The Daily Agenda for Friday, February 15
February 15th, 2013
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Michael Swift’s “The Gay Revolutionary”: 1987. Think back to what the beginning of 1987 was like. AIDS was ravaging the gay community, with nearly 25,000 dead and AZT, the first U.S. government-approved treatment for HIV therapy, wouldn’t become FDA approved for another month. The year would be the year of the cri de coeur, with ACT-Up’s formation that year being the most visible manifestation of the growing anger over the apparent indifference on the part of public officials in New York City and Washington, D.C., as well as the overt hostility that the epidemic engendered in much of conservative Christianity.
Another cry rang out from Boston, although it was little noticed at the time. Just another crazy essay from the often-provocative Gay Community News. This one, written under the byline of Michael Swift was printed and then soon forgotten, until two years later when Rep. William Dannemeyer (R-CA) read it into the Congressional Record:
We shall sodomize your sons, emblems of your feeble masculinity, of your shallow dreams and vulgar lies. We shall seduce them in your schools, in your dormitories, in your gymnasiums, in your locker rooms, in your sports arenas, in your seminaries, in your youth groups, in your movie theater bathrooms, in your army bunkhouses, in your truck stops, in your all male clubs, in your houses of Congress, wherever men are with men together. Your sons shall become our minions and do our bidding. They will be recast in our image. They will come to crave and adore us.
…All laws banning homosexual activity will be revoked. Instead, legislation shall be passed which engenders love between men.
All homosexuals must stand together as brothers; we must be united artistically, philosophically, socially, politically and financially. We will triumph only when we present a common face to the vicious heterosexual enemy.
If you dare to cry faggot, fairy, queer, at us, we will stab you in your cowardly hearts and defile your dead, puny bodies.
…We shall be victorious because we are fueled with the ferocious bitterness of the oppressed who have been forced to play seemingly bit parts in your dumb, heterosexual shows throughout the ages. We too are capable of firing guns and manning the barricades of the ultimate revolution.
Tremble, hetero swine, when we appear before you without our masks.
From there, the essay became the anti-gay establishment’s favorite example of the so-called “homosexual agenda.” Lou Sheldon’s Traditional Values Coalition put out a notorious video, “Gay Rights, Special Rights,” which repeated passages from the so-called manifesto and paired it with ominous music and pictures of children. In the 2001 book, Bringing Up Boys, Focus on the Family’s James Dobson cited Swift’s essay (retitling it “Goals of the Homosexual Movement”) as evidence that parents must protect their children from homosexuals. “Guard them night and day when they are young,” he wrote. “Don’t send them into a public bathroom alone.” In more recent years, the so-called manifesto has gone international — from Latvia and Russia, to Uganda and Jamaica — and it still re-emerges from time to time here at home.
But every time the essay is repeated by anti-gay extremists, they always carefully omit a vitally important component of the piece, just as that component was skipped when Dannemeyer read it into the Congressional Record. And for the essay to serve their purpose, it’s critical this crucial piece be left out, because it’s impossible to understand the true nature of the essay without it. That piece that they always leave out is this, the prologue:
This essay is an outré, madness, a tragic, cruel fantasy, an eruption of inner rage, on how the oppressed desperately dream of being the oppressor.
The name of the essay’s author, Michael Swift, should also be a clue. Nobody knows who the real author is, but the essayist clearly took his cue from the famous satirist Jonathan Swift, whose 1729 essay A Modest Proposal – in which the other Swift suggested that the easiest way to ease the crushing poverty in Ireland was for the Irish to sell their plentiful babies as a food delicacy for the rich — created a wave of outrage in England for the way that he savaged the condescending attitudes of those behind many of the illogical solutions that had been proposed at that time.
The 20th-century Swift’s essay, similarly, satirized the attitudes behind some of the worst homophobic expressions that were then being unleashed in 1987, by perfectly mimicking how those homophobes imagined the worst of the “militant homosexuals.” He mimicked their prejudices so well that they took it as a genuine manifesto, and it’s that accomplishment which makes it, I think, a perfect satire. But it’s also ironic that whose whose attitudes Michael Swift satirized so well found such a nearly perfect weapon in that very same essay. Michael Bronski, who had been a features writer for Gay Community News when the first essay ran, later developed second thoughts about it. In 2003, Bronski said, “We printed it thinking that it was sort of funny. It’s been picked up by all these lunatic right-wing fringe people. In retrospect, it’s caused so much… it keeps getting quoted as being serious by people on the right and it simply was making a political point, using humor. I personally would, knowing how much it’s been misrepresented, I would think twice about printing it then.”
Edwin Cameron: 1953. As far as closets go, the outspoken Justice on South Africa’s Constitutional Court has obliterated the biggest ones: he’s gay and he’s HIV-positive. Justice Cameron was a human rights lawyer during Africa’s Apartheid years in the 1980s, where he co-drafted the Charter of Rights on AIDS and HIV, co-founded the AIDS Consortium, and was the first director of the LAIDS Law Project. As Apartheid crumbled, he worked to safeguard human rights, including the rights of LGBT people, in the new Constitution of South Africa.
In 1994, President Nelson Mandela appointed him an Acting Judge of the High Court, an appointment that became permanent in 1995. By then, he had long been out of the gay closet, but in in 1998, after a poor black woman living in a township in Durban went on the radio to talk about having AIDS and was killed three weeks later, he decided it was time to come out of the HIV closet. “I thought if [this woman], without any protection, living in a township, not behind a palisade like I do in my middle-class suburb in Johannesburg, not with the income of a judge, not with the constitutional protection… I thought that I should speak out…”
In 1999, he became an Active Justice on the Constitutional Court before being appointed to the Supreme Court of Appeal in 2000. In 2009, he was made a permanent Justice of the Constitutional Court by President Kgalema Motlanthe.
If you know of something that belongs on the agenda, please send it here. Don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).
And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?