Monday, April 29, 2013

Before and After Stonewall: LGBT Civil Rights Struggles in America (and locally)

Lately, I've been doing research for an upcoming installation in BOOKMACHINE books + zines, in the Magoski Arts Colony for the LOVE. SEX. UNITY. RESPECT. exhibit, a massive art show in support of marriage equality and the LGBT community.  I'm attempting to create a visual timeline of LGBT civil rights struggles in Orange County.  This is, sadly, a largely unknown history among the general public.  People tend to view civil rights struggles in terms of only what is current (Prop 8 for example) but few people realize that there is a lengthy history to these things.  For example, not many Orange Countians today talk about Prop 6 in 1978, sponsored by State Senator John Briggs of Fullerton, which would have made it legal for schools to fire teachers for being gay.  John Briggs debated LGBT rights icon Harvey Milk regarding this discriminatory proposition.

In an effort to educate myself on this historic struggle, I watched two documentaries this weekend, which do a fantastic job of telling the story of the LGBT civil rights movement in America.  The first came out in 1984 and it is called "Before Stonewall."  This film chronicles the obstacles and discrimination homosexuals faced in America, leading up to the famous Stonewalls Riots of 1969, perhaps the most significant event in the LGBT civil rights movement in America.  If we think America is homophobic today, it was VERY homophobic in, say, the 1940s and 1950s.  Up until 1974, homosexuality was considered a mental illness, and gay people could be forcefully committed.  The film is sobering and enlightening.  "Before Stonewall" is streaming on Netflix and on youtube HERE.

The other film I watched is a sequel to "Before Stonewall" called "After Stonewall".  It was made in 1999 an it charts the LGBT civil rights struggles after the Stonewall Riots.  I found this film to be intensely inspiring, as it shows LGBT activists, educators, artists, and writers fighting for acceptance in a society that was very slow to accept them.  It chronicles groups like ACT UP, which fought for AIDS research and services at a time when the US government was tragically ignoring the AIDS epidemic.  It discusses projects like the NAMES Project (The AIDS Memorial Quilt).  The film is both sad and inspiring, demonstrating the power of people to change the world and fight for their rights as human beings.  "After Stonewall" is streaming on Netflix and on Youtube HERE.

Watching these films inspired me to research and share with others about the local struggle for LGBT civil (and human) rights in Orange County.  For my research, I am visiting The Center OC, our longest running and largest LGBT advocacy group.  I'm hoping to talk to local civil rights figure Kevin O'Grady, who was recently profiled in OC Weekly as "The Hate Fighter."

Photo by John Gilhooley

I'm also planning on utilizing the recent Special Collection at UCI, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center, which is devoted to documenting how these struggles played out locally.  You can read the historical timeline HERE.  One of the really cool things about being a teacher and a curator of shows is that I get to learn just as much (or more) than my students.  I hope to see you at the LOVE. SEX. UNITY. RESPECT. exhibit this Friday at the Magoski Arts Colony!  It's from 6-11pm and it's FREE!

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