The Queen is Dead
February 2, 2013 in Important Things Of Our Time
With the passing of Ed Koch, the internet has been awash with comments to the tune of “This closet case should have done more about AIDS because he was gay,” coming from people of all sexual orientations.
Particularly troubling to me is when I hear straight people make comments like this.
Straight people trying to ferret out the sexual orientation of gays and perceived gays has set a bad historical precedent, especially for people of Koch’s generation. Up until the time he was in his 30′s or 40′s, an American could still be imprisoned or committed to a mental health facility for being gay. Prior to and during WWII, in which Koch himself served, an estimated 100,000 men were arrested in Germany under charges of homosexuality. 5,000 to 15,000 of these men went into concentration camps. Those who were still alive at the end of the war were not considered victims of Nazi persecution. Many were re-arrested by the Allied Military Government and continued to be penalized under the same Nazi-era laws, which remained on Germany’s books until 1988.
So given that even to this day, American gays and lesbians are not granted equal rights and protection under the law, I’m of the opinion that closet politics are best left outside of heterosexual jurisdiction, which is one reason I wasn’t too thrilled to “queer the census” back in 2010. If the government wants to know my sexual orientation, they can give me my rights first.
Not that it’s the same thing, but I think “who’s in/who’s out of the closet” can be likened to Malcolm X’s description of “house negroes” and “field negroes.” It is not up to straight people to decide who should come out of the closet any more than it is white people’s prerogative to determine who is a house negro and who is a field negro.
The closet is a sacred place. If you haven’t been in it, you can’t possibly understand it.
It is a matter of internal politics, to be hashed out between members of a minority community. It is one thing for a gay person to be angry at Ed Koch for not doing more about AIDS because Koch too was gay–naturally, we feel betrayed when someone like us, who has suffered like us, throws us under the bus when given an opportunity to make things better.
It is quite another for heterosexuals to expect that because Koch was gay, he should have done more about AIDS.
As a society, we place no special moral burden on straight people. They aren’t expected to do anything on the basis of their heterosexuality, other than have heterosexual relationships, if they feel like it.
Nor do straight people, and those who pass as straight people, have to carry the burden of being expected to spill the beans about what goes on in their bedrooms. If you’re lucky enough to be in the straight club, everyone understands that it would, in fact, be impolite to inquire. And whatever goes on in the bedrooms of straight people is assumed from the get-go to be politically inconsequential.
In other words, no person ever said “Because Rudy Giuliani is straight, he should ____________.”
And straight people shaming any gay person, closeted or not, for not doing more about AIDS only continues the heterosexual tradition of blaming the AIDS crisis on gay people.
When human beings are suffering, are dying, there is a moral imperative among all people, regardless of sexual orientation, to do something about it–not just those who are at the greatest risk, who are suffering the most.