Gay Rights Will Mean New Struggles
Timothy Patrick McCarthy is a Lecturer on History and Literature, Adjunct Lecturer on Public Policy, and Director of the Human Rights and Social Movements Program at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. He also teaches in the Committee on Degrees in Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
A historian of social movements, Dr. McCarthy graduated with honors from Harvard College and received his Ph.D. in History from Columbia University, where he completed his dissertation under the direction of Eric Foner. Dr. McCarthy's research agenda focuses on the relationship between human rights and social movements in three main areas: race relations and civil rights; LGBT politics, policy, and advocacy; and modern-day slavery and human trafficking.
McCarthy has published two books, The Radical Reader: A Documentary History of the American Radical Tradition (New Press, 2003) and Prophets of Protest: Reconsidering the History of American Abolitionism (New Press, 2006), and his third book, Protest Nation: The Radical Roots of Modern America, is forthcoming from the New Press in 2010.
An outspoken and respected leader in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, Dr. McCarthy was a founding member of Barack Obama's National LGBT Leadership Council, serves on the Board of the Harvard Gay and Lesbian Caucus, and, in 2009, delivered Harvard's prestigious Nicholas Papadopoulos Lecture, entitled "Stonewall's Children: Life, Loss, and Love after Liberation." He lectures widely on topics ranging from history and literature to politics and human rights.
Question: Do you believe there’s a generational divide?
Tim McCarthy: I think that there are certainly tensions. There is certainly some skepticism. And I think, you know, there are some young folks who wish the old folks would quit talking about back in the day. But that's true of all young people when they talk to old people, right? It's not just true of our community; it's true of all communities. But one thing that I think is important to understand is that there have been -- there are generations in our community, right? And thank God for that, right?
One of the things that's so tragic about the LGBT community is that we have a generation many of whom were lost to the AIDS crisis. And so, unlike a lot of communities, I think something that's very specific to our community is that we have the Stonewall generation that was there, that participated in the protests, that were part of that early uprising of gay liberation, the early feeling of liberation that came out of that movement. And then there was a period of time where we lost a lot of our brothers and sisters, especially our brothers, to AIDS. And there is a pain there, and there are scars there that will never go away, nor should they.
And so this idea that we're all just kind of free, and all this progress has been made, and that the young people in this generation that are coming up now have no worries, right? The fact of the matter is that there are actually rising STD rates and rising HIV infection rates in certain segments of this generation, certainly among young men of color. Young men in the African-American and Latino communities there are rising HIV rates among members of this generation. There are all sorts of considerations and struggles that this generation has to work with, and so and the progress that's been made will yield its own struggles, right? I mean, you know, it's one thing to struggle to earn the right to marry. It's another thing to struggle to make your marriage work, right? Then once we have the right to marry, then we've got to actually marry each other and make it work. And that's not easy, right? Nobody who's ever been married will ever tell you that.
I mean, what's the biggest crisis of the the worst thing that's happened as a result of the Goodrich decision in Massachusetts is that the Goodriches got divorced, right? You know, and I feel badly for them, but at the end of the day, like that court ruling was named after a lesbian couple that were heralded as heroines of our movement, and they should have been. They were very, very important. But they're now divorced, right? So that's its own struggle, is to figure out how to make families, how to make our families work, how to marry each other and love each other and stay true to each other.
And that's a human struggle, right? That's a human struggle that transcends all histories and all communities, and it's one that this generation is going to have to struggle with in a way that other generations have never had to because they didn't have the right to. But these rights also will bring out their own struggles. I mean, I see this all the time. And you know so I think we all need to be more alert to the differences that we experience and give witness to based on where we are in history. But I think we also have to understand that you know what? We all have struggles, and as a result we are all struggling people, and that that should be able to elicit a certain kind of empathy that can sustain us more strongly and more deeply that it currently does.
Recorded on: July 1, 2009
A clear generation gap separates pre- and post- Stonewall homosexuals. That doesn’t mean young people face an easy road ahead, says human rights activist Tim McCarthy.
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