‘Welcome to Your White House’

Growing up, I thought the New York Times’ slogan, “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” was sort of like that ad for the Yellow Pages: If it’s out there, it’s in here.

It’s hard to imagine a more far-flung network of news gatherers. Today’s paper alone has staff reports from Mexico City, Moscow, Hanoi, Jerusalem, Buenos Aires, Bogota, Cairo, London, Stellenbosch, and Durango, Colorado. And that’s before you even get to the National Report.

And yet there I was in a class a few days ago, discussing the Jewish thinker Soloveitchik, and the professor, Moshe Berger, points out that there is something unintended and much darker about the newspaper’s slogan. It doesn’t just imply breadth, as I’d always heard it. It also implies judgment and subjectivity: There is some news that is not fit to print in these pages.

News of the Holocaust, for example, Professor Berger said. Or, more recently, news that would have contradicted the official White House version of WMD’s in Iraq, in the run-up to war.

To this list we can add: news of the Stonewall riots in Grenwich Village, 40-years ago today, which launched the gay rights movement.

“I didn’t know a single person, student or teacher, male or female, in my entire Ivy League university who was openly identified as gay [in the 1960s],” Frank Rich wrote in his New York Times column Sunday, adding:

And though my friends and I were obsessed with every iteration of the era’s political tumult, we somehow missed the Stonewall story. Not hard to do, really. The Times — which would not even permit the use of the word gay until 1987 — covered the riots in tiny, bowdlerized articles, one of them but three paragraphs long, buried successively on pages 33, 22, and 19.

On that hot, humid night in 1969, police raided the Stonewall, a gay bar — one of the few places gay men and women could congregate without being harassed — ostensibly for selling liquor without a license. Normally, when such raids occurred, people would just submit or disperse quietly. On this night, they fought back, some 400 people in all, many attempting to stop the cops from making arrests.

An AP story explains:

Four police officers were injured, including one with a broken wrist, according to the Times, which described the scene as a “rampage” by hundreds of young men. Thirteen people were arrested that first night on charges including harassment, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest, the story says.

Today, President Obama marked the anniverary of Stonewall with an official ceremony, a “presidential first,” as the Washington Post noted, telling gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgender Americans: “Welcome to your White House.”

Obama has been fairly criticized by the gay community for failing to act on his campaign promise to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rule on gays in the military, and because his administration is strongly backing a legal challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act.

Speaking directly to the community today, Obama acknowledged his critics. The quote below is from the official White House transcript:

And I know that many in this room don’t believe that progress has come fast enough, and I understand that.  It’s not for me to tell you to be patient, any more than it was for others to counsel patience to African Americans who were petitioning for equal rights a half century ago.

But I say this:  We have made progress and we will make more.  And I want you to know that I expect and hope to be judged not by words, not by promises I’ve made, but by the promises that my administration keeps.  And by the time you receive — (applause.)  We’ve been in office six months now.  I suspect that by the time this administration is over, I think you guys will have pretty good feelings about the Obama administration.  (Applause.) 

My sense is, as Rich wrote, that Obama is moving slowly on gay rights because his is surrounded by alumni from the Clinton administration, who were badly burned when implementing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Obama “doesn’t want to risk gay issues upending his presidency.”

In the meantime, 40-years after Stonewall, a whole class of Americans just like you and me remain second class citizens, subjected daily to discrimination sanctioned by the law of the land.


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