Friday, February 26, 2010

Prop 8 Trial Re-Enactment - Day 2 Chapter 5

Therese Stewart, Attorney for the City of San Francisco, conducts the direct examination of Yale professor George Chauncey of Yale University, is the leading expert in the country on the history of gay life in America. Chauncey’s testimony will address factors previously treated as relevant to the level of scrutiny, that is, how deferential or skeptical courts will be toward government, certain kinds of discrimination receive under the 14th Amendment of our Constitution. It took two transcript paragraphs to list the prizes won by his book, “Gay New York,” (I read that, it's at the Boston Public Library) which included a trail-blazing analysis of how discrimination against homosexuals (especially gay men) developed alongside the repeal of Prohibition in the early 1930’s (the Hayes committee is one notorious example -- it eliminated gay visibility in the movies) and with the rise of McCarthyism after World War II (a Lavender Scare grew up and exceeded the Red Scare). So his testimony is about how lesbians and gay men were made a "suspect class" for benefit of the hetero majority only, and have suffered widespread and acute discrimination and fearmongering over the course of the 20th Century. He explains how more than just sodomy laws were used to try to keep gay and lesbian people even from patronizing and gathering in bars, how military anti-gay policy came about, persecution and purging of gay and lesbian government employees and even priivate sector employees and the enabling of hate crimes. The bloody discrimination reinforced enduring patterns of anti-gay prejudice and hostility, forcing lesbians and especially gay men to endure the toll of the closet. The closet made LGBT people utterly invisible and has perpetuated “demonic stereotypes” of gay people, including past and present themes of gay men and lesbians as threats to children starting in the '50s, the latest examples being the images of such threats presented in the media in support of Proposition 8. He explains thoroughly that which the plaintiffs are arguing: these scare tactics were a form of irrational prejudice deployed in the Yes on 8 campaign to secure passage of the proposition.

Chauncey has agreed with most modern historians that homosexuality as a category of humanity was discovered only in the late 19th Century. Before that, law and society focused on the acts themselves (sodomy, etc.) and assumed they would come and go in many peoples’ lives. So Thompson, cross-examining again, presses Chauncey to admit that the category “homosexual” is a fluid one with distinctions between acts and identities, and that it’s not exactly clear what it means. As the day ends, Thompson’s cross-examination of Professor Chauncey has only just begun.

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