Will Phillips is ten years old, and he got into trouble. Not unusual for a ten year old, but his act of rebellion drew national media attention in the United States. The fifth grader (he skipped a grade) refused to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance because “I really don’t feel that there’s currently liberty and justice for all.” Will’s family has many gay friends, and Will has come to believe that to say the Pledge would be dishonest, as his gay friends don’t have the same rights as others. Rock on, Little Dude.
(However, it wasn’t refusing to stand that got him sent to the principal’s office. It was telling the substitute teacher who tried to make him stand to go jump off a bridge.)
Will’s caught a lot of crap from some of his classmates for taking a stand, who call him “gaywad” and other homophobic names. You’ve got to respect Will for standing up for what he believes in the face of such hatred; quite a few of the 40-year-olds I know aren’t that committed to their own beliefs.
Adam Lambert got in trouble, too. The 27-year-old American Idol runner-up caused a stir when he kissed his male drummer during a performance on the American Music Awards, an act that had all the sensuality of salmon spawning, but was still met with gasps of horror from Middle America. He also ground his crotch into the face of one his male dancers, which further horrified parents whose children were still up at 11:00PM.
Lambert is right when he says that women have been performing same-sex kisses and raunchy dance routines for years and getting away with it (although, not without the occasional controversy). This isn’t even the first time an awards show has broadcast a male same-sex kiss, as many gay and lesbian winners have kissed their same-sex partners before making their way to the podium. In reality, one can see more salacious TV mid-day on All My Children.
If Lambert got sent to the principal’s office, then the punishment didn’t hurt much. Sure, his appearance on GMA was canceled, but he wound up with more free publicity and interview requests than any artist with a new CD could wish for. It’s not like the people who were complaining about the kiss were going to be first in line to buy his album, anyway. Billboard reported the week after the CD dropped that it was exceeding sales expectations.
Adam Lambert and Will Phillips have a lot in common. Both have publically pushed boundaries of what is deemed socially allowable. But as we know, it is through such individual acts of disorder that social progress eventually comes. The next time a male singer kisses another man in performance, people won’t be quite as shocked. Similarly, the kids at Will’s school might be a little more informed about gay issues and civil disobedience should they encounter it again. Who knows—maybe one of the kids calling Will a “gaywad” might just grow up to engage in a same-sex kiss on TV years from now.
In a time when the gay rights movement in America is taking a beating, such acts announce that we aren’t going away or backing down anytime soon. We stand up and make a scene, do our own thing, or sneak in through the back door and appear on stage—we make ourselves known in some way.
Lambert and Phillips aren’t trend-setters when it comes to taking a stand. Many historians of gay history would point to ACT UP as the predecessor of contemporary in-your-face gay activism, while others would argue that the credit should go to the Stonewall rioters. Both have helped lay a foundation for the gay protest movement, but I would maintain that it was the active lesbians of the ‘70s who truly created a standard for pro-active social change.
By integrating themselves into pro-feminist organizations, such as National Organization for Women, these women successfully showed the world that the gay voice could be heard in mainstream and powerful political movements. The advances of women in the last 40 years is due in large part to a motivated group of lesbians who organized, marched, and lobbied alongside straight women. Unfortunately, the hard work of lesbians in the women’s rights movements has frequently been used as far-right wing rationale for not supporting women’s equality.