This is an intriguing topic and I must admit numerous learning experiences come to mind and the issue then becomes deciding on which one I am most grateful for. It seems easier for me to write on this topic if I change it a bit to the teacher for whom I am most grateful. I mean really has anyone ever learned anything truly on his or her own without at least indirect guidance from someone or something? I would suggest that we are not the independent geniuses we often think we are.
After more introspective thought here I must admit I have had many teachers to whom I owe a great debt. It starts of course with my parents who insisted and significantly sacrificed financially to send me to Catholic grade and high schools. Though I can’t say with certainty that my grade school years in particular were not more scaring in nature than growth-enhancing things did definitely get better especially in high school.
In my early years when totally immersed in Catholicism I was unaware of the fact I was really being brainwashed since I was not cognizant that there were other realities out there. A comparable situation today would be stuck watching only Fox news perhaps. Getting out of rural Indiana at the age of 16 helped immensely.
It was my senior year in high school that my horizons truly broadened when I became a pupil of Sister Alberta Marie. She was stridently against the Viet Nam war and exposed her pupils to totally different ways of looking at the world beyond Woodstock, Illinois. One weekly assignment in her government class was to read Time magazine, or maybe it was Newsweek, cover to cover and we would then have a ten-question quiz on the content. She would also often expose us to the thinking of many leading leftist activists and intellectuals who were opposed to the American Imperialist juggernaut thrashing its deadly way though southeast Asia.
She left the Holy Cross order shortly after I graduated and it was widely thought that she was pushed out by the local conservative Bishop. The last straw for him it was believed was that she brought anti-war activist Father Daniel Barrigan to the school for a lecture. Sister ended up in New York City working as an immigration lawyer and she celebrates her 94th birthday this June. I have written about her frequently for this group and for anyone wanting more details about this remarkable woman you can visit my web site (link provided here) and type her name into the search option. www.pjgourley.com
Another person to whom I owe a great debt to would be Harry Hay. I have written many times for this group about my relationship over the years with Harry and I would again refer you to my web site if you were to have any further interest.
Hay’s primary contribution to LGBT people was to insist we view ourselves as a cultural minority and his queer activist work for decades was always a reflection of this belief. It has become trendy to trash identity politics these days and they can certainly seem destructive when one identity is pitted against another. I sometimes think that queer people more than any other minority though have needed to engage in identity politics. Being essentialist in my theoretical bent I do think the identity did not need to be created, especially in response to oppression, as much as re-discovered and perhaps at times theoretically fleshed out.
I do believe it valuable to think of our diverse community as more of a set of cultural identities and I do think the enemy of our self-identity and growth as a diverse community is and has been most threatened by assimilation. I’ll close with a couple of recent events that may or may not reflect the inclination to assimilate.
The first is the recent re-naming of the LGBT Center to the just The Center. This was perhaps simply a dodge on all the politics that get involved in adding another letter to the name and therefore an internal attempt to keep the peace amongst the various identities that make up The Center. The worst-case scenario in my mind would be to create a bit of cover for the really queer things often going on inside the building.
The second issue I have were with the comments made by Mayor Pete I think at a recent Human Rights Campaign confab where he warned of the danger of identity politics and the definite abuse around white identity by the current president, certainly a true observation on his part. I would though caution us not to through the baby out with the bathwater. If it were not for decades of queer activism based in identity politics Mayor Pete and his husband would not have wound up on the cover of Time magazine.