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Song of the Day #1649

I introduced this song and essay on Facebook with the following preface: Whatever your social, religious, philosophical, or cultural views, if you embrace the basic principles embodied in this country's "Declaration of Independence"---and its enunciation of the individual's rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness---then it is time to take a "Stand" for Stonewall on its Fiftieth Anniversary. Indeed, as the lyrics to today's song of the day state: "Stand! You've been sitting much too long. There's a permanent crease in your right and wrong." Check it out:

Song of the Day: Stand!, words and music by Sly Stone, was recorded by Sly and the Family Stone in 1969. This was the title song to the group's fourth studio album and was the last song they played on their set list at Woodstock---this year's first bona fide Woodstock Golden Anniversary moment, the theme of our 2019 Summer Music Festival. It was also a song that was featured on the jukebox of the Stonewall Inn, which in the wee hours of this very day, fifty years ago, was raided for the umpteenth time by the New York City Police Department. Perhaps the police didn't get the payola they expected from the Mafia-owners of the bar, since bars that served alcohol to people engaging in "disorderly conduct" (code for simply being gay) would be denied a liquor license in New York City. But this time, the patrons had had enough; they were, indeed, 'mad as hell and not going to take this anymore' [YouTube link]. They pushed back, rioted, and fought for six days in a siege against political oppression---giving birth to the modern gay liberation movement.

For those who are uncomfortable with this whole subject, as if it were some "leftist" expression of "identity politics," we need to make one thing perfectly clear (a phrase often attributed to President Richard Nixon, who took the White House fifty years ago this year): Both "liberals" (going all the way back to the policies of FDR) and "conservatives" (of both the McCarthyite and religious right variety) have played a part in crafting repressive laws in the United States aimed at crushing homosexuality. It is neither our job nor our responsibility to change the minds of those who find "alternative lifestyles" repugnant or who believe that same-sex relationships are a sign of "sickness" or "sin". Whatever one's cultural, religious, philosophical, or political views, it all comes down to liberty. If one values human liberty, one must recognize that state-sponsored terrorism against individuals---simply because of who they love or how they love---continues to this day across the world. Seventy countries still maintain laws that make it illegal to engage in same-sex sexual activity, and so-called "leftist" regimes have been among the most repressive, in this regard. Whether in the name of politics or religion, these countries have used imprisonment, flogging, and torture to punish those who are different, and in ten countries, execution---by stoning, hanging, beheading, or being thrown off buildings---is government policy, legitimized by various states' interpretations of Islamic law. The battle cry of Stonewall is as prescient today as it was fifty years ago. Indeed, "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." And those who value liberty need to embrace a future in which the Rainbow Railroad [CBS News link] is no longer required to save those who are being persecuted in other countries for their sexual orientation.

In the United States, there were heroes in the battle for individual rights prior to Stonewall, who fought government entrapment and discrimination against "the love that dare not speak its name"---going all the way back to the 1920s, with the Society for Human Rights and into the 1950s, with organizations such as the Daughters of Bilitis, the Mattachine Society, and, among individuals, the courageous Frank Kameny, who challenged "The Lavender Scare" [PBS video link].

But the significance of the Stonewall Uprising by a group of individuals who were too often marginalized and brutalized by the police, the courts, and the culture-at-large is that, in its fundamental premises, it was based upon a sacrosanct libertarian principle: that every human being, regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, race, or sexual orientation, has a right to equal protection under the law, a right to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness, without infringement by the coercive, oppressive tools used by municipal, state, and federal governmental institutions. This month, New York City's Police Commissioner James O'Neill apologized for the NYPD's actions fifty years ago at the Stonewall. This was no mere nod to "political correctness." The commissioner recognized that "[t]he actions taken by the NYPD were wrong, plain and simple. The actions were discriminatory and oppressive and for that I apologize." Even the New York Yankees unveiled a plaque in Monument Park to commemorate this date in history.

We can listen to the lyrics of today's song as an expression of the libertarian spirit of the Stonewall Rebellion: "Stand! There's a cross for you to bear. Things to go through if you're going anywhere. Stand! For the things you know are right. It’s the truth that the truth makes them so uptight. … Stand! You've been sitting much too long. There's a permanent crease in your right and wrong. … Stand! They will try to make you crawl. And they know what you're saying makes sense and all. Stand! Don't you know that you are free. Well at least in your mind if you want to be. ... Stand! Stand! Stand!" I stand in solidarity with those brave men and women who fought for their rights half-a-century ago on this day. Check out the album version of this song and its energetic performance by the group at Woodstock [YouTube link].

Postscript (29 June 2019) Justin Raimondo, Outlaw, RIP. Justin lost his battle with lung cancer and has died at the age of 67, on the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion. I knew JR from way back when---going all the way back to when he wrote that monograph for Students for a Libertarian Society, "In Praise of Outlaws: Rebuilding Gay Liberation," which saw Stonewall and the rise of the gay liberation movement as a distinctively libertarian event. And he was right. A lightening rod for many people, antiwar.com was his passion, and though we had our disagreements through the years, he was always fighting against the policy of "perpetual war for perpetual peace."

Postscript #2 (30 June 2019): In another thread on Facebook, I had a bit of a discussion with regard to whether the struggle for "gay rights" is over in the United States, and I made the same point in that thread that I make here in my Notablog post: Seventy countries across the world still treat same-sex activities as a crime punishable by imprisonment, flogging, and torture, and ten of those countries treat it as a crime punishable by execution (beheading, hanging, and being thrown off buildings).

It was suggested that I might be implicitly advocating trying to intervene in those other countries to change their domestic policies; as a firm non-interventionist in foreign policy, I am totally against such intervention even for the purpose of human rights abuses abroad. But that does not mean that I favor the long history of foreign aid policies practiced by the United States, which involves expropriating the American taxpayer for the purpose of sending "foreign aid" to despotic regimes abroad, like Saudi Arabia, which are then required to use that "foreign aid" to purchase US munitions, which they can use in their wholesale slaughter of people in Yemen and elsewhere. US relationships with such despotic regimes is legion, and our current President believes "it is good for the economy."

Considering that the Saudis gave us 17 of the 19 hijackers who flew planes into the Twin Towers and elsewhere and that they were probably complicit in the 9/11 attack, I would say that what might be "good for the economy" is most definitely not good for the stability of the Middle East and other hot-spots around the globe, where the US has a record that even Trump himself once said was not so "innocent."

No, we cannot change the domestic policies of foreign governments that engage in violations of human rights. But that doesn't mean the U.S. taxpayer should be subsidizing them. This is not a battle for "gay rights"; it is a battle for individual rights, and individual rights don't cease at the borders of the United States.

But yes, Stonewall 50 is a a cause for celebration for all those who believe that individual rights apply to every person regardless of sexual orientation. And I stand in solidarity will all those who sacrificed their lives over the past century to get this country to recognize those rights.

Postscript #3 (1 July 2019): I added this comment to a Facebook post by Tom Palmer, who provided a link to a fine 2016 article by David Boaz, "Capitalism, Not Socialism, Led to Gay Rights:

Good piece by David Boaz and thanks for posting, Tom!

I've heard from quite a few of my very orthodox Marxist colleagues over the years who believe that homosexuality is one of the decadent offshoots of capitalism (guess they missed all that stuff that went on in the ancient world) and that it would wither away, like the state, under full communism.

They also leave out the part that gulags will play in helping the withering-away process.

Of course, orthodox Marxists actually reject the whole development of 'identity politics' (which the fight for same-sex individual rights is most certainly not) as a way of obfuscating the "essential" conflict between proletarians and capitalists.

I've argued this past weekend that the Stonewall Rebellion was in its essence a libertarian expression of the fight for the individual's right to live his or her own life, socialize in privately-owned establishments without police harassment, and pursue happiness without the interference of state-sanctioned terrorism. That fight goes on globally and even within this country; the battle for "gay rights" is not over, as James Kirchick says in "The Atlantic." If it is over, I invite anyone to go into the reddest of red states (or any sections in "blue" states in which "tolerance" is not a key cultural value), holding hands with their partner, and in open spaces, sharing a romantic kiss as the sun sets. Then we'll take a poll and see how many folks get their heads bashed in.

On all these issues of markets having changed traditional notions of the family, women, and sexuality, over time, I highly recommend the work of Steve Horwitz, especially his book Hayek's Modern Family: Classical Liberalism and the Evolution of Social Institutions and, of course, his essay in The Dialectics of Liberty: "The Dialectic of Culture and Markets in Expanding Family Freedom." Check out the abstract here.

I agree that the essential political and legal battles have been won, but changing political culture and mores is a long-term process, and often leads to a kind of political/legal backlash against which one must always be vigilant.

And as a noninterventionist in foreign affairs, while I would never advocate interfering in the domestic affairs of other countries, the fact remains that seventy countries still categorize homosexuality as a crime punishable by imprisonment, flogging, and torture, and in ten of those countries, it is punishable by execution (beheading, hanging, or being thrown off buildings). No, the US has no business being the world's policeman on violations of human rights, but the least it could do is to stop expropriating its taxpayers into providing "foreign military aid" (a fancy phrase to describe providing U.S. financial assistance to foreign governments that are then obligated to purchase U.S.-manufactured munitions) to reactionary governments, such as Saudi Arabia, which has a horrendous human rights record, and is using all those munitions to slaughter people in Yemen.

Ah, but our President says it's "good for the economy."