Sunday, March 5, 2017

Our history

I finished watching When We Rise, Dustin Lance Black’s eight-hour recreation of the LGBT civil rights struggles. I previous gave a summary of the Monday night episode here.

Wednesday night’s episode began in 1977.

I’ve heard of this kind of thing, but didn’t know gay men had adopted it. A gay man runs past, blowing loudly on a whistle. As he is cornered by men wanting to bash him many other gay men show up, including Cleve Jones. They threaten the attackers and bash their car. When police show up Cleve says something like, “We’d like you to give these men a ride in your car, like you used to do to us, though we actually have a reason.”

In 1977 Roma works to get the Women’s Building (no men’s room there) up and running. Cleve works to get Harvey Milk elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

At the same time Anita Bryant is a major force in overturning an LGBT protections law in Miami, prompting the overturn of similar laws in a couple other cities. That fight comes to California in the form of the Briggs Amendment, which said anyone doing any kind of advocacy for homosexuality could be fired from a teaching job. This included straight people advocating for LGBT people. Cleve and Roma unite their teams to campaign against and defeat Briggs, the first time that kind of law had been blocked.

Diane becomes pregnant with donated sperm and wants to raise the baby with Roma. It takes Roma a while to accept the idea.

The next chapter is 1981 and the start of the AIDS epidemic. This takes up much of the Wednesday and Thursday episodes. Ken loses his partner Richard. Because the home is in Richard’s name Ken becomes homeless and starts using drugs. He goes to the VA center for treatment. He has a hard time in his group therapy sessions because the leader pushes them to be honest, but doesn’t want the HIV-positive veterans to talk about being gay.

Cleve and his partner Ricardo find out they are both HIV-positive. Because Cleve is important to the community he gets early access to the drugs, though most of the early ones don’t work. Ricardo goes home to visit family. While there he decided he doesn’t want to face end-stage AIDS and commits suicide – at about the time Cleve gets medication that does work.

The AIDS Quilt is displayed in Washington and the Clintons take a lunch break to see part of it. Cleve challenges them to offer more help to the LGBT community to undo the harm of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and Defense of Marriage.

Annie is the daughter of Diane and Roma. In high school she struggles with having two moms. Diane and Roma put her in a Catholic school. The nuns don’t have a problem with lesbian moms – or that Annie’s father is a gay man – but they do want conformity from Annie, who learns to navigate giving the nuns what they want while keeping her own unique spirit.

The Friday episode begins in 2008 with the election of Obama – and the passage of Prop 8, in which the voters of California ban gay marriage. Cleve advocates for more inclusive civil rights laws, though is eventually won over by Chad Griffin and his effort to take same-sex marriage to the Supreme Court. Most of this episode is about that case, including a reenactment of the District Court case and the poor showing from the anti-gay side.

Roma is now a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. She helps bring about universal health care in the city. After Annie has a baby and decides to marry her boyfriend, in spite of her mothers’ insistence that the institution of marriage should be abolished, Diane and Roma become engaged.

After leaving treatment at the VA Ken gets involved in a church, one that insists in order to be rebaptized he must renounce his prior life. His allegiance shifts to another congregation that meets in the same building that is much more welcoming. By the end Ken becomes a pastor in that church, able to perform wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples as soon as the Supreme Court permits it.

I have one complaint about this last episode. It implies the Supreme Court cases to overturn Defense of Marriage and to permit same-sex marriage were argued and announced almost simultaneously. They were actually a year apart and the text of the ruling that overturned Defense of Marriage was used in a string of state cases that permitted same-sex marriage, which made the outcome of the Supreme Court case much more likely.

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