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Guest Editorials

Why do drag balls matter?

As I sit reading comments about Salt Lake City being named the “Gayest City in America” by The Advocate, I wonder whether our history has been forgotten or if this community actively chooses to ignore import parts of it. As an umbrella group, we are extremely diverse with equally diverse needs and wants. For many, we want to be left alone. For others, we want to have our relationships treated as equal. For a portion, we just want to be allowed to be ourselves. The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is too diverse to have a single agenda. I want to share some highlights from our collective history.

by Mikki Whitworth

As I sat reading comments about Salt Lake City being named the “Gayest City in America” by The Advocate, I wondered whether our history has been forgotten or if this community actively chooses to ignore important parts of it.  As an umbrella group, we are extremely diverse with equally diverse needs and wants.  For many, we want to be left alone.  For others, we want to have our relationships treated as equal.  For a portion, we just want to be allowed to be ourselves.  The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is too diverse to have a single agenda.  I want to share some highlights from our collective history.

EARLY GAY RIGHTS MOVEMENT

Prior to June, 1969, lesbians and gay men worked to find a place in society.  In the early 1950s, the Mattachine Society and The Daughters of Bilitis were born.  They worked to be recognized as equal parts of the greater community.  Even while acting as gay-rights groups, they still believed that they were sexual deviants.  They acknowledged that non-heterosexual people faced discrimination in every part of their lives.  The groups presented themselves as conservative and non-confrontational and were met with limited success.

BIRTH OF THE MODERN GAY RIGHTS

On the night of June 28, 1969, everything changed for the Gay Rights Movement.  The police raided a bar primarily patronized by drag queens, transsexuals and homeless youth, as was a normal part of their routine discrimination against homosexuals and transgender people.  On this night, however, the patrons of the Stonewall Inn revolted in what would be called the Stonewall Riots.  We continue to celebrate these events each summer at Pride celebrations around the world.  Over the next decade, several things changed.  Homosexuality was removed as a mental illness. Gay men and lesbians began to be accepted as part of the mainstream, but met some backlash from multiple sources.

BIRTH OF AIDS, DEATH OF MILLIONS

In 1980, a new disease appeared in New York and California.  This reversed much of the progress gay men had made. Religious conservatives blamed this community for the disease and the countless deaths.  Over the next four years, the disease spread to cities large and small throughout the United States and the rest of the world.  In Salt Lake City, the Royal Court of the Golden Spike Empire responded to the threat. Emperor X, Scott Stites, and the Court began raising funds and awareness about AIDS, as it was now called.  Another moment in gay history when drag queens and their allies stepped in front of a problem and addressed it head-on.

IN OUR DAY AND AGE

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act stalled when gender identity and expression were included.  In 2011, gay men and lesbians began for the first time in U.S. history to serve openly in the military, but transgender people continue to be excluded.  However, throughout this era, the transgender community made several important advances, such as the Department of Veteran Affairs making all veteran medical care available to transgender vets, with the exception of sex reassignment surgery, and the Department of State allowing transgender citizens to alter their sex markers easier.

The LGBT community has benefited from the action of many fine people, but when the discussion turns to those who are gender variant, there is a loud murmuring about the value of these people. Some question, “Why do drag balls matter?”  The answer is simple, “Because they do.”

Mikki Whitworth is a junior at Westminster College.  She is a disabled veteran and president of Westminster’s LGBT and Allies club, Alphabet Soup.

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