History is pretty awesome. Because when you are in tune with it, it gives you something to build off of, and then you don't have to reinvent the wheel every time you are passionate about something. LGBT movements sort of recognize this, and have celebrations that honor things like the Stonewall Riots, but guess what... they often neglect to look back any further than that.

Forget the homophile activism that took place in the decade prior, and further, forget that while Stonewall gained national prominence, US history is ripe with different forms of resistance against gender and sexuality norms. Forget the gays in the holocaust, forget the myriad of non-European cultures that prior to falling victim to Imperialism had much better social systems for acknowledging the wide array of human gender and sexual and behavior.

I bring up all these things to oppose the sovereignty of one simple idea, an idea that I think drives a lot of Moderates in the US, which is that time will bring progress. This idea is often conflated with the notion that progress takes time (which, while technically true, is woefully overemphasized and used as a reason to make progress take way more time than it actually needs to). Even in the rather shallow collective memory of the US, one can see evidence that progress and time are not marching together; the very active 60s and 70s have left us with a watered down memory of MLK Jr. and a frighteningly pervasive discourse that reduces much of the radical activity of the time to unnecessary violence. We constantly fight waves of anti-muslim sentiment. If progress and time correlate at all, it is certainly one of the more tenuous journeys that can be imagined.

There are lenses through which a correlation can be seen; legally recognized gay marriage rights in the US for example have been moving fairly steadily forward in recent times, with backlashes being mostly immediate rather than a product of backward marching social thought. But even things like this can be contrasted to assaults on affirmative action and the prevalence of post-racial, post-sexist discourses. The most mainstream view of US history will focus on the strides that have been made, ignore deviations to this storyline, and with the aid of the wow factor of obvious technological differences, make the heroic claim that the US is a better nation today than it was when we separated from England.

And in reality, time can only bring progress if our collective memory deepens and provides more universal exposure to the full mosaic of historical struggle and social thought.

This post was prompted by my recent reading of a 20 year old article published in a local LGBT publication that asked the question “why is the gay deaf population leaving the area?” I never knew that my area had one, and upon further investigation, there were lots of things we used to have. It saddened me, because though my area is half in Iowa, so the Quad Cities has access to legal marriage equality, there are definitely things in our past that I would trade it in for.

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