Gay Pride and the Spiral of Silence

Yesterday, I attended the 44th NYC Gay Pride Parade. Standing on 14th Street and Fifth Avenue and scanning the thousands and thousands of marchers and side-line well-wishers, many waving the rainbow flag, I was reminded of an incident from a long time ago when I had the pleasure of having dinner with, among others, John Paul Hudson (1929-2002). John was a gay activist (at a time when there were very few) and out gay writer (at a time when there were even fewer).
John was one of the main organizers of the first New York City gay pride parade in June 28, 1970, one year after the Stonewall Riots in which GLBT people fought off the police on their usual mission of harassment (June 28, 1969).  And so it was especially nice to see members of the New York City Police Department and Goal (Gay Officers Action League) marching in the 2013 parade—as they have for many years.

But, the incident that stands out in my mind was a story John told about a book he wrote. Writing under the name of John Francis Hunter, he wrote a book called The Gay Insider. It was a guide to gay New York City. As I recall, John had a disagreement with his publisher and tried to prevent the book from being sold. I don’t recall the circumstances (or even if John mentioned them) but I remember that his publisher counter-argued that it should be allowed to sell the book since it already had orders for 600 copies that it promised to fill. When the judge in the case heard the publisher say it had orders for 600, his response was: “600? You mean there are 600 of them?”

The other thing this brings to mind is the spiral of silence theory, a theory postulating that people will voice opinions they think the majority hold and be silent on voicing minority opinions, opinions to which the majority would object. Before voicing opinions, people estimate the likelihood of positive and negative response. Opinions that are likely to get a positive response are voiced and opinions that are likely to get a negative response go unspoken.

In the 60s and 70s the demand for gay rights, for equality, for an end to harassment, for an end to job discrimination, and a lot more, was definitely a minority opinion and so the voice remained relatively silent, save for a few brave souls like John. Majority opinion was that being gay was a psychological disorder, a sin, and much worse. And this majority opinion grew, at least for a time. Gradually, however, more and more people (though still in the minority) spoke out. And, they spoke out loudly enough and continued to speak out even to the point of being heard and responded to by the Supreme Court.

And today, the day after some of the largest and most well attended gay pride parades throughout the country, I’m pleasantly reminded that speaking out for justice and truth—even when in the minority—eventually pays off.



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