‘Right Side’ parallels past movements
Congratulations to David Dresner on his recent confrontation with military recruiters on the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and for building an alliance between gay and non-gay constituents in the group The Right Side of History. The recent articles in Student Life on Dresner’s activities called to mind two aspects of the old civil rights and gay liberation movements of the 1960s and ’70s (both of which I was involved in) which are relevant in the struggle for GLBT equality today. Both aspects are being debated within the gay community today, just as they were in the two communities 40 years ago.
The first is the need for unity. In the civil rights movement the question was raised of whether African-Americans had to struggle alone because it was their fight and because, as many felt, white people would be unreliable allies since they were not really affected. It is true that those most directly affected must lead any struggle and fight the hardest for their own cause. Both ideologically and strategically, unity is essential in any struggle, especially when a minority is seeking to redress inequities. The civil rights movement made great strides because black and white people worked, marched and held sit-ins together. Gay liberation had a major impact on gaining acceptance for GLBT people because non-gays (parents, friends, teachers) joined marches, lobbied the American Psychiatric Association to de-pathologize homosexuality and the like. It was indeed everyone’s struggle. Paraphrasing an old adage: “As long as one person is not free none of us is free.”
The second issue to come out of the civil rights movement and the early stages of the gay liberation movement was the importance of direct, bold action. It can be something as simple as confronting a military recruiter at a job fair, as Dresner did a few weeks ago. It could be even more effective if dozens of students, gay and non-gay, took the same action, especially if non-gay students expressed their unwillingness to serve in an organization with discriminatory policies. It is never enough to rely on promises from political figures and legislators to “give” us rights or make significant social changes. Coat-and-tie groups like the Human Rights Campaign, as much as they have done for GLBT causes, wait politely for gifts from the president and Congress. The Right Side of History sounds like a new and fresh start that might have a chance to effect some real changes.
Professor of Biology