Voices of Experience

To begin 2005, we turned to some veteran leaders in our community and asked them to share their wisdom on challenges that face post-election GLBT America.

Edited by Tim Brookover

Ray Hill
Hill posted this message to the Lone Star Activists community listserv on November 3:
I was once elected president of HGLPC [Houston Gay & Lesbian Political Caucus) running on the platform of   “What this Caucus needs is a revival and who we need to conduct the revival is an evangelist: Here am I.” Do you propose to tell me these are hard times? Me! Who has met five old men in Texas prison sentenced to life for being sexually active gay men? Me! Who stood near hundreds of coffins containing friends who have died as a result of AIDS and/or violence? Me! Who remembers when my closeted friends routinely committed suicide after disclosure of who they really were? Me! Whose lesbian friends could count on a trip to city jail for wearing a pair of Levis into a gay bar or the same trip to jail for drag queens with less than three items of male clothing visible while performing?

These are not hard times. I remember hard times. Am I the only member of this community who remembers Randy Fields, Brian Bradley, Fred Paez, and the other wonderful activists who had nothing left to lose and were therefore already free? Am I the only one who remembers a young Pokey Anderson, with her hair tossed back ready to defend her liberty against any assault? Or the sturdy Rita Wanstrom (Papa Bear)? One does not get a nickname like that as a wilting lily.

We lost a f*****g election! Do you think this is the first time that has happened? I remember when we lost them all and kept on fighting, organizing, hoping, and planning. If our leadership is not up to the task, get new ones or shore up those we already have. If [name deleted of another poster to the listserv] wants to salt our wounds and gloat, confront him in social gatherings and embarrass his weak surrender to the enemies of our equality. Don’t waste your time on the net. Catch him in the bar or at community gatherings. Banishment is the proper treatment for traitors.

My earliest presidential election memories were of the General (Eisenhower) defeating Adlai Stevenson (who was accused of being gay by his ex-wife during the campaign). My family (labor organizers) was disappointed but since Lyndon Johnson ran the Senate as majority leader and Sam Rayburn ran the House as speaker, there wasn’t much to worry about. Over the next 40 years, friendlier folk held power in two of the three positions: House/Senate/president. This is the first time in my experience that hostile brokers have occupied all three positions by nearly comfortable margins.

The only thing that gives me some confidence is I have studied the dynamic of power, and things start to happen like the DeLay resolution showing the whole world how corrosive too much power and pride can be. Our real enemies are not Republicans but the religious right wing, and they will dissipate in some argument about the correct baptism method or how many angels or devils can dance on a pin head. In response to the recent flack over the United Church of Christ ads, I was quoted on national television that the complaining denominations “have too many morals and not enough ethics” and lamented for President George W. Bush that those very people think they can hold him a political hostage. True or imagined, their perception of that kind of power can only lead to the power drunkenness that results in future losses.

The media monopoly is a very serious problem, but William Randolph Hearst once had the power in media that Rupert Murdoch now enjoys. He will get incredibly rich, but his power will pass like a bad case of constipation. The public is not as dumb nor as sheep-like as he thinks.

Dr. Peggy Rudd and Melanie Rudd
In the past, individual needs and personal expression seemed to get lost in a haze of complacency. Today individual opinions seem to be stronger, and polarization is greater. The 10 percent of the population who are the “religious right” or what some say as “the religious wrong” are very vocal and are influencing the political process as demonstrated in the last election.

Silence and the lack of personal expression in past years may have been worse [than the present circumstances]. This resulted in persons in the GLBT community being totally closeted and unable to find friends and companions like themselves, but openness has brought hate crimes and persecution for many in the GLBT community. We still have a long way to go in our country to afford equal rights and protection to all in the GLBT community.

The GLBT community must devote funds and total commitment of the community to education and outreach. Ignorance breeds prejudice, and prejudice leads to contempt. This is both a short-term and long-term requirement for the GLBT community.

Rome was not built in a day. Change takes time and a lot of patience. Sometimes kindness and understanding will yield a quicker result than angry confrontation as we seek equal rights for all segments of the GLBT community.

Rev. Ralph Lasher
I am 77 years old and have been interested in American politics since I was about five years old, since my family was a very political family. I was a Rockefeller/Percy Republican when I lived in the North and a Democrat since moving to Texas about 1970. I assure you that George W. Bush did not become governor of Texas or president of the United States because of my vote.

I am very unhappy and concerned as an American, a gay man, a Democrat, and an ordained Christian minister that “W” has been re-elected. I consider his re-election one of the most serious challenges to our nation, the world, the GLBT community, and the future.

At a meeting the other day in which religious concerns came up in discussing the future for the GLBT community in Houston, I said that I feel that we need to learn as much about so-called “evangelical” Christians as Karl Rove knows. He used them to re-elect George Bush. A very wise Episcopalian bishop said that the religious and political right are insecure people who are frightened of any “change” or anyone different from them. A very wise former president of the U.S. said that they always have to have an “enemy.”   Karl Rove understands this and literally scared the hell out of them by keeping the “gay marriage” issue in front of them. He used it like the “gay agenda” issue has been used in the past. He made the GLBT community their enemy.

I personally believe that the re-election of George W. Bush is a challenge to our community, which is as potentially devastating as HIV/AIDS. I think his re-election is a challenge to the United States of America, since he has in my opinion destroyed the reputation of the nation and got us into wars that are not justified by facts.

Jackie Thorne
Certainly, like many others, I am somewhat discouraged by the results, but I am more disappointed than discouraged. It was obvious that, in Texas, the GLBT community and their friends would not do well. In fact the wins for Hubert Vo (if it isn’t stolen by the republicans in the legislature) was a pleasant surprise. It even indicated that perhaps there really is reason to hope for better times, even in Texas. At the same time, it brings (to me, at least) a sense of deja vu. My first presidential election in Texas was in 1964—Johnson vs. Goldwater. Just having been released from active duty (the handwriting was on the wall re: the upcoming Vietnam debacle), and being from Texas, I knew what a crook and snake Johnson was. So I worked at the grassroots level for Goldwater. The result was eerily similar to the most recent election, although the votes and electoral college were not as close.

The British press seems to have the best and most accurate take on it: How could 59,000,000 Americans be so dumb?

My personal feelings are that the Reagan era was worse [than the current circumstances]. First was the total lack of concern by the administration concerning AIDS and those who were dying from it. As for the T [transgender] community, they, with a few exceptions, (in Houston, notably Phyllis Frye) were so far back in their closets that you could not have blasted them out with a stick of dynamite.

We must continue to work for equal rights, using their laws against them to achieve what we are entitled to. Much of the negative backlash against the GLBT community was the result of the push for same-sex marriage, when there was a substantial portion of the community who either didn’t care or to whom this was not all that high of a priority. The courts seem to be the most likely venue for progress as the legislators and executive branches (governors and president) don’t have the guts to vote for what is right, as they know that if they do, those votes will be used against them in the next election. GLBT equality is what is referred to as a “cut-throat issue.”

Somehow we have got to prevent the Radical Religious Right Wing Nuts (RRRWNs) from using us as a scapegoat for the problems they themselves have caused. We are viewed as the “enemy.” Until this attitude changes or is overcome, we will not make the sort of progress that we, as citizens, deserve. The idea of “putting a face” on GLBT issues, by letting people know we are part of that community, particularly with family, friends, and co-workers, must be pursued. It is much harder to hate or fear some one you know than some anonymous “immoral” group that wants to destroy society as we know it (according to what they have been told by those whose agenda is much more intolerant of differences in race, religion, and political beliefs, than any so-called “gay agenda”). My personal philosophy has always been, “If I expect people to accept me, and what I do, I darn well better be willing to accept others and what they do and who they are. What they are “into” may not be my “thing,” just as my “thing” may not appeal to them. But acceptance is the key.) Unfortunately, the RRRWNs don’t see it that way. Their attitude is “My way or the highway.”

Phyllis Randolph Frye
This was the first one [political moment] where I felt targeted nationally.

I remember the city election of approximately 1985 or 1987 after the passage of the overwhelmingly anti-gay rights referendum. That year there was a so-called Straight Slate that ran for a variety of city offices solely on the basis of being anti-GLBT. It was a hateful time in my neighborhood.

And I remember the various things that caused us to march nationally in ‘79, ’86, and ‘93. I remember the Anita Bryant campaign and how she was a guest of the Texas Bar Association and how we picketed that in Houston.

But never before have I seen such a nationally organized effort to lie about us and use us as the primary whipping post. Never have I seen such organized hate in the churches.

But then never have I witnessed such rampant hypocrisy.

Personally, I think it is the result of us coming out and continuing to come out to the point that we are not fitting the stereotypes that formerly kept us under wraps. So now they have to organize and lie.

You must remember that before 1981, I could not walk out of the house without fear of being arrested under the Houston cross-dressing law. [Frye is a transgender activist. For more information, read “We’re Queer, Too, and We Are Here,” June 2003 OutSmart.]

And never, until this year, has the entire GLBT community been non-criminal by edict of the U.S. Supreme Court.

So actually, I think this is a great time. We just have to expose the liars. And keep encouraging folks to come out and be proud and be a good role model. I do not mean to be cutesy. Coming out is the key! Coming out makes everything else happen.

I say, “Fear nothing and full steam ahead.” The bigots were dumping on us in the old days. They are just trying to do it in a more organized and untruthful way now. We must stand tall and be out and proud.

Lee Jeronimo
I am 60, according to the calendar, but don’t feel more than 27!

In 1962, when I came out in NYC, life was quite different. We did not have Stonewall, Pride, or much recognition except to be the victims of hate crimes on the street if spotted by gay bashers.

We are so much more out than in the pre-Stonewall times that we will never have to worry about being put back in our underground civilization again.

The fears we experienced from the police, gay bashers, and fundamentalists back then were so much scarier than now. We know that we will have an opportunity to undo anything that has slowed us down after this election.

Besides that, the subject of gay and lesbian rights is no longer an issue since the conservatives think they have won. We know that’s not true.

We need to sit quietly and wait. Remember the marriage issue was foisted on us by the backlash of Lawrence, and we will get the benefit of our own win when the religious right backlash happens in the next election. I am sure we can look forward to some good effects coming out of this. This country is not going to succumb to the religious zealots trying to whip up the idiotic emotional frenzy that they did this last election. I know that it is just a matter of people being educated and learning that we are not what they have been told we are by their religious fanatics.   Education is what we must undertake to win this war.   They won a battle this time, but we will win the war.

The radical right brought this marriage question up. We have been put on the defense. We did the best we could, and I know the more the issue is discussed, [the more] we will receive the recognition we deserve.

When this is no longer an issue, some of us will have to find new hobbies.

We will prevail!


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