Milestones

By

Originally published on Advocate.com October 23 2002 11:00 PM ET

Anita Bryant
JANUARY 1977

The enactment of a gay rights law in Miami–Dade
County mobilizes the ex–beauty queen’s
antigay campaign—as well as gays
nationwide, including San Franciscan Armistead Maupin

From The
Advocate, November 12, 2002

I actually read
about Anita Bryant’s Save Our Children campaign to
overturn Miami’s gay rights law directly from the
news wires. It was quite clear to me that this
campaign was going to have a galvanizing effect on the
gay movement. There’s really nothing like a good
villain to start a revolution, and Anita filled the
bill perfectly.

I know what the
battle did for me: It forced me to confront my own
residual self-loathing and stare it down once and for all by
coming out.

I was writing
Tales of the City as a serial in-house at
the San Francisco Chronicle, and I was able to respond to
news of Bryant’s campaign in a matter of 24 hours,
concocting a letter from [gay character]
Michael’s mother about their efforts to save Florida
from the homosexuals. By the strangest serendipity, I had
already established Michael as the son of Florida
orange growers. Within a matter of weeks, Michael was
writing a reply to his mother in which he comes out.

My parents were
subscribing to the Chronicle in order to follow
the series, and when they got to Michael’s coming-out
letter, they realized I was writing to them. And within a
week they saw me described as a gay journalist in
Newsweek when that magazine covered Anita
Bryant.

About 10 years
ago I was at an American Booksellers Association
convention where Bryant was appearing, and she was still
pissing and moaning about how the homosexuals had
destroyed her career as spokesperson for Florida
orange juice. The irony is, it wasn’t the orange
juice boycott that caused her to lose her job; it was the
fact that she made herself forever associated with
homosexuality. So in one way she was a victim of
homophobia herself: Folks on the orange board didn’t
want people to think about queers when they bought
orange juice. —As told to Bruce C. Steele


Bill Clinton
NOVEMBER 1997

Clinton adviser Richard Socarides marks the first
time a sitting president addresses a gay rights group

From The
Advocate,
November 12, 2002

For me, the
moment came at 8:52 p.m. on November 8, 1997, when President
Bill Clinton took to the podium at the Grand Hyatt hotel in
Washington, D.C., at the Human Rights
Campaign’s annual gala dinner. By doing so, he
became the first president in history to address a gay and
lesbian audience—to a thunderous standing
ovation, no less.

From my seat in
the front row, I could tell this was a truly historic
moment, but it had not been easy to get there. At the time I
was on the White House staff, serving as the
president’s principal adviser on gay and
lesbian civil rights issues. The combined debacles during
the president’s first term over gays in the
military and the Defense of Marriage Act had left many
advisers with no appetite to take on gay issues in the
second term.

I argued that the
huge support the president had received from us in both
elections, combined with his strong personal commitment to
our civil rights, meant that he once again had to take
action and speak out on our behalf, and he readily
agreed. Among other things, the president would go on
to appoint hundreds of highly qualified gays and lesbians to
his administration and to issue an executive order
banning discrimination based upon sexual orientation
in the federal civilian workforce, making the U.S.
government the largest employer in the world to do so.

But I think, more
important, he made it OK to be gay in America, or at
least made it a lot easier. He was the first president to
consider us full citizens worthy of full inclusion in
the political process. For me, his speech that
November evening—much of which he wrote himself in
the presidential limousine as we rode to the
dinner—was the most symbolic embodiment of
that.

That night he
said that one of the most important things he wanted to do
was to show all Americans “that gays and lesbians are
their fellow Americans in every sense of the
word.… We have to broaden the imagination of
America. We are redefining, in practical terms, the
immutable ideals that have guided us from the
beginning.”

Socarides served as special assistant to the
president in 1997–1999. He is now vice president
for corporate relations at AOL Time Warner.

ACT UP
MARCH 1987

New Yorker Maer Roshan writes about the early days of the
group that redefined street activism

From The
Advocate,
November 12, 2002

Had Nora Ephron
not fallen ill on March 10, 1987, it’s safe to say
that the course of gay rights may have been set back
by at least 10 years. But as it turns out, hours
before she was to address an overflow crowd at New
York’s Lesbian and Gay Community Center, Ephron, the
author of When Harry Met Sally…, came down with
the flu. Larry Kramer, the author of Faggots, was
recruited to speak in her place.

Angry and
depressed about AIDS, Kramer used the occasion to issue his
now-famous jihad, exhorting the city’s gay community
to rise out of its apathy to fight a plague that had
already snuffed out 5,500 New Yorkers. Electrified by
Kramer’s performance, a group of activists formed the
AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power that night, and within
months its Tuesday night meetings at the center became
the hottest ticket in town. Hundreds of young men and
women packed the room each week in crisp white T-shirts
and inescapable "silence = death" pins, the new uniform of
the radically chic. Kramer paced the floor like a
cornered general, railing against enemies from Ronald
Reagan to the pope. Sweating under the harsh
fluorescent lights, he worked the crowd to a fever pitch
before falling limply to his seat.

“What are
we going to do?” he concluded one week in a hoarse
whisper. Suddenly, a slight woman in back stood up and
shrieked, “Act up! Fight Back! Fight
AIDS!” The entire crowd was on its feet. Next to me,
a hollow-cheeked acquaintance struggled up from his
wheelchair and joined the chorus, pumping a fist
joyfully in the air. He was just 30, and two months
later he was dead. ACT UP, however, lived on.

By the end of the
decade the group had spawned 100 chapters worldwide,
shrewdly melding politics with performance art to court a
steady stream of press. Among its successes, ACT UP
forced companies to speed up the process that put
drugs into the hands of desperate patients, led the
charge against drug-company price gouging, and demanded
reform from an arrogant medical establishment. By
exporting the group’s message from gay ghettos
to hetero bastions such as Shea Stadium and the New York
Stock Exchange, it forced straight Americans to
confront not only AIDS but also homosexuality.

Roshan is the former deputy editor of New York
magazine and editorial director of Talk.
He is now launching a new magazine called
Radar.



Tongues Untied and Paris Is Burning

AUGUST 1991

Film historian and producer Jenni Olson remembers two
landmark documentaries on the black gay experience

From The
Advocate, November 12, 2002

Released
theatrically in August of 1991, Jennie Livingston’s
groundbreaking exploration of the Harlem House Ball circuit,
Paris Is Burning, made visible a gay black
and Latino subculture that was swiftly appropriated by
the mainstream. More important, Paris Is
Burning
made gay men of color visible to themselves on
the big screen, and the film served as a vitally
important conduit of culture.

Stepping into the
limelight at roughly the same time was Marlon Riggs’s
powerful personal documentary on black gay identity,
Tongues Untied. Vito Russo, writing in
The Advocate, celebrated the video as
“a brilliant, innovative work of art that delivers a
knockout political punch.” Tongues
Untied
is an unparalleled example of personal,
experimental documentary filmmaking and is as inspiring
today as it was then.

Olson is a director, producer, and the editor of the
Ultimate Guide to Lesbian & Gay Film and Video.