By Rod Hensel
The Gayging Advocate
The first snowfall of the season came to Buffalo, NY on November 20. America’s long winter of discontent, as Shakespeare might call it, began on the morning of November 9, the first day of the Trump interregnum.
I felt fear and a world gone out of control on that day and every day since, Fear like I felt as a youngster in 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis, when it seemed the world could go away at any second in a flash of light. Fear I felt as a young man, when Gay Related Immune Deficiency (later called AIDS) was a mysterious force killing gay men around me as politicians and clergy made what many thought was a reasonable proposal to gather the gays together in quarantine camps to keep the general population safe.
Everything looked like it did before the election, but reality seemed to have somehow changed. The fear was being felt not just by the LGBT community, but by a plethora of other minority groups attacked and vilified by Donald J. Trump and some (but by no means all) of his supporters. It seemed like the winners, the losers and the whole planet had to just stop everything to try to realize what had happened.
Two days in, I got my first “normal” non-election related call from a field rep for AARP (American Association of Retired People) about a new project designed to create a dialogue on ageism in the LGBT community. It sounded so nice and normal but I said “the world has changed for us.”
The problems facing the community on Monday had been swept away by a new reality on Wednesday. It was clear to me, as one of those involved in the earlier days of gay liberation, that we had to get back to our roots and become organized, ready to act and once again be prepared to ACT-UP.
We are ill-prepared. We were so giddy with delight at marriage equality and the ability to openly serve in the military that we were sure all other discrimination, in housing, in employment and against seniors, would fall by the wayside through momentum alone. LGBT equality was inevitable, so we dismantled our activist organizations, like the Empire State Pride Agenda, and allowed those who hate us to draw us into silly non-controversies like bathroom rights for transgender people.
We closed many gay bars, the places where we once met and strategized a movement, and sold off our places in the gay neighborhoods for a suburban ranch house or a little place in the country. We traded in our printing presses and newspapers, which we alone controlled, for websites and social media dependent on mega-corporations and the government.
Most of us who were around in earlier times thought it was a wrong turn and said so, but also realizing our time had passed and a new generation must be allowed to take charge.
They must deal with the truth that all our gains are at risk. The closet door re-opens and beckons us back in. We elders can only give some simple advice: be organized, communicate and be ready to act when they make their first move. Let them know you are ready, but make them take the first move or they will brand you as hysterical radicals and quash you in the court of public opinion.
Be aware of all their actions and proposals and speak loudly to Congress where there are still minds that can be changed and still the power to stop the Executive Branch’s extremist actions. Don’t hide, be more open than ever, and remind all that we are their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and neighbors.
We must also act with others. When they attack those of the Islamic faith, when they want to wall out immigrants and break up families, when they say black lives don’t matter, when they want to cut programs that our seniors depend on, when they maintain their own “common sense” beats science, culture and education, then we must act in solidarity with those groups too.
Our winter of discontent has just begun, and “the glorious summer” Shakespeare envisioned may not follow for a very long time.
Rod Hensel is based in Buffalo, NY where he was a gay activist and Mattachine Society chapter president in the ’70’s and ’80’s. He later co-founded Stonewall Democrats of Western New York. He is currently helping to organize the SIlver Pride Project of the Pride Center of Western New York to address issues of concern to LGBT seniors, and writes on LGBT senior issues for Buffalo’s Loop Magazine. You can find him at facebook.com/rodney.hensel.