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CIVIL RIGHTS

What do these people want?" ask some uncomprehending heterosexuals about the civil-rights demands of gay liberationists. "The same things you have," we answer, "no more no less!" In most of the states and cities of the United States, we gay people are not protected from discrimination. Whereas African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, and Jews face dreadful discrimination, they at least have the possibility of legal recourse. Gays, however, can seldom fight discrimination in the courts. Even the Supreme Court has declared our social identity illegitimate. Civil rights is the most important issue in the gay liberation movement. In almost every state, gay groups are lobbying for laws forbidding discrimination in employment and housing. Bigots have opposed equal-employment legislation, with the slander that gay firemen or policemen attempt to seduce their colleagues and that gay teachers corrupt their students. The fact that gays have been working in these occupations for years without creating such problems is conveniently ignored. Fortunately, gay cops and firemen are coming out on the job and teaching their colleagues about homophobia.

Many states have repealed their sodomy laws, but in approximately half the states of the Union, such laws are still on the books. Although statutes vary greatly from state to state, they generally prohibit a number of sexual practices performed by either homosexual or heterosexual consenting adults in private. These illegal practices include anal intercourse and oral-genital sex. The same strictures that penalize homosexual sex also forbid a husband and wife to sixty-nine although the Supreme Court has stated that it might mind its own business about heterosexual sodomy, but still okay laws against homosexual sex.

Yet another area of gay legal struggle involves children in divorce cases. In the past, judges routinely refused to award custody to a gay parent and sometimes even forbade visiting rights to gay parents.

Gay couples want to adopt children, but the laws of many states prohibit it. Even so, thousands of children have been adopted into loving homes. Gay people want the opportunity to be judged worth parents on the same basis as heterosexuals. (Read A Legal Guide for Lesbian and Gay Couples by Haydin Curry and Denis Clifford.)

Many people will be surprised to learn that a gay person may be prohibited from naming his or her lover as the beneficiary of a life-insurance policy. Insurance companies can also refuse a family medical policy to a gay couple and their children and insist that each member of the family take out a separate policy an expensive procedure.

Domestic-partnership bills have been introduced in a few cities. San Francisco has a registration service for gay as well as unmarried straight couples who've lived together a certain number of years, signifying that they are "families" and are to be treated as such in housing, employment, and hospitalization. A number of cities, among them Boston, Seattle, New York, and West Hollywood, have established limited domestic-partnership rights for their municipal employees; other municipalities are slowly moving in the same direction. Many private companies have nondiscriminatory employment policies that protect gay couples.

AIDS discrimination is still severe everywhere. Many straight people fear that they or their families will contract the illness. Homophobic politicians pander to the hysteria and propose bills to place HIV-positive men in concentration camps. Seropositive men have been jailed for having sex even when safe sex guidelines were followed. Some states (Colorado for one) keep lists of people who are HIV-positive or symptomatic; but, gay liberationists ask, for what purpose? Contact tracing and mandatory HIV testing are viewed by gay liberationists as new tools in the hands of homophobes to discriminate against gay people, and by medical and social workers as virtually useless in hindering the spread of the disease. Oddly, at the same time that money is being spent on these panic-driven efforts, funds for education about the AIDS virus have been reduced.

Immigration authorities have the legal right to forbid entry in the United States to any person who is HIV-positive, and immigration laws against gays have not yet been completely removed. This would require an act of the U.S. Congress. Fortunately, homosexuality can no longer be cited as grounds for denying citizenship.

There have been gains and losses in the civil-rights struggle. The gains have come about because gay people became more militant in their demands, and more efficiently organized. There is just as much need for militancy today as there was on the night of the Stonewall Riot of 1969, when transvestites attacked the cops, beating them to the ground with their purses and high heels. We believe that each of us owes a responsibility to those gay men who will follow us, a responsibility to make their lives a bit easier than our own.

One way to fulfill this responsibility is to join a gay-rights organization. It may be militantly political, or it may quietly serve the community. Some gay men think that such activity is truly the final stage of coming out. It is an enriching experience....

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