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Thursday, June 07, 2007


 

Stonewall was just the beginning


I'll guess that the overwhelming majority of readers know immediately what is meant by "Stonewall" (or the "Stonewall Rebellion" or the "Stonewall Riots," depending on what you read). But Stonewall, which happened just under 40 years ago (June 28, 1969), was just the beginning (or perhaps "a" beginning would be even better; there were certainly many significant events in the history of gay liberation before then).

Elaine Noble 1974 campaign photoBy 1974, just five years later, there had already been enough movement that bills were being introduced (but not yet passed) in state legislatures to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. By the end of that year, Elaine Noble (left) had become the first open gay or lesbian elected to a state legislature in the country (as it happens, I was one of the key people who worked on that campaign - the one and only Democrat I've ever worked for, although I didn't actually vote for her, since I didn't live in her district). Barney Frank, incidentally, was already in the Massachusetts State House at the time, but in the closet; his sister, Ann Lewis (who was a top aide to Boston Mayor Kevin White), played a major role in Elaine's campaign.

But, while there were lots of things like this happening across the country, a major turning point was reached 30 years ago today, which is explored by Saul Kanowitz in the latest issue of Socialism and Liberation Magazine. Earlier that year, the Dade County (FL) government had passed an ordinance protecting LGBT people from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations. Into the fray came Anita Bryant, the well-known Miss America runner-up and spokesperson for the Florida Citrus Commission, who led a campaign to overturn that ordinance. And on June 7, 1977, the right-wing campaign she led was successful, and the ordinance was thrown out.

But the first battle doesn't always tell the story of the war. Because, even though many defeats were still to come, it was, as Kanowitz recounts, that battle in Dade County which really helped tear the doors off the closets and unleash the full force of the gay rights movement, with effects being felt until this very moment.

To accompany Kanowitz's very worthwhile article, here's a real treat - Charlie King's "Thank You Anita" from 1979, which you can listen to here:



Believe it or not, it's one of at least five songs on the subject of Anita Bryant (but this is the only one I have). The lyrics very much illustrate the point of the article, with lines like "Thank you, Anita, ya' couldna' been sweeta', you brought us together like never before," and "You and your cause it, pushed me from the closet."

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