Gay History Month. Again.

In case you hadn't noticed, we are in the middle of October's annual observance of Gay History Month. Nor would anyone's failure to notice be surprising.

Gay History Month has been institutionally homeless in recent years, so no organization is really publicizing it. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation was once eager to host it, but quickly lost interest. A few gay Web sites, email lists, gay community centers and gay newspapers have continued to promote gay history, but too few and too little.

I suppose the question arises, Why should anyone bother with gay history? After all, the past is only prologue to our own time. It's over. The important point is to move on from here. So learning about gay history is a merely antiquarian enterprise.

True enough, you can live a reasonably happy and satisfying life without knowing any gay history. But I don't see it as quite so irrelevant to our own time. I think knowing gay history has some continuing value. For one thing, we can be encouraged and energized by learning about the lives and pioneering activist efforts of many gays in the past.

I admire the courage and self-confidence of the gay men and women who came out in the 1950s and 1960s-before the "Stonewall" street theater of late June 1969 gave a populist boost to the gay movement. And I admire the continuous struggle, sometimes successful, sometimes not, to find an audience for gay-affirming arguments among politicians and the media in order to confront the culture's homophobia at a time when it was much more pervasive than now.

No one can fail to be moved by the story of San Francisco city supervisor (i.e., city councilman) and pioneering activist Harvey Milk who was assassinated on Nov. 27, 1970s. Milk had a premonition that he might at some point be assassinated, and in a tape of his "political will" he made the now famous statement, "If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door."

Randy Shilts's book "The Mayor of Castro Street" (1982) tells the story. It also contains Milk's speeches, including one called "The Hope Speech," in which he said our goal as gay activists is to provide hope for isolated young gays in such places as Altoona, Pa., and Richmond, Minn. Longtime Chicago activist Tim Drake once told me he re-reads that speech at least once a year.

Another reason to learn some gay history is that we can find out from the experiences of gays in the past what survival techniques and what activist measures worked better and worse and what ones didn't work at all, all the more important since so much of the world (and the U.S.!) is still not very enlightened about gays.

Most people find it helpful to think of themselves as part of a community. And that community extends not only to other gays in the neighborhood and the city but back in time. From there it is but a short step to realizing that each of us is the latest but not last element in that community. There are young gays just being born and there are gays yet to be born who will continue our struggle for legal equality and social acceptance. They will build on whatever we are able to achieve culturally and politically and whatever institutional structures we are able to create.

At present, learning gay history is a "do it yourself" project. Fortunately, there are several good books covering different phases of gay history. If they aren't available to bookstores, public libraries probably have them. The earliest good one is John D'Emilio's Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities (1983) which covers the period 1940 to 1970. The more recent Out for Good (1999) by Dudley Clendinen and Adam Nagourney covers the period from 1969 to the late 1980s.

Three collections of accounts of gay activists provide valuable historical perspective: Before Stonewall (2002) begun by Wayne Dynes and completed by Vern Bullough contains brief biographies of nearly 50 early gay figures. The others are Eric Marcus's two overlapping but enjoyable collections of interview material, Making History (1992) and Making Gay History (2002).

And there are plenty of books on specialized topics-the history of the AIDS epidemic, homosexuality in 17th-century England, gay activism internationally, gays in the military, homosexuality in ancient Greece and homosexuality in New York City from the late 1890s to the 1930s. Perhaps the most comprehensive book of all is Louis Crompton's beautifully illustrated Homosexuality and Civilization (2003). Do not deprive yourself of the pleasures of these books.

Marriage in Connecticut

As you have no doubt read or heard, on Oct. 10 the Connecticut Supreme Court struck down the state's civil union laws and ruled 4-3 that denying the right of civil marriage to same-sex couples violated the equal protection provision of the state constitution. The ruling makes Connecticut the third state to permit same-sex marriage, joining California and Massachusetts.

In his majority decision Justice Richard Palmer wrote, "To decide otherwise would require us to apply one set of constitutional principles to gay persons and another to all others."

The decision was important for its specific denial that civil unions are an adequate substitute for marriage. Several states including Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, New Hampshire, and Maine have passed civil union or domestic partner statutes, and the ruling gives ammunition to gays in those states who might file suit to obtain full marriage status.

"Marriage and civil unions ... are by no means equal," Palmer wrote. Marriage "is an institution of transcendent historical, cultural and social significance, whereas [civil unions] are not." Further on he wrote, "There is no doubt that civil unions enjoy a lesser status in our society than marriage." In so writing, Palmer took a familiar Religious Right claim about the importance of denying gays the right to marry and turned it in a gay-supportive direction.

As jubilant as Connecticut gays were, many gays in other parts of the country were pained by the decision, fearing that it would add fuel to the conservative effort in California, Arizona and Florida to pass constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex marriage. Sadly, they are probably right. At least, it was impolitic to issue the decision just before the election.

But, at the same time, the decision is a gratifying affirmation of the legitimacy of our legal and moral arguments for marriage equality. Future state courts ruling on the issue will no doubt examine earlier court decisions carefully, so the more decisions there are on our side, and the better the arguments they offer, the more likely future courts will also rule in our favor. Certainly a negative decision would have a harmful impact.

In addition, the more gays and lesbians who marry and are able to present themselves to their friends, relatives, co-workers and fellow church members as married couples, the more that will get people used to the idea of same-sex marriage and move public opinion in a gay-supportive direction.

And finally, we have to believe that in the long run good arguments, whether they are advanced by gay organizations or trickle down from the nation's courts, will eventually prevail over poor arguments in the court of public opinion. Democracy is founded on this belief. And at some point in the future it will become possible to repeal those constitutional gay marriage bans.

Gratifyingly, the arguments of the dissenters against gay marriage were largely poor and seem drawn from the playbook of the Religious Right. One dissenter argued that there was no evidence that civil unions were inferior to marriage. But an earlier study in New Jersey found that many people did not view civil unions as conferring the same status as marriage and documented cases in which people in civil unions were not treated as legal couples in public accommodations such as hospitals.

Another dissenting argument was that gays do not qualify as a "suspect class" that has been traditionally disadvantaged. On the contrary, the dissent argued, gays have "unique and extraordinary" political power that does not justify such scrutiny.

I confess that I have never understood this argument. Why the actual or imagined political power of any group, much less one that is widely believed to be only 4 or 5 percent of the population, should justify denying its members basic constitutional rights is far from clear.

As for gays' supposed political power, is that why sodomy laws existed until very recently? Or why gays were long arrested and jailed for engaging in sex? Or why only 0.5 percent of House of Representatives members are openly gay and why there are no openly gay Senators? Or why open gays are barred from the U.S. military? Or why gays are unable to pass a national gay civil rights law? Or why there is no gay-inclusive national hate crimes law?

The final anti-gay marriage argument is the hoary one that marriage deals with procreation. But of course, once the state allows infertile couples to marry, as all of them do, it has effectively denied the legitimacy of the "procreation" argument. In addition, eight years ago Connecticut allowed gays to adopt children, further severing the connection between parenting and child rearing. The question to be asked is, Are the children of gay couples better off if their parents are married, or are they not? The answer seems obvious.

A Gay-Supportive School?

As part of the Chicago Public Schools' "Renaissance 2010" initiative, the High School for Social Justice submitted a proposal to the Office of New Schools for a new gay-inclusive Pride Campus, which would provide college prep education for Chicago students.

Chicago Public Schools held a "community forum" at the gay community center last week, giving a little, but not much, information about the proposal, but emphasizing that the school was not just for gay students but for all students-but for gay (GLBT) students too.

The proposal is rooted in the deplorable fact that many gay students do not feel safe at their present high schools. They are harassed and intimidated by some of the other students and they want a learning environment where they feel safe and can concentrate on their studies. It is hard to focus on solid geometry or the Civil War when you are worried about being beaten up between classes or after school. Instead some students just drop out, which benefits no one.

What the experience of gay students reveals is that many schools in the Chicago system do a lousy job of providing a safe learning environment, of keeping their students disciplined, of teaching them tolerance of other students.

In many schools teachers have their hands full trying to keep order in the classroom, much less teach a few facts. Some "students" read comic books in study halls. One former teacher told me that teaching at her school amounted to nothing more than "baby-sitting." And many counselors and administrators are simply uninformed and unsympathetic to gay students. I would no more have gone to a high school counselor for advice than I would have gone over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

Two decades ago the Illinois Gay and Lesbian Task Force at the initiative of its sainted director Al Wardell, himself a Chicago teacher, prepared and mailed to high school counselors a packet of information about gay youth along with a poster they could display that read, "Your counselor has information on gay issues."

Several weeks later Wardell called a large number of counselors to find out what they had done with the information. Only one-third said they had put up the poster. One-third said they had glanced at the material but not put up the poster. And about a third said they had thrown the whole packet away. Have things really gotten much better? I doubt it.

So as a stopgap measure until other Chicago schools learn to do their job adequately, the proposal deserves support, at least once it is unpacked a little more for public (our) inspection. The idea is not new, of course. New York already has Harvey Milk High School, and Chicago's initiative may encourage other cities to take similar measures-once they face up to the fact that they have gay students and need to do something to protect them.

No doubt, too, many closeted gay teachers, and they are numerous, would be delighted to teach at a gay-inclusive school where they do not have to hide their orientation. Openly gay teachers can provide empathetic advice to gay students and serve as important role models for students, many of whom probably know no gay adults and have difficulty separating out issues of sexuality and gender in their lives.

But perhaps providing safety is not quite enough. The schools would do a service to gay students by teaching coping skills. Many of us have learned those with some pain and difficulty during our lifetime and would have been glad to know of them when we were young. And what might really be useful would be voluntary, after-school classes in martial arts-judo, kick-boxing, etc., to help students protect themselves after school when they return to their own neighborhood. Knowledge of such skills would also boost their self-confidence.

And what should other Chicago schools be doing besides off-loading their gay students so they do not have to deal with them? Well, only a small minority of gay students are going to be able to go to the new school. Pity those who remain behind. Schools should help by undertaking serious educational efforts about gays and minority-gendered students. They should require history and social studies units on gays and gay history. They should host gay speakers at assemblies on gay holidays. They could foster Gay/Straight Alliances instead of opposing them. They should beef up security at schools and on school buses. They should require "in-service" programs about gays for teachers, counselors and administrators.

Administrators too? You bet. I know of one suburban principal who referred to an openly gay teacher derisively as "fag boy." Nice teaching environment!

A Life Well Lived

The news last Wednesday that pioneer lesbian activist Del Martin had died came as a shock. Not because she wasn't old. At 87, she was. But because she and her partner Phyllis Lyon have been creative forces in the gay liberation and women's movements during all of my own long activist life-and back far earlier as well. They seemed eternal presences. It never occurred to me that either might die.

Dorothy ("Del") Martin was a native San Franciscan, born there on May 5, 1921. She was graduated from what is now San Francisco State University where she became managing editor of the student newspaper. While there she married the paper's business manager James Martin and two years later they had a daughter. But they eventually divorced.

She moved to Seattle to take a job with a newspaper for the construction industry, where she met Lyon and the two became fast friends. One evening in 1952, Lyon wrote, "Sitting on the couch in my apartment, she made what I considered a half pass at me-I completed the other half. We had sex together for the first time." In short order they became partners.

Early in their relationship they tried to imitate male/female heterosexual roles, as did most lesbian couples at the time. Lyon recalled that "we were in the butch/femme bag ourselves. ... We had no other pattern." (Martin once referred to herself as a "sissy butch.") But they eventually abandoned the attempt "because neither one of us really fit into those roles."

Moving back to San Francisco, the two did not know any other lesbians until a gay male friend introduced them to a lesbian friend of his. One evening in 1955 the lesbian friend called and said, "Would you like to join me, my partner, and two other couples in starting a secret club for lesbians." Of course they would! They named the secret club the "Daughters of Bilitis," after a small book of lesbian-themed poems, "Songs of Bilitis," by turn-of-the-century French writer Pierre Louys who created Bilitis as an openly lesbian contemporary of Sappho.

When the group decided to formalize its organization, Martin was selected as president. In 1960 she followed Lyon as the editor of the DOB magazine, "The Ladder." The name was chosen to imply that lesbians, as individuals and as a group, hoped to achieve higher social status.

The first issue was mimeographed and stapled by hand. They mailed it to 175 people, everyone the DOB members knew. "There was a fantastic outpouring of gratitude for 'The Ladder,'" Lyon wrote, "beyond anything we expected." After the first issues, letters began coming in from women asking how to meet other lesbians. Invariably Martin and Lyon replied, "Move to a large city." Still good advice today.

When the minister of the progressive Glide Memorial Church formed the Council on Religion and the Homosexual in 1964, he invited Martin to join. The next year Episcopal Bishop James A. Pike invited her to join his new Diocesan Commission on Homosexuality. That began Martin's growing involvement in non-DOB activities, eventually to extend to women's issues generally.

Our of their experience dealing with lesbian issues in a growing number of speaking engagements and requests for information, in 1972 the two women published the important "Lesbian/Woman," a candid, pioneering book, informative for both lesbians and curious heterosexuals. Now in its revised third edition, the book still reads well today. I have bought copies, loaned them to friends, and never gotten them back.

Also in 1972 they helped found the Alice B. Toklas Memorial Democratic Club named after Gertrude Stein's longtime lover. In 1976 San Francisco Mayor George Moscone appointed Martin to his Commission on the Status of Women. In that same year Martin published "Battered Wives," which added impetus to the movement to establish women's shelters across the country.

As Lyon wrote later of Martin, "The number of speeches she gave and the workshops she was involved in at universities and colleges, mental health associations, women's groups of various kinds, and law enforcement agencies increased at a rapid pace." She also continued to write magazine articles promoting her concerns.

In the late 1980s as Martin and Lyon, both then in their 60s, felt themselves aging, the final phase of Martin's activist career centered on the problems of the aging in our society. Most notably, perhaps, both women were appointed to the 1995 White House conference on aging.

Gratifyingly, barely two months before Martin's death, she and Lyon were enabled at long last to legalize their lifelong relationship. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom invited them to be the first couple married after a California Supreme Court ruling declared same-sex marriages were a constitutional right.

Marriage for Us—but Not for Me

"So ... How come you're not married?" a heterosexual friend asked me some time back. Since he knows I am gay, obviously "married" meant something like "in a partnered relationship."

And, of course, now that two states, including the most populous U.S. state, formally permit gay marriage, not just civil unions or domestic partnerships, and a few other states such as New York recognize out-of-state gay marriages, the question can have some additional significance.

I've heard the question before from others, phrased in different ways, but they all come down to putting the burden of explanation on the unpartnered guy. "Why is a nice guy like you still single?" or even "Don't you want to get married?"

And sometimes I hear a little more bite in the question, as if the questioner is expressing something like moral disapproval that I am still single-and at my age, too. Or they are actually wondering, "What's wrong with you that you don't have a partner?"

I don't suppose I have a really satisfactory answer to any of these questions-satisfactory on their terms, anyway. You ask married couples-straight or gay-why they got married and they say something like, "Well, we fell in love and wanted to spend our lives together." In fact many gay couples getting married have already been together for years and are just formalizing the relationship. So I suppose the parallel response from me would have to be, "I didn't fall in love with anyone I wanted to spend my life with."

Married or partnered couples see marriage as the most natural thing in the world. I just never did and so never particularly sought it. But that seems a feeble answer, so I've tried to come up with some snappier ones.

"No one ever proposed." "I'm still waiting for Mr. Right to come along but he hasn't yet." "Maybe I'm just not good-looking (or interesting, or charming) enough to attract someone." "I guess I'm too individualistic; I like living alone-my life is my own." "Maybe I don't send out the right erotic signals, whatever they are, to attract someone." But all these amount to the same general response: "I assumed it might happen at some point, but it didn't." Nor have I ever felt that there was a hole in my life that I needed another person to fill.

Sometimes I am tempted to instruct-or remind-my questioner about the pleasures of the single life. My time is my own. I can go to bed early or late, as I like. I can eat when and what I want. I can be moody without anyone else asking me what's wrong. I can go places without having to check with another person if it's OK. I don't have to put up with another person's whims, moods, problems and "issues." I'm never lonely: I have interests that fill my mind and occupy my time. If I want company, I can call a friend to go somewhere or do something.

But these reasons seem to cut no ice with partnered people. And some of my reasons refer to things they explicitly reject or regard with distaste, even fear.

Some people seem to need-I don't know what else to call it-the validation of being with another person, as if that proves they have some value-to whom? to themselves?-otherwise insufficiently evident. I've never felt that need. Or they feel the need for another person to somehow complete themselves. But, of course, even if they wonder what is wrong with me that I am single, I am far too polite to turn the tables on partnered gays and ask them what is wrong with them that they feel the need for someone else. Or, more bluntly, how come they cannot thrive being single.

I'm sure I'd be pleased if some handsome, fascinating man wanted to spend more time with me yet somehow allowing me all that autonomy I value. But I am a fairly quiet, ruminative man. I live almost entirely inside my head. And there is no way I could manage to be equally interesting or attractive to some such person. Yes, they say opposites attract. But I reply, "Not enough." And I am comfortable with that fact.

Do not misunderstand. Partnered relationships are fine for people who want or need them, and many people obviously do. And no one is more pleased than I that gays and lesbians can now actually marry. I have over the years argued repeatedly for legalizing gay marriage, and I am gratified that it is finally happening, at least in some states. It just doesn't seem to be something I want for myself.

High Time for a Schism

I've been thinking a lot about Anglicans lately, which seems only fair since they have obviously been thinking a lot about me. Not me individually, of course, but me generically-me as a gay man.

As you're probably aware, for the last few years the Anglican Communion has been wracked by conflicts over gays and lesbians as priests and bishops and the issue of whether to bless (much less marry) same-sex partners.

The conflict pits gay-supportive American and Canadian and some British bishops against bishops from Africa and Asia (along with a few fractious American bishops) who are adamantly hostile to granting any rights to gays.

The church recently held its decennial Lambeth Conference, which normally addresses church issues and might have made some determination about all this, but Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams managed to avoid having the conference take any position at all, thus avoiding the possibility of open schism in the church.

Ironically, the anti-gay fundamentalism of the Africans is in some measure the fault of the British and American churches. The British and Americans have supported the missionary work in Africa to convert the populace to Christianity. And both, especially the wealthy Episcopal Church in the U.S., have given the impoverished African churches considerable economic support.

Unfortunately, the missionaries seem to have taught a fairly primitive version of Christianity-stressing the Bible but not the Anglican tradition of the role of reason and compromise. In other words, they gave the Africans and Asians a rule book, and the Africans and Asians have followed it more literally than the British and Americans.

The African bishops are not necessarily well-educated. Many have had little or no seminary training, and little acquaintance with the problems of interpreting biblical texts, nor with reading them in their historical context. They certainly have no grasp of the current research on homosexuality as a basic orientation. And they clearly have no awareness of the native African tradition of homosexuality in the form of mature men with "boy-wives." A well-placed American priest told a friend of mine that some African bishops have little more than an 8th-grade education.

Archbishop Williams' efforts to preserve church unity were not wholly successful. Even though he vowed to uphold traditional (anti-gay) Anglican traditions and went so far as to ban openly gay American bishop Gene Robinson, about 220 of the 880 Anglican bishops met in Jerusalem to form a potentially separatist communion within the Communion and voted to declare that they no longer recognized Williams as the head of the Communion. Yet one wonders what more Williams could have done short of exclaiming, "Will no one rid me of this meddlesome bishop?"

Robinson said that Williams even refused to answer his letters. The Apostle Paul wrote that Christians should behave so that the world would say, "How these Christians love one another!" So where is Williams' love? What kind of pastoral concern does Williams show? His actions are neither cordial, nor collegial, nor Christian. They are petty, frightened and small-souled.

It seems to me that Anglican liberals should just allow the Africans and Asians to split off and leave the Anglican Communion, taking their poverty and ignorance with them. The North Americans and British would be well rid of them. What, after all, is the benefit of including people who may nominally be Christians but seem to lack any understanding of what Christianity means?

The only reason to try to keep the Africans and Asians in the Communion would be the hope that eventually the liberals can bring them around on such issues as female priests and homosexuality. But the chances of that happening seem slim. After all, they have their reading of the bible on their side.

Alternatively, the North Americans could withdraw and say, You go your way and we'll go ours. That might rattle some of the Africans who need the American subsidies. And it would certainly rattle Williams, who seems to have given little thought to this possibility.

The Anglican church has a strong sense of history. What Williams is probably doing is trying to stave off any open schism, hoping that things will somehow change over time. In any case, he certainly does not want to enter the history books as the archbishop under whom a major schism occurred.

But after all, the Anglican church was founded in the 16th century by an act of schism. So schism is a venerable part of Anglican history. Who is to say it would be worse than a conflicted and specious "unity"?

Gay Movements Abroad

As best I can from this distance, I try to follow the progress of gay rights movements abroad. And I feel great admiration and sympathy for the brave men and women who are trying to promote gay legal and social equality in many countries of Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and South America.

But most of them face a much harder time than we did in North America and Western Europe. They face very different social situations from the ones we did so I am not sure if the activist model they have adopted in part from us can work as well for them as it did for us.

An effective gay rights movement in America followed, it did not precede, the sexual revolution of the 1960s which liberated heterosexual sexuality. In addition, the late 1960s and 1970s were a time of growing economic prosperity and the growing autonomy for individuals that that prosperity facilitated. There was-if not exactly a growing secularization-at least a gradual decline in the Cold War-inspired Christian religiosity that gripped the country in the 1950s. And finally, prestigious reports-the Wolfenden Report (1957) in England, and the American Law Institute's Model Penal Code (draft c. 1954; final version, 1962))-both recommended decriminalizing homosexuality.

Most countries outside North America and Western Europe have few or none of these things to aid their efforts. After decades of official homophobia by atheist Communism in Russia and Eastern Europe, once Communist oppression was removed, people returned to religion with the attendant hostility to homosexuality of both Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. How gays can find any institutional support, lessening of hostility, any wedge point at which they can begin to build power and influence is far from clear.

Contrast this with Spain, where the Franco regime's military authoritarianism tied itself to a conservative Catholicism. A growing economic and religious liberalization began in the last years of Franco's reign and now Spain is one of the most gay-friendly nations, even allowing gay marriage. You have to wonder if there is some general law that people react against whatever supported that oppression.

In China, there has been a gradual reduction of economic controls and, resulting from that, some social controls so long as there is no organized opposition to the government. The official psychiatric organization, influenced by international psychiatric groups, declared gays no longer sick. This has allowed gays to meet unobtrusively in public places with only sporadic harassment prompted by officials at the local level.

It will be interesting to see if, with China's growing capitalism and economic liberalization, a kind of gay liberation can occur without organization and leadership, or if, alternatively, a cautious, non-political gay movement can manage to work within the government strictures. We can view with concern the rise of Christianity and Falun Gong spiritual exercises in China since both are hostile to gays, but on the other hand perhaps their growth will pressure the government to further reduce social controls-which would also benefit gays.

Africa presents a dismal spectacle except for South Africa. There the country has recoiled from the conservative, segregationist regime with its Dutch Reformed religious support and embraced gay equality in its constitution-another example of the rebound thesis. This has been aided by prominent pro-gay spokespersons within the Anglican Church and the government itself.

But in most of the rest of Africa gays are officially harassed and threatened, their sexuality and organizations criminalized. Religious leaders of both an aggressive, ignorant Christianity and an equally aggressive, ignorant Islam compete for legitimacy and followers by loudly promoting their hostility to homosexuality.

South America presents a mixed picture. Chile remains sexually conservative, while Brazil's Sao Paulo has the largest Gay Pride parade in the world. With its pervasive Catholicism, South America should be socially conservative, but its Catholicism seems to have more to do with ritual and festivity and a worship of saints and the "Blessed Virgin" than with sexual morality. Growing evangelical Protestantism should be a concern except that so far its social agenda has focused on literacy and economic self-help. Neither seems to pose a threat to gays.

One major obstacle to gay progress seems to come from South America's obsessively macho concern with gender roles and the social construction of gays as feminine. There is harassment and even murder of gays by youth gangs in several countries. But the targets seem often to be transvestites, often transvestite prostitutes. It seems doubtful that most of these are genuinely transgendered males. Instead many seem to be gay men dressing to signal their sexual availability to other, ostensibly heterosexual males.

I offer these perceptions and analyses only tentatively and welcome better-informed thoughts by others.

Unity, or Else What?

"What we have is a culture in which we no longer define ourselves according to our similarities but according to our differences. We are proud of our unique qualities and want everyone else to appreciate these traits, too. ... We also devalue commonality in favor of radical uniqueness. We are more interested in freedom of expression than in commitment to unity."

I ran across this quotation in evangelical authors George Barna and Mark Hatch's interesting book Boiling Point (Regal Books, 2001). The quotation might seem to have been more appropriate to my companion piece last week on "Diversity" except that diversity seems to be about different groupings. Barna and Hatch aren't talking about diversity. They are talking about individuality. Barna and Hatch see individuality as a cultural threat; I see it as an essential component of our culture.

When I was growing up, some people worried about the threat of "conformity"-of people taking their cue for what to believe and how to live from their friends and neighbors. People were said to be "other directed" rather than "inner directed." But at the same time, the whole goal of our educational system was to produce compliant, obedient citizens, thoroughly "adjusted"-that was a key term-young social units.

I will give just one example. When I was in eighth grade, our English class made a field trip to the nearby branch library. Then at our next class we broke into working groups and were told to sketch out a floor plan of the library and show where various types of books were. I was a frequent visitor to the library and knew it well. My group got the floor plan badly wrong, a fact I pointed out. I must have done so quite vociferously because after class the teacher called me up to her desk.

"Paul," she began. "The purpose of this exercise is to learn to work with groups of other people." "But they got the floor plan all wrong," I protested. "Go to the library. You'll see." "Paul," she replied, "that doesn't matter. The purpose is to learn how to work with other people." "But they're wrong," I insisted. "It doesn't matter," she repeated. Shaken, I had the feeling that I had just gained a valuable insight into the contemporary culture.

With that background, you can see why my suspicions are raised any time I hear calls for unity or solidarity or any similar goal. Calls for national unity, religious unity, racial unity, community unity often amount to nothing more than the demand that other people agree with the speaker and do things his (or her) way. It sounds like it means "Get with the program," "Follow the Party Line," suppress your doubts, don't express disagreement.

Each Pride season just as we hear ritualistic praise for "diversity" (referring to groups not individuals), we hear equally ritualistic calls for "unity." But it is never specified what we are supposed to be united about. Early in the gay movement, I think most people took the term to urge gays to work together for the elimination of prejudice and discrimination. In other words, they didn't want unity so much as they wanted to promote involvement and cooperation on specific tasks.

Nowadays, as the gay movement has achieved more of its goals and our opponents (I trust, I hope) are on the defensive, I am not so sure what unity is about, or how it is supposed to be demonstrated. We don't seem to be in agreement on goals: Most of us support gay marriage, whether we personally want to marry or not. But there are people who oppose gay marriage as, oh, you know, the usual claptrap about patriarchal institutions, as if that could apply to two men or two women.

But we also disagree about tactics. Many people, especially gay leaders, opposed California gay couples' filing suit to obtain marriage rights. Opponents said it was the wrong time, the wrong route, guaranteed to get slapped down by the court. And it may yet-by California voters this November. Opinion was legitimately divided. That's not a bad thing; it's a good thing.

We are not of one mind about whether drag queens are entertaining expressions of gay creativity or self-promoting parasites who serve to confirm heterosexuals' views of gay men as feminine. We are not unified on whether transgenders and transsexuals are part of the gay community-particularly if they are not homosexual.

Does the fact that we are all gay produce any real "unity"? Maybe on Gay Pride Day. But otherwise, I often think the only thing that unites us is the desire to have a good time.

Diversity…or Divergence?

We often hear from gay leaders of the diversity of the gay (or GLBT, or LGBTQ, etc.) community. Each June we have Pride Parade slogans like "Celebrate Diversity," or "Unity in Diversity" (or maybe it's the other way around). But no one ever explains exactly what our diversity consists in, nor why diversity is a good thing or why we should celebrate it, nor do they explain how this diversity can be forged into some sort of unity, nor what kind of unity or for what.

I suspect that our diversity, like our unity, is merely a linguistic construct, designed to mean anything people want it to. No doubt each of us is different from every other gay person. But celebrating a fact like that is like a slogan to "Celebrate Gravity." Nor are we any more diverse than the rest of America; we're just part of America's own diversity.

There is a fairly sophisticated philosophical argument for diversity connected with the (Karl) Popperian notion that "all life is problem solving." At its simplest, the argument is that the more perspectives you have on a problem, the better chance you have to discover solutions as problems come along. But I don't hear anything like that from gay spokespersons. I hear the claim that the fact of diversity is a good thing in itself.

Think for a moment of the ways in which we are different from one another, or, if you like, of the constituent groups in our community. We differ by sex, race, ethnicity, sexual tastes, age, and economic level. As more people have come out and our community has grown larger these various groups have become large enough for people to find ample stimulus and friendship within their own groups. Old-time gay bars in small towns were home to men and women, drags and leather men, and different races. So you would think that there is a centrifugal tendency in the community resulting from its growth.

But some of these differences are lessening. Once Latinos and other immigrants learn English, ethnicity has a fading significance except as an additional cultural heritage. Race, I think, is slowly fading as a differentiator. As "leather" diversifies, "leathermen" seem to be feeling less need for separate space. So there are some centripetal (if not exactly unifying) forces at work. On the other hand, as gays who came out when young live into their 60s and 70s, age may become an increasing differentiator. That is not clear yet.

One thing that helps overcome these various divisions is the fact of sexual attraction. That can exist on the basis of physical attractiveness (not the constituent group of the other person) but also on the appeal of differentness or exoticism. And in both cases, the appeal no doubt consists to some degree of the cultural meaning attached to the qualities of the other person. That is too individual to generalize about.

But gay men and lesbians do not have sexual attraction to draw them to one another. Or put playfully, all they have in common is their lack of (sexual) interest in each other. That's not quite true. They continue to work together, as they have since the beginning of the movement, for common political goals: marriage, military access, adoption and child custody rights. But as our political goals are gradually achieved there will be less reason to work together and get to know each other well enough to become friends, although there will continue to be links at our various social service agencies.

Within the GLBT acronym, the whole status of bisexuals is uncertain. Bisexuality seems far more common among women than men. No doubt there are a few lifelong bisexual men (Kinsey 2, 3, 4)-there are a few of everything-but they are rare. According to The New York Times, a recent research study found that "men who called themselves bisexuals were significantly more aroused by one gender, usually by men."

According to the same article, "heterosexual women physically don't seem to differentiate between genders in their sexual responses." As some women put it, they are attracted more to the person rather than the person's specific sex. Hence the ease of "bisexual chic"-among women, but not men. Consider too the women who remain with their partners even after the partner has gone through sexual reassignment surgery. Whereas if a man's wife became a transsexual man... ?

Market research firms count bisexual in a long term relationship with a person of the same sex as a member of the gay community, but not if they are in one with the opposite sex. We could also rate them on their degree of commitment to or identification with the gay community. Some may feel such a commitment, others may not. So bisexuals may or may not be members of our community.

What California Did

The May 15 decision by the California Supreme Court overturning the state's ban on same-sex marriage is clearly major news for all of us. It was a robust, comprehensive decision that examined nearly all the traditional arguments against permitting same-sex marriage and found them wanting.

The court said, "In light of the fundamental nature of the substantive rights embodied in the right to marry-and their central importance to an individual's opportunity to live a happy, meaningful, and satisfying life as a full member of society-the California Constitution properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all individuals and couples, without regard to their sexual orientation."

Specifically, the court pointed out that (1) allowing gays only a differently named relationship (such as "civil unions") will "impose appreciable harm on same-sex couples," (2) given the prejudice that gays have historically faced, forbidding them the word "marriage" would likely be viewed as an official view that their relationships are of lesser stature, and (3) calling gay relationships by a different name could perpetuate the view that gays and gay couples are "second-class citizens."

The decision is significant for several reasons. The majority included three justices appointed by Republicans and the court's lone Democratic appointee and was written by Republican-appointed Chief Justice Ronald George. And the California court is regarded as influential since other state courts sometimes look to it for precedents and judicial reasoning.

Even more important, the court drew an explicit parallel between government bans on interracial marriage and gay marriage, citing its own 1948 decision striking down California's ban on interracial marriage, a decision far in advance of the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court's decision striking down all state prohibitions on interracial marriage.

Perhaps most important in the long run, observing that marriage was a fundamental constitutional right, the court-a first for a high court-invoked a demanding justification for discriminatory treatment of different groups called "strict scrutiny" and found that the state government's rationale for denying gays the word and status of "marriage" could not pass that test.

The three dissents do not seem to be up to snuff. They all argue, among other things, that the decision violates the separation of powers and constitutes judicial overreach. The court should have left an important matter like gay marriage to the political process, they argue.

But, of course, the California legislature has already passed bills instituting gay marriage-not once but twice. But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed both bills, saying that the issue should be settled by the state Supreme Court.

The court had already stated that the legislature could not make an interpretive end run around a popularly approved proposition banning gay marriage, by claiming that it applied only to recognition of out-of-state gay marriages. So the issue faced, if not an impasse, at least a complicated legal situation. So in a way the court may have felt pressured to rule.

For partners who have been together for many years, marriage must feel like a long-delayed state certification of the worthiness and legitimacy of their relationship, just as the state did for their parents and grandparents. For young gays, however, who are early in the first throes of romantic love with a new partner, marriage may be a dangerous temptation.

How many young gays do we all know who claimed they were deeply in love with a new partner, only to lose interest in a few months and go off in search of a new partner? To be sure, some youthful attachments do endure, but a prolonged period of getting to know each other seems desirable. Young people should remember the old adage, "Marry in haste, repent at leisure."

California's constitution is the most "populist" in the country, allowing a simple majority of voters to institute state policies, recall state officials-and reverse Supreme Court decisions. What gay Californians face now is an initiative to undo the court's decision and once again prohibit gays from marrying.

So California gays now have the task of gearing up for an acrimonious and expensive fight to preserve gay marriage. Gays may well lose. Eight years ago slightly more than 61 percent of California voters approved just such a ban. Since then, public opinion has slowly moved in the direction of support for gay marriage, but by barely one percent or less a year. Probably not enough.

So the pro-marriage campaign had better be a good one, cogent and well-thought out. Examine it carefully before you respond to the myriad of fundraising appeals we will all soon be getting.