When readers ask me sincerely to stop for a minute and re-read posts written in real time and to reconsider, I try to listen. This blog has long been a conversation, rather than a monologue. So let me briefly say what I take away from this, having slept and prayed on it. My tone was increasingly off as the debate proceeded. I don’t think it was off in the first post, which I stand by in full. But as the debate quickened, my defensiveness segued into an appearance of disrespect for someone recently dead whose immense achievements, as I said at the start, overwhelm any flaws. For that, I apologize. I got carried away by the argument and forgot the person and those who loved her. That is against what I know I believe in.
And I could have made my positive point better. I just wished she had been with us because of the immense good she could have done. I would never have violated her right to self-disclosure, but it would have been dishonest not to express my sadness at her decision.
Perhaps a better way of putting this is to point to another American icon, Bayard Rustin.
Rustin was both black and gay and was integral to the organization behind the civil rights movement. But because he was gay, and had been arrested for public sex, he chose to be in the background of the movement and not be a spokesman, in case it would do more harm than good. But in his later life, he became a towering figure for many of us looking for role models as out gay men. He was a pragmatist but also deeply principled, like the late Frank Kameny. He faced, like Ride, several layers of discrimination, but he found the strength to break through all of them.
He was utterly unafraid – his spouse was white – and his politics were at odds with the New Left’s cooptation of gay rights in the 1970s. But he spoke out as a gay man after he had marched as a black man. He broke taboos in his own movement:
Today, blacks are no longer the litmus paper or the barometer of social change. Blacks are in every segment of society and there are laws that help to protect them from racial discrimination. The new “niggers” are gays. . . . It is in this sense that gay people are the new barometer for social change. . . . The question of social change should be framed with the most vulnerable group in mind: gay people.
No one is required to be a hero. But no one either should be judged too weak or oppressed for heroism. Sally Ride had a choice, as did Bayard Rustin. They are both heroes to my mind in many ways – and far more distinguished human beings than I could ever be. But Rustin’s shoulders are higher and broader. You can see the future from them.