Resistance takes many forms. For some of us, it means staging a demonstration or starting a political action group. For others, it means being defiantly different in a society that hates difference. As John Rechy and Charley Shively noted more than three decades ago, queer sexual activity was in itself subversive in states that (pre-Lawrence) criminalized sodomy and used our outlaw status to justify discrimination and violence.
"Historically, gay men have been willing to take many risks to fulfill their desires for specific sexual acts with other men," wrote the late Eric Rofes in Dry Bones Breathe: Gay Men Creating Post-AIDS Identities and Cultures. "Men have risked loss of jobs, loss of families, and loss of life." All this can be attributed to the power of the sex drive - the same force that makes salmon swim upstream leads some men to have sex in public places. But Rofes agreed with Ilan Meyer in his opinion that gay sex is more than just the means to scratch an itch: "Gay sex is also about identity."
To a large extent, the history of LGBT people in the US is the history of resistance. Jonathan Ned Katz wrote about it in his classic Gay American History (1976), in a chapter aptly entitled "Resistance." Another great gay history book, John Loughery's The Other Side of Silence: Men's Lives and Gay Identities (1998), is likewise the history of five generations of gay Americans who were determined to express their sexuality and fulfill their identity in spite of all opposition. Unlike other gay histories, The Other Side of Silence goes beyond New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles to uncover gay life and gay resistance in places like Boise, Denver, Louisville, New Haven and Omaha. In Loughery's book the Stonewall Riots of 1969 are merely the climax of a "maelstrom" year of mounting LesBiGay and Trans resistance.
History provides us with many examples of GLBT resistance. Through the years, queer people continued to live, work, love, cruise, have sex, find lovers and create music, literature and art in spite of repeated attempts to kill, maim, jail, raid, fire, evict, cure or vote against us. Acts of gay resistance happened all the time, and at the most unexpected places.
One of those acts took place 38 years ago in South Florida's Dania Beach, now John U. Lloyd State Park. Already a favorite gay hangout, in 1962 the gay men on Dania Beach faced two enemies: police officers who harassed and arrested them for "lewd and lascivious" acts and straight teenagers who rode their dune buggies at top speed to scare away the "fags."
Though police harassment remains a problem till this day, the young gays on Dania Beach eventually took care of the riders. According to the late Jerry Mitchell, a South Florida gay and AIDS activist, some gay men buried pieces of wood with protruding nails in the sand. When the buggies came by later that day, their tires got punctured. Angered by this unexpected turn of events, the riders jumped out of their cars ready to fight.
However, instead of encountering a group of frightened sissies, the homophobic dune drivers encountered a bunch of angry fags wielding baseball bats they had kept hidden in the sand. These gay men, the "Purple Panthers," are now a proud footnote in the history of GLBT resistance.
Three years later, in Pensacola, some gay men came up with a novel way to deal with the postal authorities' annoying (and illegal) habit of opening "plain brown" envelopes that were addressed to "single" men. According to Loughery, these men dealt with their dilemma by having all of their mail order books, magazines, films, etc. sent to a mythical "Emma Jones" at a local post office box. One good idea led to another; and in 1966 those men decided that "Emma Jones" should host a beach party on the Fourth of July weekend. Though "Emma" sent out 25 invitations to her first beach bash, 50 people showed up. Attendance grew to 200 people (including women) in 1967 and to 400 in 1968. To make a long story short, by the early 1970s "Emma Jones" was hosting "the largest gay gathering held in the South to date." Over two thousand men took part in activities which lasted all weekend long and included elaborate drag revues and the Mr. Gay U.S.A. contest. Black men and white men socialized in what was still a segregated South. According to Loughery, by 1974 this isolated act of gay resistance had made a major impact on gay life in the Southland. Thanks to Emma, "innumerable friendships had been made, an example of gay economic clout had been established, and an exuberant gay presence had asserted on the Florida panhandle that, whatever the setbacks ahead, would never disappear entirely."
It takes more courage to be lesbian or gay, bisexual or transgender in Pensacola Beach than in the Castro, Chelsea, West Hollywood or Wilton Manors. Just being on the streets and saying "I am gay" or holding your partner's hand is an act of resistance when it is done in the Bible Belt. The late, great activist Jack Nichols lived the last three decades of his life in Cocoa Beach, Florida, where he continued to be openly and uniquely himself.
For years South Carolina held its annual Pride Parade in a town or a city that had experienced homophobic acts, which in South Carolina could be anywhere. One year South Carolina Pride was held in Greenville, where the County Commission had passed a resolution condemning "the gay lifestyle." Another year it was held on Myrtle Beach, where the mayor had a record of making phobic remarks. In 2005 South Carolina Pride was held in the capital city of Columbia, and once again thousands of lesbian women, gay men, bisexual and transgendered people and our straight friends came out to declare once again, in this Southern Baptist state, that we are here, that we are queer, and that we are not going away.