E. Winter Tashlin

History's Journey [Picture Tells A Story]

Filed By E. Winter Tashlin | May 02, 2015 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: beach, civil rights movement, equality, history, lgbt civil rights, Maine, PTAS, sunset, women's suffrage


Allow me to get technical for a moment. Today's photo, which I'm rather pleased with, is the result of a rather involved process. A total of seventy-three images were used in making this one picture, although all were taken/created in one evening. I could go into detail as to how exactly it was done, but it isn't really germane to today's post.

All that matters to the overwhelming majority of viewers is that the photo is pleasing to the eye, ideally pleasing enough for someone to spend money on a print or piece of wall decor. The journey from the sunset I and my camera saw, to the finished photo seen here, is one that the overwhelming majority of people who see (and hopefully like) the photo will not give any thought to. And while an experienced photographer can likely deduce what went into making this shot with little effort, most people are unlikely to even be aware that there was a lengthy process involved.

This is something I think about often in relation to the LGBTQ fight for equality, and indeed, with the broader quest for equality and civil rights in society. The complex stories of yesterday become distilled into simplistic anecdotes today to explain things, which to the younger generations seem not to need any explanation.

Less than one hundred years ago, women did not have the universal right to vote in America. The fight for Women's Suffrage, in the US and elsewhere, lasted for more than seventy years, and was incredibly divisive, often ugly, and sometimes violent. Yet my own high school history textbook distilled that rich and complex narrative down to something along the lines of "women fought for the vote and were successful in 1920 with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment."

Likewise, the Black civil rights movement is often distilled down to Rosa Parks, sit-ins, and Martin Luther King Jr. Growing up white and privileged in a Northern city, black civil rights was taught as a battle waged and settled before Apollo 11 touched down on Tranquility Base, with the sad days of racial discrimination relegated to the dustbin of history. The rich, complex, and ongoing nature of the fight for legal and social racial equality in America is often neglected in favor of an easy to digest narrative that discounts the contributions and history of so many.

In some ways the LGBTQ community has additional challenges to preserving our history and journey towards equality.

For one thing, cultural change in favor of our civil rights has moved faster in recent decades than either of the other examples I've given, although the true history of our "movement," as it were, goes back much farther than the last thirty or so years. Then the AIDS epidemic stole away so many of us in such a short time, taking much of our oral history before it could be recorded and leaving us with a "lost generation."

Today LGB legal equality, at the least, seems an inevitability not because of any predictions for how SCOTUS will rule on marriage (hardly the only marker of equality), but because the idea of sexual orientation discrimination already feels as alien to many young people as the idea legal discrimination against black people did to me as a boy, despite being born less than fifteen years after Loving v. Virginia. Legal equality for trans and genderfluid/genderqueer people still feels like a longer road, but even there progress is being made quickly.

I am sometimes astonished and upset at just how little about LGBTQ history younger people and folk outside of our community know, or care to know. I appreciate that they benefit from the results of the work done in the fight for equality in the hopes that future generations wouldn't have the struggles of their forebears. At the same time though, without knowing the steps that got us here, how can we ever hope to preserve those victories, claim a place of equality in society rather than just the legal system, or extend a helping hand to the next disadvantaged people fighting to claim their own equality?

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