Music + Equality 6/26/2015
by Joshua B. Hoe This post probably will not make it to the blog until way after 6/26...But, I really wanted to share my feelings on this historic day.
I remember seeing Bronski Beat’s video for the song “Small-Town Boy” in 1984. It changed my life, for the first time, I really saw the impact of anti-gay hatred and more important, I felt it. If you are not familiar with the video here it is (EMBED from Youtube).
For most of my HS years, I was one of the few people in my Oklahoma high school who was dressing in an alternative style..I was not very popular, and was often derided with anti-gay slurs even though I was straight. So, while never beaten up, I was certainly threatened and mocked.
As you might imagine, Oklahoma and the country was not very gay friendly in the 80's. The Supreme Court of the time released one of the worst and most brutal decisions in its history in Bowers v Hardwick (allowing that criminalization of gay sex remained constitutional). While I was not gay, many of my friends were, and they and I experienced a great deal of discrimination (and some of them outright violence). At this time, you felt very viscerally that if you were beaten up or worse for being gay (even if you were not gay) the police would not protect or defend you.
Our one set of allies were musicians across the world who were singing about equality or just singing about being gay or about being different in an intolerant society. I remember Bronski Beat, VInce Clarke of Depeche Mode (and later Yazoo and Erasure), Alison Moyet (Yazoo), Martin Gore (Depeche Mode and solo work), Culture Club, Soft Cell, Genesis P’orridge, all of the producers of club dance music, and many more artists who made people feel part of a community and celebrated and loved through this period. I have no idea if they were all LGBT but, I knew where they stood on the issue.
I remember having a discussion with Graeme Revell (played in SPK and later created many movie soundtracks) in a Dallas nightclub about the struggle for gay rights in the United States around 1986 or 1987?...How far we have come in the last few decades? It is truly amazing. In many ways, alternative music was the admittedly cool ghetto where many LGBT kids grew up in this country. I remember going with my LGBT friends to dance clubs and drag shows growing up. There was always a feeling of sanctuary, safety, and joy. The music was truly a celebration of lifestyles that were not always allowed in public.
The music, and the places that we listened to this music, were a stark counterpoint to the reality for LGBT people in all other areas of their lives. This decision was not about creating new rights for gay people. This decision was about extending the same benefits straight people get from choosing marriage to LGBT people. It as about your partner being included on your health care. It was about funeral and hospital rights. It was about being able to appear on your partner's death certificate.
Many people will focus on this being about marriage, and to some extent that is true, but really what the Court said is that Gay people have the same right to expect equal protection of the laws of the United States as does everyone else. It will be hard for them to uphold state laws, for instance, allowing employers to fire people for being LGBT in this new environment.
Equally as important, the interpretation of our Constitution is part of what we communicate to the entire world about what our Democracy means. Today, we are telling the world that LGBT citizens are fully protected and valued members of our citizenry. In a world full of often violent discrimination against LGBT people, this is something to shout loudly from our rooftops.
It is, of course, sad, that the four conservative justices chose to hold to their belief in the same States Rights nonsense that supposedly justified slavery and many other abominations...Scalia, as always, went out of his way to look anachronistic and almost silly. I do not know if it is goal to go down as the modern day RogerTaney, but he is certainly heading in that direction.
It is also sad that this victory came at the end of a week that started with the shooting in the South Carolina church. It is truly sad to hear national commentators loudly and angrily proclaiming that while racism exists in individuals, there is no more systemic racism...This in a country defined by its systemic racism (education is the prime means of rising in this country, and white flight combined with a system that funds education mostly through local taxes makes good education for people in poor and minority areas virtually an impossibility). We still have a long way to go. But, lets celebrate a victory for equal protection today.
The most beautiful event of the day, for me, was still musical. Right after the decision, a group of LGBT rights supporters started singing the National Anthem on the steps of the Supreme Court. And, it sounded beautiful. It is always powerful when we live up to our Constitutional aspirations...when for a few seconds, we are the country we promise to be in our founding documents. In particular the 14th Amendment which says in particular that:
“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
A beautiful day! I will spend it listening to old favorites from the 80’s and celebrating all of my LGBT friends from all over the country who can now enjoy the same rights as everyone else!
Please feel free to share your stories about the decision or about music in the context of equality here. We would love for you to leave a comment!