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We were wild once


Cardinal Francis George told the Chicago Tribune that “two men or two women cannot consummate a marriage. It’s a physical impossibility.” After that statement, I was hoping for an appropriate response from the queer community.

I’d love to have seen a gay or lesbian couple getting down and dirty before the altar of whatever cathedral the cardinal calls home. I prefer the idea of collective action, so how about a mass demonstration of same sex copulation to bring on the headlines and howls of outrage?

Vanessa Redgrave, playing free-spirited dance pioneer Isadora Duncan in the 1968 biopic “Isadora,” shouts at a disapproving audience: “We were wild once! Don’t let them tame you!” 

On the way to achieving legal equality and respect for our relationships, we’ve all become so darn well-behaved. The focus-grouped and leadership-approved plea seems to be: “Please accept us. We’re just like you.” 

I understand why this is seen as the most pragmatic approach, but I’m uncomfortable with the fact that pleas have replaced demands. I understand that we want to be effective, but can’t we also be a little outrageous and have fun along the way? Can’t we be “gay” for heaven’s sake?

In my activist youth in the 1970s and ’80s, I was a “bad” lesbian feminist, doing things that organizational leaders often disapproved. Once, the anti-feminist group Eagle Forum held an event to warn the public that the Equal Rights Amendment would bring on co-ed restrooms and rampant lesbianism. A few of us freaked out the right-wing ladies by presenting them with copies of Jill Johnston’s “Lesbian Nation.”

In 1978, the Wisconsin Legislature was voting to ban state funds for poor women’s abortions. We knew the vote was lost but we held a weeklong vigil and big rally at the Capitol anyway. The night before the vote, we purchased every pipe cleaner and red magic marker in Madison. We pulled an all-nighter shaping thousands of tiny, blood-marked coat hangers, which we showered on the legislators when they took their infamous vote. We hung a huge banner with the word “SHAME” from the gallery and were ejected by Capitol cops.

As a reporter covering the heyday of ACT UP and Queer Nation in Milwaukee from 1989 to 1995, I have great memories of their bold actions. They raised the hackles of some schools and parents by promoting safer sex through condom distributions at high school proms. They disrupted the mayor’s State of the City speech. They physically assaulted the Milwaukee Police Department to protest police incompetence in the Jeffrey Dahmer case. Dipping their hands in red paint and slapping them on the police building, they shouted that the MPD had “blood on its hands.” Arrests ensued.

Some will probably say that the issues are not as critical now, that we have reached a level of acceptance that makes militancy unnecessary. They will cite the biggest bugaboo – that such tactics are counterproductive.

In fact, in-your-face tactics were sometimes very productive. Militant protesters and mainstream groups formed a kind of “good cop/bad cop” dynamic in which the militants dramatically raised awareness and made demands; then the mainstream leaders moved in to obtain concessions and compromises with authorities.

Active, creative protests build solidarity among participants and demonstrate there will be organized resistance to unfair policies and ignorant pronouncements like those of Cardinal George. They can also be lots of fun. 

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