By Lawrence Pfeil, Jr.
Twenty years ago while working for the New York Blade newspaper, I covered NYC Pride as a professional writer/journalist for the first time and wrote a feature article about the Stonewall Veterans’ Association’s (SVA) annual “Stonewall Symposium.” I never imagined the profound change the experience would have on me personally or the longevity that article has had.
I still recall former SVA President Jeremiah Newton grimacing during our interview when I praised he and the other members of the SVA as “heroes.” From his perspective, it was just a sweltering night; people were upset from Judy Garland’s funeral earlier that day; the NYPD cops had picked the wrong night for another raid at Stonewall. Someone simply snapped and pushed back. That’s why I called them “accidental heroes and heroines.” They may not have planned what happened, but they had the courage of loins and never quit.
Read the full article: “Memories fade, apathy grows… who will tell Our story?”
In reading it again now, I’m struck by a quote from Reverend Magora E. Kennedy, “They [the younger LGBTQ generations] don’t appreciate what they’ve got.’ “What’s more they don’t realize that the laws we fought for can be rescinded just like… that!”
Kennedy’s observation seems prophetic considering the 491 anti-LGBTQ billing pending across the country and the 46 which have gone into law. For example, in Texas alone one state agency has prohibited employees from wearing clothes inconsistent with their biological gender, and the State passed a law prohibiting men from wearing makeup in public. Pre-Stonewall, anyone wearing less than three articles of clothing consistent with their perceived gender was subject to arrest and imprisonment in New York City.
Sadly, this isn’t the only observation about our Community that appears prophetic. In October 2015, I wrote a two-part article about the reaction to the progress of LGBTQ civil right and equality after the SCOTUS marriage equality decision. The most recent data on anti-LGBTQ crimes available at the time for “America, The Hateful” was from 2013. What were shocking statistics a decade ago, we know if nothing compared to now and the dramatic spike in individual hate crimes as well as two mass shootings at Pulse nightclub in 2016 and Club Q last November.
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There have always been warnings of reputed threats to the LGBTQ Community, but today, we are under attack. We must recognize that fact; admit the ugly truth that we are hated; and start fighting back now. I don’t mean in tweets or with Facebook and IG posts. The people in power trying to criminalize, minimize, and eliminate us are not doing it with rants on social media. They are doing it in real life and we need to start acting like our lives depend on it because they do, just like the activists of ACTUP did.
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On the 20th anniversary of his speech at New York’s LGBT Community Center that was the impetus for the formation of ACTUP, Larry Kramer gave another speech to an overflow audience. I was present that night as he reflected on ACTUP’s historic achievements, why they were successful, and what he saw as the growing need in our Community in 2007. His words were also prophetic. From his speech:
“Then, we only had the present. We were freed of the responsibility of thinking of the future. So we were able to act up. Now we only have our future. Imagine thinking that way. Those who had no future now only have a future. That includes not only everyone in this room but gay people everywhere. We are back to worrying about what “they” think about us. It seems we are not so free, most of us, to act up now. Our fear had been turned into energy. We were able to cry out fuck you fuck you fuck you. Troy Masters, the publisher of LGNY, wrote to me: ACT UP recognized evil and confronted it loudly.
Yes, we confronted evil. For a while.
We don’t say fuck you, fuck you, fuck you anymore. At least so anyone can hear.
Well the evil things that made me angry then still make me angry now. I keep asking around, doesn’t anything make you angry, too? Doesn’t anything make anyone angry? …I made a speech and wrote a little book called The Tragedy of Today’s Gays about all this. That was about two years ago. Lots of applause. Lots of thanks. No action.”
…I wish I could make all gay people everywhere accept this one fact I know to be an undisputed truth. We are hated. Haven’t enough of us died for all of us to believe this? Some seventy million cases of HIV were all brewed in a cauldron of hate.
Mark Harrington said to me last week that one of the great things about ACT UP was that it made us proud to be gay. Our activism came out of love. Our activism came out of our love for each other as we tried to take care of each other, and to keep each other alive.
No one is looking out for us anymore the way ACT UP looked out for us once upon a time.”
…I also know that any organization that we start now must be an army. You have resisted this word in the past. Perhaps now that the man in charge of America’s army is calling you immoral you won’t resist it army anymore. We must field an organized army with elected leaders and a chain of command. It must be a gay army with gay leaders fighting for gay people under a gay flag, in gay battle formations against our common enemies, uncontaminated by any fear of offending or by any sense that this might not be the time to say what we really need to say. We must cease our never-ending docile cooperation with a status quo that never changes in its relationship to us.”
Read Larry Kramer’s full speech: “Activist Larry Kramer Calls for New “Gay Army” in Speech Marking ACT UP’s 20th Anniversary”
Sixteen years after that speech, the LGBTQ Community is in more perilous danger than ever before. The Department of Homeland Security has issued our Community a domestic terrorism warning through 2024; the NAACP and HRC have issued travel advisories for the state of Florida; gender affirming health care for transgender families is being outlawed in states; and “Christian” militia groups armed with assault rifles are showing up a drag events.
We cannot afford to sit idly by anymore and wait for “someone to do something about that.” It’s time for the LGBTQ Community to say “Enough!” We need leaders again, leaders like Larry Kramer, Bayard Rustin, Barbara Gittings and Audre Lorde, not screen time influencers, but actual leaders who show up to fight the fight by getting “Off the internet and into the streets!”
Political and social forces that no longer just want to do us in but are succeeding are not fucking around. We can’t fuck around and act like they’re not. It’s time to mobilize with a nod to ACTUP’s mantra,
ACTUP! Fight BACK!! Fight HATE!!!
The LGBTQ Community has a long and very proud history of fighting back. If more people in our Community knew about it maybe they’d feel more empowered to take action now. Trust and believe, that’s the reason LGBTQ history is being erased in classrooms. It’s time to reignite the spirit and fire of protest but also be driven by the growing existential crisis. We need to understand, no one is coming to save us. The future is on us. We must to come together; organize with a unity of purpose; and go on offense.
Larry Kramer already gave us the call to action and called for a “Gay Army.” I’ll admit it seemed a bit extreme in 2007, but in 2023 not so much. His mantra to ignite passions during the AIDS crisis was “Where is the outrage?” Time to revamp it to ignite passions of a new generation.
Read our previous Pride Month 2023 posts: