My Pride Column:What Stonewall Means to Me

Originally appeared June 2, 1994, in the Windy City Times.

There was a note in my office mailbox from The Editor saying he wanted to see me. I walked down the long corridor past the offices of all the Assistant Editors until I got to The Editor's door. I knocked with what I hoped was the right mixture of assertiveness and respect.

"Enter," came the familiar stern voice. I entered.

The Editor was seated at his desk behind a tall stack of half-edited manuscripts, wearing a "Just Be You" T-shirt with a little yellow button that said, "Have a Nice Whenever." Pushed up on his forehead was his ever-present green eyeshade. Vivaldi was playing on the portable CD player.

"Good morning, Sir. You wanted to see me?"

"Where is your Pride Issue column, Varnell?

"Pride column?" I asked, all innocence and wonderment.

"Pride column," he repeated. "The Pride Issue is at hand. I sent a memo to all staff about this more than a month ago. We need an appropriate column."

I smiled a thin, cool smile, reached into my back pocket, and. ...

"Ta-dah!" I said as I handed him my column with a flourish.

He stared at it as if I were offering him a live snake.

"What does it say?" he asked suspiciously.

"It's about how proud we should all be to be gay," I replied. "How it makes us the truly wonderful, self-actualizing people we are. How it sensitizes us to the joy and beauty in the universe, gives meaning to our lives, and elevates our existence far beyond that of ordinary mortals."

"Oh, cut it out, Varnell," he said with a grimace. "You don't believe any of that. You've always made fun of gay pride. You always said being gay was a neutral quality, like having blue eyes and that it was only how people handled it, what they did with it, how they lived their lives, that could be a source of pride. Do I not recall correctly?"

"Well, I'm selling out," I said grandly. "I've decided to tell people what they want to hear. They want to hear that life can be simple and uncomplicated; that life presents few demand and that it is enough just to 'be.' They want to hear that the universe is benevolent, that they can be wonderful without effort, and that living involves no pains, no trade-offs, no compromises, no agonizing dilemmas.

"I am telling people it is enough to be proud and everything else will just fall into place. I reassure them that being gay involves no moral or intellectual obligations, that they can keep on being however they are, that wherever they are is the final stage of personal development."

"Oh, for pity's sake, Varnell," he burst out. "Can't you do anything right? When you sell out you're supposed to do it for money or for power or something. But here you are selling out - as you call it - but you aren't getting anything for it at all."

"Oh, I am, I am," I insisted. "I'm gaining popularity, regard, affection. People want to read things they already agree with, that reassure them about themselves, however they are. People love this sort of thing and they love the people who tell it to them - ministers, politicians, therapists, even writers.

"And people will love me. They will write me fan letters, speak of me in reverential tones, buy me drinks at bars. I will be famous and esteemed."

"No doubt!" he said. "But this is all irrelevant. This year's Pride topic has nothing to do with Pride."

"It doesn't?" I gasped, taken aback. "How is that possible?"

"If you'd paid attention to my memo" - he pulled a piece of paper out from the middle of a pile and waved it at me - you'd have known that this year's theme is 'Stonewall 25.' I don't know why I even bother to write these things if no one reads them. ..."

His voice trailed off. Then he looked at me sternly.

"Your deadline is 4 o'clock. Dismissed!"

I made an "about-face" I learned in Boy Scouts and marched out, wondering what I could say about diversity that was not already cliche'd, hackneyed, tired.

On the way out, I stopped by the office of Aspasia, one of our young Assistant Editors.

"You'll never guess...," I began glumly.

"I know!" she said. "You need a new column." She grinned guiltily. "The intercom was on - just a teensy bit."

"Well, what are you writing about?" I asked.

"I'm writing about the most important events since Stonewall," she said. "You know, Bowers v Hardwick, Anita Bryant, the psychiatrists voting that we're mentally healthy - that kind of stuff. I'm learning a lot," she added.

"What do you think was the most important event of all? I asked.

"Most important event?" She looked off into space for a moment. "You know. I really think the most important event was when I came out."

I must have looked startled.

"Oh, I don't mean that my coming out was the most important event for everyone else, just for me. What I mean is that for each of us the most important event since Stonewall is that we ourselves came out.

"Think about it," she went on. "That means that each of us at some point summoned up the courage to be honest with ourselves about ourselves. And we managed to do that even knowing there would be some risks and losses if we did it. But we valued truth and integrity enough to face those risks. It's kind of an achievement."

She smiled brightly.

"I don't mean it's a stopping point," she added. "And that doesn't mean it's easy from then on. But it does mean that each of us was willing to throw ourselves into that existential void and take on the burden of beginning to work out life's same old problems from a new and uncertain starting point. It's an achievement that gets us up to square one, but somehow it gives us some momentum as we pass through that point on into the rest of our lives. And I suppose it gives us the experience of knowing that honesty and courage and self-knowledge have some cash value in our mental economy."

"But that's just my opinion. I suppose other people would think differently."

A glimmer of an idea stole into my mind.

"Are you writing about this?" I asked as casually as I could.

"Oh, no," she said. "It's not my topic. Besides, people would just laugh at me if I tried to explain it."

"Well, it's been good talking with you," I said. "But I've gotta go work."

And I rushed off to my word processor.

Where “Bros” Succeeds–and Fails

All in all, I liked Billy Eichner’s “Bros” more than the linked review below, despite its flaws, which I’ll get to. The depiction of urban gay life among thirtysomethings in the age of Grinder rings true, as does the budding relationship between neurotic Bobby (Eichner) and hot lawyer Aaron (Luke Macfarlane) as they try to overcome the barriers that hook-up culture and self-doubt pose to emotional intimacy. The “realness” of the onscreen relationship between these two emotional wounded men, and the film’s dark humor, may be why straight audiences haven’t embraced “Bros,” as it’s far from the cutesy rom-com mold that might have been more commercially acceptable.

And then there’s the fake history and woke politics that Eichner’s script imposes on the story. I nearly signed off after Bobby’s opening monologue, where he relates the myth that Stonewall was led by transwomen of color who threw the first brick (no, it wasn’t and they didn’t) and declares that a cis gay white man probably only threw the 11th brick. That canard is repeated later as well by Bobby, a fundraiser for a budding LGBTQ+ history museum in Manhattan. Later, when the museum opens, an exhibit celebrates Obama and refers to the “nightmare” that followed. You get the picture.

But the infighting among the “diverse” fundraising committee of transpeople of color, a bisexual, a lesbian or two, and Bobby (the lone cis white gay man) is played for some genuine laughs (although, of course, this diversity excludes anyone not on the woke left although gay Republicans would no doubt help to fund such a museum).

I’m not sure what compromises, if any, could have made “Bros” a profitable picture, but thumbing its nose at a large segment of gay viewers didn’t help.

Another take:

And these:

Progressive Dismiss History in Favor of Preferred Narratives

James Kirchick writes:

The role of [Frank] Kameny and other gay rights pioneers has been neglected by many historians, journalists, and cultural influencers, who prefer to locate the origins of the movement for gay equality in “a race riot against the police started by hustling transwomen of color.” They speak of the “privilege” supposedly enjoyed by Kameny and the other gay white men who dominated the pre-Stonewall gay rights movement, as if being a homosexual in mid-century America — hunted by the police, purged by the government, confined to mental institutions, and subjected to barbaric forms of medicalized torture — was a blessed way of life. That the movement’s intellectual roots are reformist and bourgeois does not suit these people’s ideological commitments or theory of history.



Brad gets it right, again.

Case in point:

James Kirchick observes:

A Movement Transformed

LGBT children’s lit, telling boys who prefer “girlish” things that they are actually not boys.

Historical Matters

As Pride Month draws to a close, the re-mything of Stonewall is ubiquitious. Some are trying to replace a false narrative with something more akin to the truth. As much as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera are part of the story, rewriting their roles in an exercise of historical revisionism robs those who first rose up to fight back of their rightful place in history. But there are no statues, street names, children’s books or Google search page doodles for Marty Robinson and Morty Manford.

Historian Eric Marcus, writing in 1999:

The story of what really happened at Stonewall has yet to be distorted and embellished beyond the point of recognition, but it’s well on its way. The myth gets a boost every time someone writes about how “heroic drag queens started a riot at the Stonewall Inn, which marked the beginning of the gay rights movement.”

Now, of course, the gay-male drag queens have been transformed into transwomen. Gay guys, apparently, played only a secondary role in their own liberation, or so the narrative tells us.

Added, and recommended:

Hemingway adds:

If Johnson and Rivera are to have a statue, contextualizing it in relation to Stonewall is clearly wrong, and the rush to turn the pair into trans rights icons seems to be doing the exact opposite of what the New York Times suggested – it’s erasing a pivotal event for gay men by making the dominant narrative transgenderism.

Much has been said lately about the problems of wantonly tearing down statues to erase history, but the ideology behind erecting statues to invented historical narratives might be even more alarming.


Intersectional Pride 2020

This is now the future of “Pride”:

More, from the archives:

What We Wanted: Then and Now


“Stonewall,” below, refers to Britain’s best-known LGBTQ+ activist organization. Kathleen Stock writes:

Academics also need to fight for robust biological-sex-based data, alongside data about gender identity, in order to properly track and analyse the multiple differences—physically, psychologically, socially, politically—currently statistically correlated with each sex. No doubt some of these differences are culturally and historically contingent, but something can be contingent, yet as obdurate as biological reality and so still be in need of study.
And she reports:
In my own case, I’ve experienced student complaints, FOI requests, campus protests, threats to milkshake me, the defacement of my office door, open letters to no-platform me, articles in the local press and student newspapers claiming I make the campus at my university “unsafe”, defamation by the Student Union Executive, an attempted smear campaign by academics at another institution, and various forms of student and public harassment. Occasionally, critics point to the fact that despite this I still manage to write and publish, suggesting that this gives the lie to any claim that I don’t have the freedom to do so. But I wonder how many gender-critical academics have been deterred from expressing their views by these tactics?

Support Drops as Gay Movement Becomes Trans Movement

Andrew Sullivan on “The Gender-Theory Backlash” (second item in column):
For the first time, we’re seeing a sharp drop in tolerance of “LGBTQ” people among the younger generation. …

Or check this out: 62 percent of young men regarded themselves as “allies” of LGBTQ people in 2016; only 35 percent now say the same — a near-halving of support. Women “allies” have dropped from 65 to 52 percent. The turn began in the year that the Obama administration — with no public discussion or congressional support — imposed critical gender theory on America’s high schools, determining sex to be whatever a student says it is. The imposition of trans ideology by fiat on the entire country’s young — along with severe public stigma for those with even the slightest questions — was almost textbook left authoritarianism. Well meant, perhaps. But dictatorial.

Even GLAAD, the culture police for the gay left, concedes that the transformation of the gay-rights movement into a trans movement steeped in critical gender theory in the past few years is likely the reason: “The younger generation was coming in contact with more LBGTQ people, particularly individuals who are non-binary and don’t identify simply as lesbian or gay.” GLAAD of course blames Trump, and social media, and vows to crack down ever more firmly on those who aren’t fully onboard with its agenda. The last thing GLAAD would do is ask itself if it is actually exacerbating the problem, and that the redefinition of almost everyone’s sex and gender to accommodate less than 1 percent of the population is why this resistance is happening.
Here’s another reason for the drop in support in the U.K.:
Fully 52% of UK Muslims thought there should be a punishment for homosexuality. Compared with only 5% of the wider population. If one community is growing in size, and that community has 10 times the negative attitudes of the wider community, then it would ordinarily be thought inevitable that there will be some impact on the wider society’s attitudes towards the matter. Either because they influence the views of wider society or because as their proportion among the population increases so the representation of their views increases.

Mission Creep

The Human Rights Campaign is promoting legislation requiring employers to provide paid sick leave to employees. HRC, in doing so, takes note that some employees without paid sick leave are LGBTQ.

The issue with HRC pursing a broadly progressive agenda is that when it fundraises among Republicans, it presents itself as a group focused on LGBTQ-rights advocacy. Yes, the Log Cabin Republicans support a broadly conservative GOP-driven agenda. They’ve got the name “Republican” upfront, and their mission is as much about lobbying support for Republicans as it is about lobbying Republican support for LGBTQ legal equality. The same was true, in reverse, with the now-defunct Stonewall Democrats.

But HRC was founded with a nonpartisan mission and for many years held to that in its congressional endorsements and fundraising (before it started supporting presidential candidates). If that had remained true, the Stonewall Democrats wouldn’t have been rendered redundant, and HRC would not have turned into an adjunct of the Democratic party.

More. From Equality California:

“Enacting gun safety reforms [sic] at the federal level is a top priority for Equality California. LGBTQ people and our allies are often the targets of bias-motivated gun violence.”

And since no LGBTQ people or allies use guns to defend themselves from hate crimes, no problem there.