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Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Moment on the Lips, Forever on the... History Books

It's a very interesting moment in the social evolution of our country. As our political and military leaders are about to end the military policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", (the policy instated in 1993 which allowed gay persons to serve in the military as long as they weren't "out of the closet"), it's interesting to watch a social history of a nation unfold before our very eyes.
For those of us who studied history in high school and college, we understand that the current American fight for gay civil rights is absolutely no different than our country's previous fights for the civil rights of African Americans, women and any other "minorities". In other words, slowly but surely, those rights are won for every minority, and as time passes, we look back and wonder what all the fuss was about. There are all those old photographs of the white people, standing on the sidelines, screaming hatefully at the nine black students as they entered the halls of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. And we look at the photographs of those people who screamed and spewed hatred, and we wonder how those people could have been so hateful and so unbelievably ignorant. But it's also interesting, how, as a new civil rights battle is being waged, as the one for gay civil rights is being fought now, no one thinks they are "the people in those photographs".
Take, for instance, Colin Powell's appearance on this morning's "This Week" on ABC. Powell was asked about the nearing end of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and he was shown a videotape of himself in front of Congress in 1993 testifying that gay persons being "open" in the military was incompatible with having an effective military. The commentator asked why Powell has now changed his mind and supports the end of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. We held our breath. And then came the very disappointing answer. Powell said all the polite things, that "times have changed", "society has changed", blah, blah, blah. Right. Just for once we'd like to hear someone like Colin Powell tell the truth. Powell should have said, "In 1993 I was ignorant. In 1993 I was homophobic. I didn't understand a lot about basic human sexuality back then, and I let my ignorance and homophobia rule my decision making process. That was wrong, and I was wrong. But now it's time to correct that wrong."
But if you think you're going to hear anyone "in the photograph" admit later that they were ignorant, and didn't know what they were talking about in the past, you're going to be waiting a long time. Yes, society has changed, the general public is more accepting of homosexuality now. Hooray for society; let's hand out the medals. But the truth is that slavery was wrong in 1764, it was wrong in 1864, and it was wrong in 1964 when Pres. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, and as a nation, we slowly started to make up for the wrongs of slavery. And homophobia was wrong in 1993, when Colin Powell was suffering from it, just as it's wrong now, when he's a little less homophobic. A sin against society is always a sin, whether the people of that society realize it or not, but when they do finally realize they've sinned, the only way to completely heal from it is for those people "in the photographs" to admit that they were wrong. Even George Wallace, the infamous Governor of Alabama who "stood in the schoolhouse doors" to keep black students from entering, later in life publically admitted he was wrong.
So yes, Colin Powell, unfortunately when our grandchildren look back on this time and wonder how people could have been so ignorant about homosexuality, and why they went to such great lengths to perpetuate that ignorance, even to the point of hatred and discrimination, you're going to be one of those people "in the photographs". You're going to be one of the George Wallace's of the gay civil rights movement. The only way for you and others like you to reserve a place of dignity in the history books of our nation is to now admit that you were wrong. It's not too late.

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