Recently my friend Fred Fejes, professor emeritus at Florida Atlantic University and an authority on Florida’s LGBTQ History (“Gay Rights and Moral Panic”), delivered a lecture titled “Queer by the Beach: The History of the Fort Lauderdale LGBT Community.”
Based to a great degree on newspaper articles about bar raids, anti-gay violence and the infamous “Johns Committee,” his lecture necessarily stressed our hard times and ignored the vast majority of queer men and women who led unexceptional, though closeted, lives. At the end of Fejes’s presentation, during the Q&A period, an elderly gentleman pointed this out, noting that, even in the bad old days, “we had fun.”
I am frequently reminded of this quote, not as an historical reference but as a commentary on current events. In terms of minority rights, two steps forward are often followed by one step backward. Thus, the post-Stonewall period of gay liberation was followed by the AIDS epidemic; and our recent progress in marriage and military equality was followed by the current “state of emergency.” LGBTQ print and online publications like OutSFL fulfill our duty to our community members and our allies by informing and warning them about those who seek to do us harm, from the murderers of BIPOC trans teenagers to publicity-seeking governors who stomp on our rights as steppingstones on their way to the White House. This task is necessary and I would not have it any other way. At the same time, this emphasis on the negative tends to ignore the fact that, then and now, “we had fun.”
I always welcome the opportunity to quote one of my favorite historians, Barbara W. Tuchman (1912-1989). In “A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century,” (1978), she discussed the tendency of journalists and historians (like Tuchman) to accentuate the negative: “Disaster is rarely as pervasive as it seems from recorded accounts. The fact of being on the record makes it appear continuous and ubiquitous whereas it is more likely to have been sporadic both in time and place. After absorbing the news of today, one expects to face a world consisting entirely of strikes, crimes, power failures, broken water mains, stalled trains, school shutdowns, muggers, drug addicts, neo-Nazis, and rapists. The fact is that one can come home in the evening - on a lucky day - without having encountered more than one or two of these phenomena. This has led me to formulate Tuchman’s Law, as follows: ‘The fact of being reported multiplies the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five-to tenfold’ (or any figure the reader would care to supply).’” Good news is no news.
Recently Ron and I attended the Stonewall Pride Parade & Street Festival in Wilton Manors. Though we marched with a purpose - to protest the efforts by Ron DeSantis and others to push us back into the closet – the fact remains that we had an exciting time with our friends and enjoyed the best of what our community has to offer. In short, “we had fun.” Though we should always be on guard against our enemies, this should not keep us from enjoying all the good things that life has to offer.
Jesse Monteagudo is a freelance writer, journalist, writer and activist who is a proud member of South Florida's LGBTQ+ community for almost half a century. His first regular column, "The Book Nook" (1977-2006) was syndicated in a dozen LGBT publications in the United States and Canada and was considered an authority on LGBT literature. Jesse also wrote extensively about LGBT history, plays, movies and (for Toronto's The Guide) a regular column about gay adult cinema. His current, personal opinion column, "Jesse's Journal," began its career in the 1980s and has been published or posted in numerous newspapers, magazines and websites throughout the United States. As an activist, Jesse has served on the Boards of a dozen LGBT organizations. He lives in Plantation, Florida.