US Ambassador to United Nation Marks Stonewall’s 45th Anniversary
BY ANDY HUMM | The US Mission to the United Nations marked the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion with a forum on June 26 at Hunter College’s Roosevelt House, headlined by UN Ambassador Samantha Power, veteran gay and AIDS activist Bill Bahlman, and out actor and activist Zachary Quinto.
Power celebrated the LGBT movement’s gains but also acknowledged the storm clouds on the horizon here and abroad. On the domestic front, she noted the progress on same-sex marriage in many states, but also pointed out that “several others are considering legislation that would allow businesses to refuse service to LGBT people, justifying it as ‘promoting religious freedom.’”
And Power talked about the international situation “actually taking a sharp turn for the worse for LGBT individuals, becoming more intolerant and dangerous.” She cited the draconian anti-gay laws in Uganda, Russia, and Nigeria and said President Barack Obama has “followed through” on a commitment to impose “consequences” for these laws, particularly in Uganda.
“Our actions alone will not be able to reverse this appalling trend,” Power said, but argued “it is our duty to take the lessons we have learned in our own movement and share them with the people who are waging this struggle beyond our borders.”
Bahlman, a leader in the post-Stonewall militant Gay Activists Alliance, shared some lessons from those early years that the current corporatized, top-down LGBT rights movement could take to heart. Recalling a “life of hiding” with “little light in our bars” all the way until the late 1960s, he said, “Stonewall changed everything.” GAA set up its headquarters at an old firehouse on Wooster Street and “met every night,” funding its rent and zaps of anti-gay bigots with a modest $2 fee for its weekly dances.
Bahlman, now chair of Mt. Sinai’s HIV Community Advisory Board and the associate producer of the “Gay USA” cable TV show, said that GAA’s speaker’s bureau volunteers “talked to two to three thousand students in public schools every week,” a scale of educational outreach absent today. He also recounted activists invading the American Psychiatric Association’s “annual meeting at the Hilton,” demanding of attendees, “How dare you refer to homosexuality as a disorder?,” an action that led by 1973 to the group removing homosexuality from its index of mental disorders.
Quinto –– who played Mr. Spock in “Star Trek” and Tom Wingfield in “The Glass Menagerie” on Broadway and is active with the Trevor Project hotline for LGBT youth –– said he was “inspired” by what he heard, but lamented that his generation is “lazy and doesn’t seem to be getting any less lazy.” His peers, he said, take for granted gains that began before they were born.
“How do we expand in this country and around the world?,” he asked. The solution, he said, can’t just be “political,” though that is essential.
“We have to look deeper at human experience and invite people –– especially young people –– into discourse,” Quinto said. “How do we be the ones to stand up? How do we translate self-respect into respect for others?”
Technology, he said, must be harnessed “to advantage, inviting kids to be responsible.”