When We Rise: Our LGBT Family History in America’s Living Room
By Lawrence Pfeil, Jr.
It has been 40 years since the groundbreaking and landmark miniseries Roots riveted an entire nation by telling the ugly and painful story of the African American Community’s birth with dignity through Alex Haley’s family history. It made an ineligible mark on white America; ignited African identity and pride anew in black America; and created countless cultural touchstones and references that are still with us today.
On Monday night, February 27th the LGBT “family history” will be told in the ABC mini-series When We Rise. The four-part, eight hour mini-series was adapted by Academy Award winning screenwriter of Milk, Dustin Lance Black from gay activist, Cleve Jones’ memoir When We Rise: My Life in the Movement.
In an interview with the Washington Blade, Black said
“I started working on this about four years ago, and never would have guessed it would land in times like these where unfortunately, it feels so necessary, I would give anything in the world for it to feel less necessary.”
“History speaks for itself in a way. What we tried to do was be authentic and honest about that history… if you can be honest to history, it will always shine a light for you.”
When We Rise chronicles the gay civil rights movement from its birth at the Stonewall Inn in June of 1969; through the AIDS crisis; to present day marriage equality and the continued fight for full LGBT equal justice under the law.
The star studded cast includes Mary-Louise Parker as Roma Guy, Guy Pearce as Cleve Jones, Rachel Griffiths as Roma’s wife Diane, Whoopi Goldberg as Pat Norman, Michael Kenneth Williams as Ken Jones, Rosie O’Donnell as Del Martin, and Ivory Aquino as transgender activist Cecilia Chung.
However as “The New York Times” published in a recent article, it is worth noting,
“Fifty years ago next month, CBS broadcast “The Homosexuals,” an unsettling documentary about a subject “that people find disturbing,” as Mike Wallace, the anchor, put it. For nearly an hour, viewers saw a gay man in shadows describing the tragedy of his life, psychiatrists who depicted homosexuality as a debilitating mental illness and a harrowing clip of a distraught 19-year-old soldier being driven to jail after his arrest on a charge of soliciting sex in a public restroom.
‘The average homosexual — if there be such — is promiscuous,’ Mr. Wallace told his audience. ‘He is not interested in, nor capable of, a lasting relationship like that of a heterosexual marriage.’”
What is truly “disturbing,” if not horrifying, is how much of America still believes every word of what Mike Wallace reported in 1967. One only need look at last November’s election, last week’s CPAC meeting; or the overwhelming number of “negatives” and vile hate filled messages in the comment section of the YouTube trailer. Moreover, that the current Administration, its entire cabinet and advisers; and the Republican controlled Congress believes it too.
Would that When We Rise does today, what Roots did in 1977.
Let’s be realistic. There is little to no chance that opponents will view our struggle and history with anything more than disdain and contempt, if they watch at all. But maybe this is an opportunity for us to get our “own house in order.”
Sadly, so much of the LGBT Community doesn’t know its own history, especially millennials; and what’s more it’s living history. It’s vibrant, triumphant, dramatic, tragic, joyful, but most of all it is their story! Serious battles are on the horizon for our Community, like the First Amendment Defense Act, which will require everyone to show up in order to preserve the civil rights and equality achieved so far. Now is the time to get everyone engaged in their history, invested in their future; and ready to rise.