28 January 2014

Whatever Happened To Mary Tyler Moore? (Part One)

Mary Tyler Moore

It's time you started living/
It's time you let someone else do some giving/
Love is all around, no need to waste it/
You can have this town, why don't you take it?/
You might just make it after all.

Excerpt from "Love Is All Around,"
theme song from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show"
Words and Music by Sonny Curtis.
Copyright 1970 by Mark Three Music (BMI)

Every year around this time, LGBT folk all over the world commemorate the Stonewall rebellion. On 28 June 1969, the patrons of a Greenwich Village Gay bar reacted violently to police harassment. Joined by loiterers outside the bar, they started a riot that lasted for three nights.

At that time, Gay identity was still a criminal offense and heavily stigmatized. Closeted Lesbians, Gay men, Pansexual and Transfolk sought fellowship in seedy bars that the police frequently raided. Frequent victims of unfair prosecutions, public humiliation and Bible-based discrimination, they suffered silently, accepting pariah status as their lot in life.

However, by the late '60s, a sense of outrage was manifesting itself. Inspired by the social activism of other minority groups, urban LGBT folk were no longer willing to accept the more blatant forms of heterosexist oppression. Gay Pride was born out of this defiant new attitude! The first Pride parade took place along New York City's Sixth Avenue in late July of '69. They became annual events in New York, and over the next two decades, they spread to major cities around the country, and the world.

Now Gay Pride parades are huge tourist attractions, drawing thousands of spectators in US cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New Orleans, Miami and Washington DC, as well as in foreign metropoles like Paris, France, Sydney, Australia, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. They've evolved into elaborate pageants that culminate in Mardi Gras-style orgies of public revelry. Stars of stage, screen and records serve as grand marshals for them, TV and radio stations cover them as entertainment news, and in some cases, they even receive corporate sponsorship. We've certainly come a long way from the four hundred brave LGBT pioneers who dared to march through the streets of Manhattan singing "We Shall Overcome"!

Lately, though, some LGBT activists and their allies have begun asking whether Pride parades haven't outlasted their usefulness. They question the time and expense lavished on these spectacles. They worry about the wild image these events present of a minority group that increasingly craves mainstream respectability. Most of all, they wonder why we put so much energy into celebrating when our battle for equality hasn't been won. Not only hasn't it been won, it's not even close to being over!

We have so much work left to do! We still can't marry in most places. We still can't adopt children in most places. In some jurisdictions, we're not even allowed to raise our own offspring! We still can't safely express public affection in most places. We still aren't protected from adverse job actions based on sexual orientation. We still aren't protected from co-worker harassment on the job. We still can't serve openly in the military. We still can't join or serve as troop leaders in the Boy Scouts. Most churches still won't let us serve openly as administrators. Some of them will excommunicate us upon discovering our status.

Our history still can't be taught in most schools. Our youth still suffer horrendous bullying in school. Most of us who work in government or in the news and entertainment media are still afraid to leave the closet. Lies and distortions about us are still rampant in the media. Our tax money is used to support "faith-based" organizations that can legally refuse to hire us! Preachers of color are increasingly joining forces with White Fundamentalists to oppose our Rights agenda. Politicians give token attention to our issues (except when they want to whip up a reactionary constituency)!

Worst of all, there've been dozens more hate crimes since Matthew Shepard's death in 1998, both here and abroad. Don't even get me started talking about the international climate for LGBT people! Legal persecution is as bad or worse than it was during the Stonewall era. Recent atrocities in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, various African countries, and especially the Caribbean reveal those regions to be stuck firmly in the Dark Ages when it comes to human rights!

I certainly understand why the parades came about. They were an expression of post-Stonewall defiance, and a way to make Gay identity visible to all the homosexual men and women who mistakenly thought they were alone in the world. They were an attempt to cast aside victimizaton, and combat the deep sense of shame we'd internalized for years. They were an exercise in speaking truth to power: The truth of our love! They put the powers-that-be on notice that we were a force to be reckoned with! We were a politicized people crashing through the closet door and demanding our rightful places in society.

On another level, marching in parades was simply an expression of exuberance. Our stated goals were revolutionary and inspiring, we were caught up in the spirit of the Civil Rights and Free Love movements, and we felt newly liberated. Parading was just a natural thing to do! It was our way of throwing our hats in the air, like Mary Tyler Moore in the opening credits of her hit TV series. She became news right around the same time we did.

The "Mary Tyler Moore Show" shut down production thirty years ago, but we're still throwing our hats up in giddy celebration. The gesture has grown stale! The context has changed completely. Has anybody noticed? We've come a long way, baby, and it's not the 1970s anymore. It's 2007, and guess what? Pride parades have become irrelevant to our issues!

"Whatever Happened To Mary Tyler Moore?" 
continues with Part Two.