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Our Nation’s Fine Heritage Of Protest Politics

Editor’s note: I am honored to share with you William B. Turner’s latest contribution to The New Civil Rights Movement. Dr. Turner is an author and editor known for his work on “Creating Change: Sexuality, Public Policy”, among other books, and a regular contributor to the Daily Kos. He writes occasionally here as well.

LGBT Pride events celebrate the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which occurred in June 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York City.  In the Stonewall Riots, a group of queers, including a lot of transgender persons and street persons, fought back against an otherwise routine police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a queer bar.

Note two things: “routine police raid” and “fought back.”  Until Stonewall, and in many places for sometime afterward, police would routinely raid bars just to keep the queers in line.  If a person got arrested during one of these raids, the fact of the arrest would likely appear in the local newspaper, potentially ruining the man’s (people whom this happened to were usually men) career and family life.  Some states had statutes prohibiting serving alcohol to known “homosexuals.”  But statute or no, the police would conduct raids and arrest the patrons of the bar on whatever charges they could trump up.  A friend here in Oklahoma City reports that he arrived one evening at his favorite bar and kissed every man at the bar on the back of the neck as he walked by.  The police arrested him for public lewdness, but he demanded a trial.  The judge threw the case out, asserting that the conduct in question was not illegal.

Which brings us to the second point: “fought back.”  When I say queers fought back in the Stonewall Riots, I mean literally fought with the police, even pulling a parking meter out of the pavement and using it to blockade the police inside the bar.  Not bad for a bunch of nelly queens.

It is important to appreciate that this was a serious riot.  In rioting against injustice, the queers at Stonewall participated in the finest tradition of American protest politics.  They are the queer equivalent of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  The United States was founded as a nation on a riot – the Boston Tea Party — that grew into a war against the most powerful military in the world at the time.  We should be proud of the queer contribution to the fine history of protest politics in the United States, which includes various forms of protest against slavery, on behalf of voting rights for women, against the oppressive power of larger corporations, and against segregation and the Vietnam War.

We should also be prepared to engage in such protest again if the need arises.  Thanks to the political movement that emerged after the Stonewall Riots, no jurisdiction in the United States still allows, or requires, its police to conduct routine raids on gay bars.  We have made our own lives safer, better, and more nearly equal with our protests.  Our protests these days are more likely to take the form of law suits than street protests, but we should not take for granted the resources and respectability that allow us to use the courts rather than the streets to win our point.

The last great queer riot in the United States occurred on May 21, 1979.  The “White Night Riot” occurred as a response to the conviction of former San Francisco Supervisor Dan White, who had assassinated openly gay Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone the previous November.  The jury chose not to find him guilty of first-degree murder despite the fact that White had climbed in a window at City Hall to avoid the metal detectors and was carrying extra ammunition despite no longer being a police officer.  His attorney claimed he suffered from diminished capacity as indicated by the usually very health-conscious White’s increased consumption of junk food, which detractors came to call the “twinkie defense.” Rioters started a fire at City Hall after breaking through the glass in the front doors, and set police cars on fire, eventually causing over one million dollars in damages.  Later that night police officers randomly attacked patrons at a gay bar.  In all, 61 police officers and 100 queers required medical attention as a result of the White Night Riot.

Queers are often more creative protestors, having created two of the greatest protest organizations in the nation’s history: AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT-UP) and Queer Nation.  ACT-UP pulled off one of the greatest protests in the history of the United States when they shut down the Food and Drug Administration in Washington, D.C., thus forcing the FDA to make experimental drugs available to persons with AIDS before final approval.  ACT-UP also originated a totally new form of protest, the die-in, in which protestors would fall to the ground as if dying and, while still on the ground, shout statistics about AIDS deaths.  ACT-UP members also produced some highly effective and highly artful protest posters.

Queer Nation picked up on ACT-UP’s penchant for direct-action protests, expanding them to include all LGBT issues, not just AIDS.  Queer Nationals conducted subtle visibility actions, going shopping in malls with clothing and buttons that indicated their LGBT identity.  They adapted the die-in as the kiss-in, in which large numbers of same-sex couples would kiss each other in public places.  Queer Nation also produced some highly effective and memorable protest art.

In sum, “Pride” is the best term for the attitude all queers in the United States should take toward our collective participation in our Nation’s fine heritage of protest politics.

William B. Turner is a student of the history of the LGBT Civil Rights Movement.  He holds a Ph.D. in history from Vanderbilt University and a J.D. from the University of Wisconsin.  He has written on the statutory exclusion of lesbian/gay aliens from the United States from 1917 to 1990, Wisconsin’s pioneering legislation prohibiting sexual-orientation discrimination, and on lesbian/gay rights issues in the Carter and Reagan presidential administrations in Creating Change: Sexuality, Public Policy, which he co-edited with John D’Emilio and Urvashi Vaid.  He edited the section on the LGBT movement for The Encyclopedia of American Social Movements and wrote the entries on the Defense of Marriage Act, sexuality, and sexual orientation for The Dictionary of American History.  He posts regularly on the Daily Kos web site. He has also published A Genealogy of Queer Theory, as well as various other articles in law reviews on LGBT civil rights and African American civil rights.

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‘Handmaid’s Tale’: Biden Campaign Blasts Trump Christian Nationalism Plans

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The Biden campaign is responding to a report from Politico detailing how Christian nationalism is intentionally being injected into the plans a right-wing think tank, part of a “conservative consortium,” is drafting for a potential second Trump presidential term.

“Spearheading the effort is Russell Vought, who served as Trump’s director of the Office of Management and Budget during his first term and has remained close to him. Vought, who is frequently cited as a potential chief of staff in a second Trump White House, is president of The Center for Renewing America think tank, a leading group in a conservative consortium preparing for a second Trump term,” Politico reported Tuesday. “Vought has a close affiliation with Christian nationalist William Wolfe, a former Trump administration official who has advocated for overturning same-sex marriage, ending abortion and reducing access to contraceptives.”

“Vought,” Politico adds, “is advising Project 2025, a governing agenda that would usher in one of the most conservative executive branches in modern American history. The effort is made up of a constellation of conservative groups run by Trump allies who’ve constructed a detailed plan to dismantle or overhaul key agencies in a second term. Among other principles, the project’s ‘Mandate for Leadership’ states that ‘freedom is defined by God, not man.'”

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There are other far-right Christian nationalists in play.

“Trump is also talking about bringing his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, a vocal proponent of Christian nationalism, back into office,” the Politico piece notes. “Flynn is currently focused on recruiting what he calls an ‘Army of God’ — as he barnstorms the country promoting his vision of putting Christianity at the center of American life.”

In 2022 PBS NewHour described Flynn as being “‘at the center’ of [a] new movement based on conspiracies and Christian nationalism.”

“He has drawn together election deniers, mask and vaccine opponents, insurrectionists, Proud Boys, and elected officials and leaders in state and local Republican parties.”

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The Biden campaign’s senior spokesperson Lauren Hitt responded to the Politico report, saying in a statement, “This is straight out of the Handmaid’s Tale. Nationwide abortion bans, attacks on same-sex marriage, and restrictions on contraception – this is the horrifying reality being openly discussed by Team Trump and the likely architects of his second term agenda.”

“Every day Donald Trump openly supports an agenda of restricting Americans’ freedoms, dividing our country, and attacking our rights. That’s what he will do as president. It’s not who we are as Americans. Like they’ve done election after election,
Americans will reject Donald Trump and his out-of-touch extremism again this November.”

The Hill adds the Biden “campaign also pointed to a New York Times report that said Trump told advisers and allies that he favors a 16-week ban on abortion, a story that the Trump campaign pushed back on but didn’t contradict.”

USA TODAY’s White House correspondent Joey Garrison first reported Hitt’s statement.

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‘BS’: Top Dem Senator Goes on Offense Against Republicans

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U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) is calling “BS” on Senate Republicans – and calling them out by name – over their continued failure to pass the Senate’s massive border and military funding for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan bill that he helped craft.

Sen. Murphy’s first target: top Trump MAGA surrogate Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), who told Fox News, “The left want an open, insecure border. The conservatives and common sense independents, we want a secure America. That means you have to control your back door.”

Murphy did not hold back.

“Bullshit,” the Connecticut Democrat wrote on social media Tuesday. “We reached a bipartisan compromise to give the President enormous new powers to control the border. Almost every single Republican – including Sen. Scott – voted against it because Trump told them to keep the border a mess because it might help him politically.”

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Senator Murphy’s second target was U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), who claimed, “The recent bill would have been worse than doing nothing by codifying [Biden’s] open border policies into law.”

“Bullshit,” Sen. Murphy again responded. “The bipartisan border bill that Sen. Johnson’s party asked for and then voted against because Trump said so would have

ALLOWED
THE
PRESIDENT
TO
SECURE
THE
BORDER.”

Next, the Connecticut Democrat called out U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn  (R-TN). writing, “also bullshit.”

Sen. Blackburn had claimed, “Even Secretary Mayorkas has said what’s happening at the southern border ‘certainly is a crisis.’ It’s past time the Biden administration put a stop to this madness. CLOSE the border.”

Sen. Murphy added, “Senator Blackburn knows the bill would have actually allowed the President to close parts of the border when crossings get too high. But who would book Republicans on cable news if the border was actually under control? That’s why they killed it.”

Watch the videos above or at this link.

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Alito Fears ‘Bigot’ Label for Americans With ‘Traditional Religious Views’ of LGBTQ People

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito is expressing concern that Americans who hold what he calls “traditional religious views” on homosexuality and refuse to hide them are being labeled as “bigots.” The Bush-appointed 73-year old jurist with a history of anti-LGBTQ opinions has been called the Court’s “staunchest opponent of LGBTQ rights.”

As The New Republic reports, “Alito is complaining that people who oppose homosexuality were being unfairly branded as bigots, despite that being a dictionary definition of bigotry.”

On Tuesday, agreeing the Court should not take a case, Alito wrote he is “concerned” that a lower court’s reasoning “may spread.”

He notes that the lower court “reasoned that a person who still holds traditional religious views on questions of sexual morality is presumptively unfit to serve on a jury in a case involving a party who is a lesbian.”

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In that case, several jurors who acknowledged they held anti-LGBTQ views were released from serving on the trial.

“That holding exemplifies the danger that I anticipated in Obergefell v. Hodges … namely, that Americans who do not hide their adherence to traditional religious beliefs about homosexual conduct will be ‘labeled as bigots and treated as such’ by the government.'”

Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern writes, “Alito suggests that a trial court violates the free exercise and equal protection clauses when it allows an attorney who represents a gay client to strike potential jurors because they express overt bigotry against gay people.”

Veteran journalist John Harwood observes, “Justice Alito, even if he somehow gets Obergefell overturned, will be aggrieved forever more.”

He adds, “there will never be another time when his views about homosexuality will not be treated as bigotry by most people in our society.”

Attorney Max Kennerly posits, “If we followed Alito’s reasoning that religious beliefs can never serve as a basis to strike a juror, we’d instantly run into a collision with jurors who believe, on religious grounds, the death penalty is wrong. Any guesses how Alito would rule on that? Yeah, exactly.”

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