by Jesse Heiwa
Stonewall 25 was a sea of rainbow flags, freedom rings, and pronouncements of our arrival into a mythic mainstream. It had a taste and feel of the original, but without getting into the real thing: liberation. On the weekend of Stonewall 25 in 1994, three gay dances, including "Big Guns Over Manhattan," were being held on the USS Intrepid, a warship that during the Vietnam War was used for bombing missions that murdered thousands of Vietnamese (including queers).
In 1970, the Gay Liberation Front named itself after the National Liberation Front (NLF) of Vietnam. It opposed the Vietnam War (or more accurately the United States's war in Vietnam). The initial thrust of the post-Stonewall gay liberation movement was shaped by the 1960s counterculture, the Black civil rights movement, the New Left, and radical feminism. Radical gay liberationists had a vision of revolutionary change both for society at large and for the way gay men and women should live their lives.
What has happened in the intervening years? Richard Burns, Executive Director of the NYC Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center, revealed the current state of affairs when asked his opinion about his organization's fundraiser on the death ship USS Intrepid. Burns replied, "I come at this from a sex focus. There are many kinds of imagery that have been eroticized by gay and lesbian culture. We were beneficiaries of a leather party as well. I don't think it was a pro-military statement."
The problem with this analysis is while gay men in the US can `fantasize' aboard a real warship, the Vietnamese who were killed because of the warship can't `fantasize' at all--they are dead. The point of our protests was that this was a REAL warship, used during a REAL war, against REAL people, and was not an acceptable place for a fundraiser; particularly with the international focus of Stonewall 25. "Big Guns over Manhattan," indeed.
In response to the fundraisers on the death ship Intrepid, a group of people active in struggles around AIDS, reproductive rights, political prisoner support, anti-racism, anti-militarism, transgender rights, and others, came together. We created an open letter to the lesbian/gay/bi/transgender/AIDS communities about why the warship was not an appropriate place for a fundraiser, stating that there were members of our community who would not be complicit with this silence. We expressed our desire to be a beacon for those who wanted our movement to be more than just a `marketing moment.'
In conjunction with Stonewall Now!, we organized a well-attended forum, "Queer Liberation: From Stonewall to Sellout?" with speakers from Stonewall `69 through the present day. We held protests at the USS Intrepid, being a voice of opposition, while also distributing informational leaflets to people who were attending, with some deciding not to go in. We asked, "Why a hot queer scene on this US war machine?"
Out of all of this, we realized the need for ongoing study and action. We could not sit by as a movement which claimed to speak for all of us was hijacked by a group of people who only take us into account if we want to consume a product/service, or if we try to assimilate into a society that still debates our right to exist at all. Thus, we have initiated a study circle/action group called OutRage!, named after the direct action during the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian/Gay Rights at the US Supreme Court in response to the Hardwick decision, which upheld the rights of states to have sodomy laws which discriminate against homosexuals.
OutRage! is a study circle, direct action affinity group, and a conspiracy of hope. We are committed to ending oppression against all queer people while enchanting queer visibility. We are everywhere and so is our OutRage!
Contact us at:OutRage! c/o PO Box 7045 JAF Station New York, NY 10116-7045