Professor Joe Goldblatt
“Need a wee push?” The youthful voices that offered to push my yellow tricyle up Edinburgh’s the Royal Mile added new momentum and hopefulness to my personal journey under the bright blue sky.
Suddenly, without further encouragement, dozens and dozens of Edinburgh Pride Day parade participants joined in the effort of pushing my tricycle to help insure that we reached our destination together. The destination for many was our collective desire for a better world free from prejudice and filled with the promise of greater understanding, appreciation and love for queer people.
During my recent visit to New York City’s Greenwich Village I walked by the historic Stonewall Inn on a daily basis. This bar is now a National Historic Landmark in the United States due to the the revolution that occurred her one late evening in 1969.
Suddenly, without provocation, the New York City Police Department vice quad invaded the Stonewall Inn and began arresting dozens of patrons who were simply enjoying a drink and the fellowship of kindred spirits. One of these patrons was a butch dyke named Storme’ DeLarverie who was handcuffed and pushed onto the sidewalk. Storme’ turned to the crowd of gay men nearby and forcefully asked “Why don’t you guys do something?”
Her rallying cry was the beginning of what is now historically recognised as the Stonewall uprising when the patrons began to vigorously fight back. The police continued to battle the protestors until 4am.
The following year, a small group of gay activists announced that they would conduct a Pride march on the day of the uprising that occurred previously. I researched this event in the New York University special collections department and was surprised when I viewed a large treasure trove of black and white photos from this first ever historic event. Among the photographs is a touching photo of two mothers holding a banner proclaiming their love for their gay sons.
As I reviewed the many hundreds of photos chronicling this march I soon realised how courageous it would have been in 1970 and subsequent years to celebrate their pride in the public forum. I also noticed that the majority of the participants were middle aged white males.
The contrast between 1970 and the Edinburgh Pride Parade 52 years later could not have been more stark. The Edinburgh event may have been led by middle aged queer folk but the majority of the participants were twenty something young people whose creative costumes and bright smiles produced the kind of youthful exuberance that generated even greater pride than in previous years.
How the world has changed in little more than half a century for the LGBTQ+ community. In the early 1980’s as the HIV epidemic ravaged the gay community, my wife and I decided to try and help by hosting a fund raising dinner to support a local AIDS clinic in Washington, DC. The clinic primarily cared for gay men and others suffering from HIV. However, when we invited prominent US Congressmen and women, Senators and others to add their name to the honourary committee for this event, they all declined. They often whispered into the telephone following my invitation “Look, I am with you. I just cannot let you include my name.” Despite the lack of one prominent name associated with our event we still raised several thousand dollars to help improve the health care of gay men and others.
The current LGBTQ+ movement now represents the broad church of this movement. Their members include the following sub groups.
+ Gender Queer
+ Gender Variant
This is indeed a large tent that in a democratic manner endeavours to welcome and respect a wide variety of lifestyles and gender identifications. In my view, the queer movement is a role model for other groups in society who aspire to be all inclusive. In the academic community, queer theory is now widely accepted and utilised to explore and study established constructs in order to reject traditional categories of gender and sexuality.
However, despite their youthful exuberance and hopefulness, queer youths still have many constraints and hurdles that negatively impact their daily lives. According to studies by LGBT in Britain: University (2018) and Next Steps: What is the experience of LGBT+ students in education? (2021)
- Two in five LGBT students (42%) have hidden their identity at university for fear of discrimination.
- More than a third of trans students (36%) and seven per cent of lesbian, gay and bi students who aren’t trans faced negative comments or conduct from university staff because they’re LGBT.
- Almost half of LGBT disabled students (47%) have been the target of negative comments or conduct from other students.
- More than a quarter of LGBT students (28%) say they were excluded by other students for being LGBT.
- Students intend to be more open about their sexual orientation and gender identity in higher education, with overall levels of openness increasing from 64% at school to an expected 82% at university or college.When researching university choices, around a third (31%) of LGBT+ students paid specific attention to LGBT+ services. These included mental health support services (47% extremely interested) and university or college reputation in equality and diversity (46% extremely interested). 30% were extremely interested in LGBT+ societies and 21% were extremely interested in support networks for LGBT+ students.
In the past year I have held brief meetings with young women from a local university to engage them in local activism. Individually, they proudly informed me that they were bi – sexual or gender fluid. Although I was at first gobsmacked by their candor in announcing something I perceived as deeply personal, I was also greatly encouraged that they had the confidence to share their identiy so easily just as they might describe their political party affiliation.
My local Jewish synagogue is a role model for creating a safe space that welcomes the queer community and many of them are under forty years of age. During the past several years, due to the encouraging positive spirit of our Rabbi who is an activist in the LGBTQ+ community, many folk have joined us after discovering that their family roots were linked to Judaism through a grandparent or they simply were looking for an intellectual home to explore questions about their faith. These Jews have brought a new dynamism and broader experience to our community that has greatly enriched our worship and social experiences.
As the young folk pushed this old man who respects and in many ways admires the members of this evolving movement, I felt as though we all had for the first time in a long time, a stronger wind at our back. There was indeed a feeling of non stop momentum as if together we were breaking down some barriers, both visible and invisible, that have existed for a long time. Now it is the role of older members of this movement to provide the support the next generation will need to continue to thrive in a world that is often difficult to navigate when it comes to being different.
I am also happy to give the next generation a much needed and well deserved push through my financial support and advice so that they, as did the activists at the Stonewall Inn uprising, achieve even greater success in the future. Their thousands of smiles, bold strides, and loud shouts of solidarity at the Pride Parade helped assure me and many others that no matter how steep the climb, they are prepared, one confident step at a time, to reach their summit where these is a giant gorgeous rainbow awaiting their arrival.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland. In the 1980’s he and his wife hosted one of the first ever major fund raising events in Washington, DC to support a local AIDS clinic that primarily looked after gay men with HIV. To learn more about his views visit www.joegoldblatt.scot