates and conservatives have about the far Left today originated during those times. The sometimes understandable radical attitudes that were expressed at that time for various causes still exist today, only now it is increasingly difficult to find any sympathy for them. The leaders of the gay rights movement quickly “merged its aims with the panoply of liberation movements asserting themselves in that era”. While “some of these alignments…made sense, others lacked intellectual consistency” (contrary to Shilts, abortion is not among those that “made sense”). For example, Shilts writes:
[G]ay libbers joined their leftist comrades cutting Cuban sugar in the Venceremos Brigade, despite the fact that Fidel Castro himself locked up Cuban gays in concentration camps. Gay lib leaders solemnly quoted Chairman Mao’s wisdom from their own little red books, though Mao’s Red Guards were known to castrate “sexual degenerates” public ly. [Gay Liberation Front members] handed out FREE BOBBY SEALE posters alongside Black Panthers, even though black liberation guru Malcom X had commented, “All white men are blonde, blue-eyed faggots”. Gays who had once been Uncle Toms to the Establishment were now Uncle Toms to the New Left…
We can see this lack of “intellectual consistency” in many gay activist groups today. They align their movement with every leftist cause no matter how tenuous the connection to gay rights they may be. Many such groups have contented themselves to being only one faction of one major political party, which in many cases has eroded their effectiveness and allows them to be taken for granted in elections. These groups have also alienated gay moderates and conservatives as well as a large portion of mainstream America. Probably the best example of this is the treatment of the military and those gays who choose to serve in uniform. This too began in the turmoil of the 1960s and early 70s that “wanted nothing to do with the anguish of gays in uniform” and “would have repercussions for decades to come”:
In late August 1969…the radical Youth Committee of the North American Conference of Homophile Organizations meeting in Kansas City resolved, “The homophile movement must totally reject the insane war in Vietnam and refuse to encourage complicity in the war and support of the war machine, which may well be turned against us. We oppose any attempts by the movement to obtain security clearances for homosexuals since they contribute to the war machine”.
An editorial in the San Francisco Free Press agreed: “Homosexuals should not fight in a war propagated by a society that fucks us over in all its institutions. We will not fight in an army that discriminates against us… that rapes us and gives us less than honorable discharges”. From the start, there were dissenters. When the New York City Gay Liberation Front collapsed amid internal ideological struggles, the Gay Activists Alliance took over its place, and a former Air Force Sergeant named Roberto Reyes-Colon became one of its earliest members. He was a pacifist now and wore love beads, long hair, and bell bottoms, but he sometimes argued that groups like the GAA should not turn their backs on gay soldiers. The Air Force had been his way out of New York’s mean streets; a way of easing the burden on his mother, who would die young, working three jobs to make sure all of her seven children got a college education, a way for a better life.
GAA activists listened sympathetically and agreed that no matter what Reyes-Colon might have done to help the war machine in Vietnam, he had been a victim of the system rather than a despoiler. But at a time when the military represented everything that idealists in all the liberation movements wanted to change, few could muster much enthusiasm for helping anybody associated with the armed forces. Efforts for equal rights for gays would not extend to gays in uniform. The discrimination against them would, in effect, have the sanction of the gay movement for many years to come.
This unfortunate alignment to the antiwar movement continues to this day and while some gay rights groups have made strides towards helping gays in uniform, one can still find an anti-military bias either directly or through their silence. An example of this would be the recent decision by the Berkeley City Council to brand Marine recruiters as “unwanted intruders” who were “not welcome in our city” because of the war in Iraq and the DADT policy banning gays from openly serving. Berkeley even went so far as to ally itself with Code Pink, a radical antiwar group, against the Marines including free parking in front the recruiting office and special permission for the use of bullhorns in their demonstrations. Berkeley officials failed to realize of course that their fight to repeal DADT or end the war in Iraq is with the Congress, who authorized both, and not the military which is bound to uphold the law. Their actions have smeared both straight AND gay Marines. Yet what was the response of the major gay rights groups today to all of this? Silence. Back in the 1960s and early 70s these activists “comprised only a fraction of a percent of gays”, which the same can probably be said today. The danger with all of this, however, is the same as it was back then in “because they were the only people talking out loud about homosexuality, their voices were the only ones heard”. This cannot be allowed to stand no matter what political leanings any of us have. When activists are too radical, no matter how ‘noble’ the cause, or by their silence countenance dishonorable behavior in our names, they definitely need to be held accountable. If we fail to do so then all of us will pay a heavy price for our own silence.
— John (Average Gay Joe)