"America’s greatest social advancements were spearheaded by those who dared to be different."


williamsGay Rights and the Crowd
William May

About himself, William writes: “I’m a non-traditional student who returned to West Los Angeles College after a long career in corporate advertising.” William will be matriculating to California State University Northridge this fall to complete a Bachelor’s Degree in accounting. He moved to California with his family as a young boy, and has always been enthralled with California’s rich and diverse history. He wrote his essay in his California Literature class, and regards Cal Lit as “the perfect fit to complement my business classes.”

Throughout our country’s history, specific groups and subcultures within our society have not only rejected social change, but have fought vigorously against it. Moreover, history reveals a common thread of deep-rooted fear and hate directed against those who espouse such changes. At the same time, American society chronicles a rich history of specific groups and subcultures that overcame educational, religious, and governmental institutions to blaze a path that has led to significant cultural and social changes. Those who dared to be different spearheaded America’s greatest social advancements. They didn’t back down; they challenged the status quo and prevailed. Imagine a society without the reforms brought about by the union, civil rights, or suffragette movements. Where would America be without their forward-thinking leadership? They dared to be different; they were non-conformists who didn’t follow the crowd. Such social movements are an evolution. They may assert a marked beginning, but never a discernible end. After all, such social movements are a continuum.

The Gay Rights movement has faced the same obstacles as their earlier counterparts. Despite significant advancements since the June 28, 1969, Stonewall Riots, obstacles to change, such as the Federal Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 ban on Gay marriage, illustrate hurdles yet to be overcome. In Charles Bukowski’s poem “The Genius of the Crowd,” he warns us to beware of conformity and the inherent hypocrisy of social institutions represented by the crowd. He asserts that the crowd stifles and attacks those who are not average, those who are non-conformists. Thus, being average and hateful is the only genius the crowd possesses. This idea provides a thought-provoking context in which to examine the effects of various social institutions within the history of the Gay Rights movement.

The Gay Rights movement has shown a gradual, yet consistent pattern of advancement. Prior to the 1970s, both the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association classified homosexuality as a mental disorder. Because of organized pressure after the Stonewall Riots, the national psychology and psychiatry associations elevated and expanded critical scientific research about homosexuality. They also reevaluated and scrutinized previous findings and compared them to updated results. The older findings consistently failed to produce any empirical evidence or scientific basis to continue classifying homosexuality as a mental disorder or an abnormality. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental illness, and shortly thereafter the American Psychological Association followed suit in 1975. Currently, homosexuality is classified as a normal and positive variation of human sexuality. Prior to declassification, these institutions were symbolic of both the genius and the crowd as depicted in Bukowski’s poem. He warns, “beware the knowers/beware those who are always reading books” (Bukowski 10-11). These two highly respected medical organizations of higher learning provided institutional cover not only to justify fear and hatred of homosexuals, but also to reinforce the ongoing discrimination against them. If not for the Gay Rights activists challenging the crowd mindset, these two groups within the medical establishment would have undoubtedly continued classifying homosexuality as a mental illness. Thus, it’s imperative for activists to continue recognizing and challenging such institutions when they represent the crowd and to expose the dangers of the genius therein.

Educational institutions have not been alone in portraying the genius of the crowd. Religious institutions have been an important social fabric throughout our history. We often look for these institutions to provide us with spiritual strength and guidance during times of our greatest pain and sorrow. Sadly, they much too often succumb to the genius of the crowd. Bukowski warns, “and the best at hate are those who preach love” (Bukowski 4) and “those who preach god, need god” (Bukowski 6). America’s religious institutions were conspicuous by their genius during the AIDS epidemic of the early 1980s. The sudden and unknown cause of the epidemic was used as an opportunity to promulgate additional fear, hatred, and marginalization of one of society’s most vulnerable segments at a crucial time of need: the gay community. Instead of providing care, comfort, and compassion for the afflicted, religious leaders preached damnation for those who did not follow the teachings of the Holy Bible and chose to live a sinful and deviant lifestyle.

Most mainstream religious institutions are unable to understand fully the concept of love. Bukowski asserts, “not being able to love fully/they will believe your love incomplete/and then they will hate you/and their hatred will be perfect” (Bukowski 34-37). The deep bonds of shared commitment and spiritual love are not restricted solely to opposite sex couples under the cloak of organized religion. Tragically, most mainstream religions are unable to accept or comprehend the existence of this love. Bukowski suggests that those who are unable to love fully will proclaim it to be absent in others. Such absence will not only justify their hatred, but also make their hatred perfect. The Gay Rights Movement is continually facing the enormous political and financial opposition of organized religion to undermine the validity and sanctity of gay marriage. Hence, it’s critical to identify these institutions when they represent the crowd and expose the dangers of the genius therein.

Established institutions ostensibly provide society with a sense of stability, strength, and security. Moreover, these institutions are especially called upon during times of personal and social crises. Unfortunately, the collective failures of these institutions throughout the history of the Gay Rights Movement are no different than their failures during the union, civil rights, and suffragette movements. The Gay Rights Movement is not unique in its struggles. History shows the crowd will continue to be a force of resistance. Nevertheless, history also shows the crowd not to be an immovable object. Its genius does not reflect a static IQ. Eventually, we will each come to identify ourselves with a particular social cause or movement. At that time, it’ll be easy to stand out from the crowd. It’s not wherein the danger lies. It lies within us, when we aren’t particularly captivated by a cause or movement. It’s when conformity seems easiest that the force of the crowd will seem immovable. Take heed; such an outcome is insidious. Don’t let it be. It’s the precise time when society requires your inner genius to rise and shine, to profoundly rise and shine above that of the genius portrayed by Bukowski’s crowd.