Honestly Out
Dudley Clendinen's photo

Dudley Clendinen

      . . . is an editorial writer for The New York Times. He is co-author, with Adam Nagourney, of Out for Good: The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America. Mr. Clendinen has edited essays on the American South and wrote the text for the photographic book, Homeless in America.  He lives in Baltimore, MD.

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The fundamental human right to be honest is central to homosexual men and women's struggle to be free. This urge is at the very heart of gays' and lesbians' struggle to claim their civil rights as Americans, declares Dudley Clendinen, co-author of Out for Good, a history of the Gay Rights movement in America.

Unlike other groups who have struggled for the rights assured to white, land-owning Protestant men when America began, homosexuals are bound together only by their feelings -- feelings about themselves and feelings about others of the same gender. They are invisible.

That's only one problem they face. At the time of the Stonewall uprising in 1969, homosexuality was illegal, pronounced immoral by vocal religious groups, and categorized as insanity by the psychiatric establishment -- they were treated as crazed, sinning outlaws. That's changed -- some.

Progress toward inclusion has been faster for homosexuals than for any other group, Mr. Clendinen found, but it is far from complete. First the good news. Gays and lesbians are no longer listed or treated by psychiatrists as mentally ill.

Now the remaining challenges. Thirty years after Stonewall, homosexual people still struggle to change legislation which makes sodomy and non-procreative sexual acts illegal. Mr. Clendinen, who reports on the Religious Right for The New York Times, makes a strong case that the Gay Rights movement is the latest in a long continuum of Americans struggling to separate church from state. Since the Religious Right (the bulk of the current Republican Party's political troops and energy) specifically grew out of opposition to gay rights, gays and lesbians are struggling against fundamentalists eager to re-impose a civil order which once reflected their religious views.

And finally, homosexuals are still challenged to find religious communities who resist the temptation to degrade them as irredeemable sinners.

The Gay Rights movement learned from all the other movements of the 60s and 70s and 80s, but emerged in the face of an increasingly conservative culture. And it is a movement full of tensions: women and men have had strikingly different objectives (usually, men focused on their sexual freedom, women on protecting stable relationships, their children and their domestic lives); it began with radicals demanding sexual liberation but shifted into a middle-class civil rights movement; its origin in mob-controlled bars (the only place they were accepted) has clouded its moral authority; and it lacked a unifying leader.

But rest assured. This is a movement that will never go back into the shadows, bars and closets from which it emerged. It is Out, in part because AIDS forced it Out. Mr. Clendinen and Mr. Nagourney's catchy book title reminds us of another truth. When this last great civil rights struggle of the twentieth century is complete, it will be good for everyone.


[recorded June 7, 1999 at St. Mark Methodist Church, Atlanta, Georgia]


Conversation 1

Dudley Clendinen tells Paula Gordon and Bill Russell how he and his co-author focused their history of the modern gay rights movement. He describes the effect of the lack of one central movement leader. He explains how many ways homosexual people cross every other human boundary; how they are the only group required to stand up and declare themselves in order to be discriminated against; and how they are the only minority group that contains every other group in the culture. He describes the temptation to "pass."


Conversation 2

Mr. Clendinen describes how gays and lesbians learned from all the other movements of the 60s and 70s and 80s, in the face of an increasingly conservative culture. Mr. Clendinen gives a glimpse of progress made since Stonewall (1969), assuring us that the struggle is not yet over. He explains how a movement of sexual liberation among radicals shifted into a middle-class civil rights movement, creating tensions still unresolved. He offers his opinion of why tensions between women and men in the movement continue. He describes the about-face among psychiatrists who declassified homosexuality as "insanity." He revivifies McCarthy-era anti-homosexual witch-hunts. Mr. Clendinen describes how Democrat and Republican Parties responded to gay and lesbian issues.


Conversation 3

Mr. Clendinen gives examples of "zaps." He describes progress made and needed to decriminalize homosexuality across America. He explains why the homosexual-rights movement is the fastest-moving, progressive change of cultural understanding any group has experienced through American history. He describes how AIDS affected the movement, describing the political anger and energy it engendered. He tells why he thinks the most American experience of all is the struggle to get rights equal to the ones that white heterosexual Protestant land-owning males created for themselves in the American Revolution.



Conversation 4

Mr. Clendinen lists all the things that he, Jesse Helms and Jerry Falwell have in common. He describes covering the Religious Right, a group that specifically grew out of opposition to gay rights, for The New York Times. He traces the reemergence of Southern Baptists into politics, the leadership changes that made them the bulk of todayâs Republican Party's political troops and energy. Mr. Clendinen describes the seemingly endless varieties of ways homosexual women and men relate to each other. He distinguishes between the interests of most gay men (to be sexually free) and of most lesbian women (to protect stable relationships, their children and their domestic lives). The right to be sexual is compared to simple civil rights.


Conversation 5

Gays and lesbians have a hard time convincing some that homosexual people are just as moral as anyone else, according to Mr. Clendinen. He compares the moral dignity of the the black civil rights movement to the Gay Rights movement. Mr. Clendinen gives credit to the (very few) traditional churches who have welcomed homosexuals. He compares them to fundamentalists who base their opposition on the Bible. Mr. Clendinen explores the role of religion in oppressing homosexuals and others, resisting the separation of governmental law from religion. Mr. Clendinen describes the Christian Right's eagerness to return its religious views to law. He shows how the gay rights movement worked at the local, state and national level, using the District of Columbia as an example.


Conversation 6

Homosexuals -- by whatever name -- have always been part of American culture and the human race, Mr. Clendinen reminds us. In addition to their basic civil rights, gays and lesbians want the most basic right -- to be honest, the freedom to be themselves. He describes the finality which led him and his coauthor to name their book Out for Good.



We are indebted to the St. Mark United Methodist Church, led by Senior Minister Dr. Mike Cordle, who welcomed us to record this program in their Social Hall.

St. Mark is a church which practices what it preaches: Everyone -- truly -- is welcome. We have also experienced their open arms in the face of the ravages of disease and the finality of death. We salute their work. Our special thanks to Pastors Mike Cordle and Phillip Thomason.

Related Links:

Out For Good: The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America, by Dudley Clendinen and Adam Nagourney, is published by Simon and Schuster.

Jonathan Rauch's Gay Marriage:  Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America argues for the social utility of a basic right.

Bishop John Shelby Spong (Ret.) has struggled for years within the Episcopal Church to assure equal treatment for all people.

Janis Ian is a famous musician and gay. Both have deeply affected her life.

Both Mary Ann Mason and Randall Kennedy are cited in this program.

Essayist and author Richard Rodriguez is also gay.  He characterizes Americans as “Brown” (the title of one of his books) and says that sex is at the heart of brown.  Americans, he adds, are uncomfortable with the fact that people fall in love.


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