Stephanie Donald—Publisher, LGBT-Today
For some the expression American Dream brings a wave of movie memes of a quiet summer in a suburban community where the old La France fire truck is rounding the corner toward the firehouse, returning from retrieving a cat from an oak tree in Mrs. Miller’s yard. Children are running from being sprayed by a garden hose because Mr. Samuels washes his car and the children love to play with the Samuels’ children and Mr. Samuels is by far the best father everyone knows.
But who actually lives in a Norman Rockwell painting? Some of us who were born during the Eisenhower administration and before can remember a very different America from the one we now live in, and all human beings tend to paint memories with a rose-colored tint of nostalgia, but let’s look at a few things that we had in terms of sociology compared to then and now, shall we? I tend to be something of a historian so I can render some vision even on periods when I was too young to analyze it based on my participation.Senator Joseph McCarthy--Once so powerful he might have accused the President of the United States of being communist and people would believe him. Thankfully, his rein ended in shame.
After the anti-communist element of Senator Joseph McCarthy was broken in the government and the “black cloud” lifted that seemed to eradicate the “hopes and dreams” created by America’s victory during World War II, this nation still had many issues, the core of what made it “great” could be summed up with the words “hopes and dreams,” because every American had them.
They dreamed of houses in the suburbs, the perfect job, having 2.2 children, a family dog and maybe even had hopes of inventing something that would make them filthy rich. Most got their dream of owning a home in the suburb and having a wife and children, but how many people actually had the perfect job, or made millions from having an original invention, but there were at least a few. Even gays and lesbians hoped for the suburban home and some variation of the mate with children.
When John F. Kennedy became President of the United States we faced the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban missile crisis and then the most suspicious assassination of our Chief Executive in the history of this nation, but amidst all the controversy and tragedy we still had our hopes that we would prevail as a nation and the dream that we could change those things that really were bad like basic civil rights for “Negroes,” as they were politely known back then.
President Kennedy had promised to pass a “Civil Rights Act” to protect and grant African Americans every right afforded others under our constitution.President Kennedy had promised to pass a “Civil Rights Act” to protect and grant African Americans every right afforded others under our constitution. When he passed away it was feared that the dream of civil rights went with him but the new president, Lyndon B. Johnson, promised that if he was elected in 1964, he would get the Civil Rights Act passed—and he did! Another hope and dream became a reality.
But the Vietnam War geared up and began taking the lives of our brothers, fathers, husbands, friends and lovers and there was no clear reason as to why we were fighting it in the first place beyond the vague shibboleth about “stopping communism!” Young people calling themselves “Hippies” began protesting against the Vietnam War, existing inequities in the world, the right to “tune in, turn on and drop out,” as Dr. Timothy Leary defined those terms for an entire younger generation and pissed off his own generation! Those were the most optimistic years that defined “hopes and dreams” of the latter half of the 20th century. It was that radical attitude that the hippies had that empowered the gay and lesbian community to stand up to the police harassment they were forced to endure for decades. It turned our community from victims into keepers of our destinies and paved the “Yellow Brick Road” of rights we now enjoy today.
As much as young LGBTQI people want to throw bricks at the memory of hippies, it’s highly doubtful that events such as the Compton Cafeteria Riots of 1966 in San Francisco or the Black Cat Tavern Riot on New Year’s Eve of 1966 in Los Angeles and of course the Stonewall Riots in late June of 1969. Every one of these incidents took their cues from radical hippie motivation and empowerment of that era. The next time one of you want to knock hippies you might want to remember that you owe the fact that you can drink openly in bars, hold hands, kiss and now marry in many states—all due to hippie motivation and radical teachings in the 1960s and 1970s!
By Stonewall and the formation of the Gay Liberation Front, “Gay is Good” became the highest hope and dream while the rest of the nation heard about our dishonest President, Richard Nixon, and the “plumber” break-in at the Watergate Hotel at the headquarters for the Democratic National Committee. It seemed hardly worth ruining Nixon’s reputation as a statesman and destroyed him even as a man, especially since he did end the Vietnam War (this said—he was one of the most evil presidents—before George W. Bush—this nation has ever seen). But even with a heinous asshole like Nixon at the helm—there were hopes and dreams!
In 1974 the American Psychiatric Association finally removed homosexuality as a mental illness from the Diagnostic Service Manual (DSM) due to the diligence of Dr. Frank Kameny and his co-creator of the Washington D.C. chapter of the Mattachine Society, Jack Nichols. They in turn enlisted the assistance of many others, such as Dr. George Weinberg, the famed New York psychotherapist who specialized in sexuality. Another hope and dream come true for our community.
Meanwhile in hetero-land, with no purpose after getting Gerald Ford deposed by electing Jimmy Carter President, brains became too dull from too much cocaine at the disco scene—both straight and gay—even the word “hippie” became distasteful to most people. High fashion, high priced drugs (both selling and buying), fast cars and huge sweaty wads of money to flash at everyone started to become fashionable during a bad economic downturn that Carter worked hard to turn around. He had made a significant dent by 1979 when the Shah of Iran was deposed and behind his back, right-wing wheels began to turn to undermine his first-term legacy. We lost the most honest and gay positive president of the 20th century.
Almost as soon as Reagan was elected a strange “gay cancer” began mysteriously killing gay men in our community. No one knew what it was or how to cure it. Even after they figured out what it was and what it did, gave it the name Auto-Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), we began to lose the brightest and most promising minds the gay community would ever know. Because it appeared in the gay male population first it gave the fundamentalist Christians all the ammo they previously lacked against us. They began to label it “Gods punishment against the homosexual community!” Many of our people began to believe it themselves—especially considering that President Reagan refused to mention it in public or private—and Congress refused to allocate even a penny for research to find a cure or even a reliable treatment.
It was during those dark years that our people were told—no, slammed by supposed “pragmatists”—that dreams and hopes would not pay our bills. They would not buy our homes or make money at our jobs or make sure that we had health insurance, or our traditional pensions that had made sure for generations that no older people who had toiled all their lives at a single job would die from starvation or be homeless (which in fact began to happen as we heard of senior citizens eating Alpo dog food because it was all they could afford). As a matter of fact, we learned in the 1980s that working at a single job all your life was an obsolete way of thinking. For those in their 40s and 50s who got shoved out the door and became unable to find other jobs, a new status reared its ugly head: Homelessness.
Hopes and dreams went on life support within 3 months of Reagan taking office. By the end of his first term it had been dead for almost 4 years.
George H.W. Bush thought he talked about hopes and dreams during his campaign, but with a Vice President as stupid Dan Quayle, who would believe he stood for anything besides his own best interest? Sorry! No resurrection!
Most of us would rather forget Bill Clinton’s administration for many reasons. Let me count the ways:
By the time we reached the 21st century, terrorism became the rote of our existence and after the economic depression of 2008, hopes and dreams were some vague racial memory. Now that more than 60% of our nation’s population lives at or below the poverty level and America has no manufacturing infrastructure because it was long ago torn apart, sold off in pieces and sent overseas, the average person doesn’t even have the capacity for hopes and dreams.
But something strange happened a few years ago. The Supreme Court of the United States overturned the Defense of Marriage Act! Since then state after state has been granted marriage equality and suddenly the gay and lesbian community has recovered their ability to hope and dream!
And you know what? The conservative politicians and the fundamentalist Christians hate us for it! Why should we have hopes and dreams when no one else does? While we have allies now the truth is they will likely turn against us because we have discovered something they’ve lost! As a matter of fact; we’re beginning to feel the backlash now.
While many in our community strive to “assimilate” into the heterosexual community, the truth is that jealousy will prevent this from ever happening. Even our allies will be very quick to point out that none of us resembles any of the straight people in this world. Oh my God! I would hope not! What a boring world that would be!
Soon we’ll reach the end of the yellow brick road and discover that we’re the only ones left in America with hopes and dreams.
Who wants to trade being unique just so they can be like everyone else?
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