Letters to the Editor of The New York Times

May 30, 2014

First Punch at Stonewall

To the Editor:

Re “Storme DeLarverie, 93, Early Leader in the Gay Rights Movement, Is Dead” (obituary, May 30):

As you say, we will never be sure who threw the first punch that sparked the Stonewall riot in 1969. When I interviewed Storme in 1995 for my book “The Gay Metropolis,” she denied that she was the catalyst, but her own words matched others’ descriptions of the defining moment: “The cop hit me, and I hit him back. The cops got what they gave.”

Regardless of how much credit she deserved, she gave me the best explanation I have ever heard of why the riot happened on that fateful summer night:

“Stonewall was just the flip side of the black revolt when Rosa Parks took a stand. Finally, the kids down there took a stand. But it was peaceful. I mean, they said it was a riot; it was more like a civil disobedience.

“Noses got broken, there were bruises and banged-up knuckles and things like that, but no one was seriously injured. The police got the shock of their lives when those queens came out of that bar and pulled off their wigs and went after them. I knew sooner or later people were going to get the same attitude that I had. They had just pushed once too often.”

Storme was a magnificent woman, and a vital figure in the gay civil rights movement.

Charles Kaiser
New York, May 30, 2014

Feb. 16, 2014

L.B.J. and the Shadow of Vietnam

To the Editor:

You report that Larry Temple, a former Johnson aide who is chairman of the L.B.J. Foundation, said “he had encountered people who believed that Johnson did not leave voluntarily but rather was forced out while still in office.”

Johnson tried to convince people that he had decided by November 1967 not to run again for the presidency. But the proof that the president remained undecided about whether to seek renomination in January 1968 is in his wife’s diary.

A couple of hours before he delivered the State of the Union address, the president went to Lady Bird in search of advice. He had included a statement in his speech saying that he would not run for re-election.

According to Lady Bird, the president asked, “What shall I do?” She looked at him with a “helpless feeling.” She wrote: “Luci hopes you won’t run. Lynda hopes you will run. Me? I don’t know. I have said it all before. I can’t tell you what to do.”

Sitting in the gallery of the House chamber, not even Lady Bird knew what her husband would say as he started to speak, writing: “Would he end with his statement? Did I want him to? Would I be relieved if he did, or if he didn’t?”

The president concluded without mentioning the election, and Lady Bird never answered her own question.

I think that the evidence is overwhelming that Johnson felt compelled to withdraw from the race only after Senator Eugene J. McCarthy’s surprisingly strong showing in the Democratic primary in New Hampshire in March 1968. So the truth is that he did not really relinquish the presidency voluntarily.

Charles Kaiser
New York, Feb. 16, 2014

August 15, 2007

Rove at the Exits: What Is His Legacy?

To the Editor:

By demonizing every political opponent he ever had, Karl Rove did more to coarsen American politics than anyone else since Senator Joseph R. McCarthy.

That is his real legacy.

Charles Kaiser
New York, Aug. 14, 2007

March 15, 2007

Of Morality And the General

To the Editor:

In a 6-to-3 decision in 2003, the United States Supreme Court declared: ''The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime.''

The petitioners were gay Americans, and the case was Lawrence v. Texas. The decision of the court nullified all remaining laws regulating sexual conduct between consenting adults in America.

Gen. Peter Pace should spend less time broadcasting his unfortunate prejudices and more time respecting the law of the land.

Charles Kaiser
New York, March 14, 2007

July 6, 2006

McCain Embraces Bush

To the Editor:

Re ''A New Partnership Binds Old Republican Rivals'' (front page, July 3):

Senator John McCain has abandoned any claim to moral courage by embracing President Bush and his disastrous policies at the very moment that a growing number of Americans have concluded that he may be the worst president we have ever had.

Charles Kaiser
New York, July 3, 2006

July 2, 2005

A Turning Point for the Court, and for the Nation

To the Editor:

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy says he feels a certain ''loneliness.'' He should recall these words George Orwell wrote in 1947:

''What does it matter to be laughed at? The big public, in any case, usually doesn't see the joke, and if you state your principles clearly and stick to them, it is wonderful how people come round to you in the end.''

History will reward Justice Kennedy's courage and intelligence. Many millions of Americans will be grateful if Sandra Day O'Connor's successor emulates Justice Kennedy's wisdom and independence.

Charles Kaiser
New York, July 1, 2005

February 20, 2005

'The L Word'; 'Q' Paved the Way

To the Editor:

Re ''She Likes to Watch'' by Allison Glock [Feb. 6]:

It wasn't Rosie O'Donnell, Ellen DeGeneres or Madonna's lesbian kiss that changed the zeitgeist enough to make ''The L Word'' possible. It was the success of ''Queer as Folk'' that made Showtime the world's most gay-friendly network. Before ''The L Word,'' there were ''raw and unbridled'' lesbian sex scenes played by Michelle Clunie and Thea Gill on ''Queer as Folk.'' Their trailblazing portrayals of that show's lesbian characters have helped to propel it through five successful seasons.

Charles Kaiser

October 16, 2004

John Kerry's Remark About Mary Cheney

To the Editor:

Re ''Cheney Criticizes Kerry for Mentioning Daughter'' (news article, Oct. 15):

How can Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne, pretend to be outraged because Senator John Kerry repeated what each of the Cheneys had already told the nation about their daughter on national television?

Elizabeth Edwards is correct: only someone who believes that it's shameful to be gay could assert that Senator Kerry has done something outrageous.

Charles Kaiser
New York, Oct. 15, 2004

The writer is the author of ''The Gay Metropolis.''

August 14, 2004

McGreevey's Web: The Personal and the Political

To the Editor:

Re ''McGreevey Steps Down After Disclosing a Gay Affair'' (front page, Aug. 13):

Gov. James E. McGreevey of New Jersey was not forced to resign because he was secretly gay. He had to leave because he appointed a secret lover (with dubious qualifications) to a state job that paid six figures.

The capacity of so many New Jersey residents to make that distinction represents genuine social progress.

Charles Kaiser
New York, Aug. 13, 2004

December 17, 2003

The News From Iraq, And the Democrats

To the Editor:

There is little substance to support the conventional wisdom that the capture of Saddam Hussein represents a lethal blow to Howard Dean's campaign for the presidency (''For Candidates, a Day to Celebrate First and Worry Second,'' news article, Dec. 15).

America remains locked in a war that has alienated us from nearly all of our most important allies. The two car bombs that exploded in Baghdad on Monday suggest that Saddam Hussein's capture may not have any effect on our remaining enemies in Iraq.

And so far, no one in the Bush administration has articulated a plausible vision of how we will ever extricate ourselves from this quagmire.

Charles Kaiser
Montsalès, France, Dec. 15, 2003

July 3, 2003

A Gay Rights Milestone

To the Editor:

Re ''Justices, 6-3, Legalize Gay Sexual Conduct in Sweeping Reversal of Court's '86 Ruling'' (front page, June 27):

The Supreme Court's landmark decision in Lawrence v. Texas is a triumph of justice and common sense, but it is also a triumph of politics.

The majority opinion was written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who was nominated by President Ronald Reagan only after a Democratic Senate rejected Robert H. Bork. The rest of the margin of victory was provided by two appointees of President Bill Clinton, the first president to be elected after openly courting lesbian and gay support. If Mr. Bork had not been rejected, or Mr. Clinton had been defeated, Bowers v. Hardwick might have lasted much longer as the law of the land.

Now Bowers will be remembered as the ''Dred Scott decision'' of the gay civil rights movement -- as the activist Tom Stoddard predicted at the moment it was decided.

Charles Kaiser
Paris, June 30, 2003

December 17, 2002

Some Lessons In the Lott Furor

To the Editor:

Re ''In Lott's Life, Long Shadows of Segregation'' (front page, Dec. 15):

The real stain on our nation is that anyone with such a staunch record of promoting bigotry was ever elected Senate majority leader in the first place.

Charles Kaiser
Paris, Dec. 16, 2002

February 19, 2002

Airport Proposal

To the Editor:

Given all that we have lived through in the last five months (news articles, Feb. 13), I thought that it was perfectly reasonable when I was asked to remove my boots for a detailed inspection at Newark Airport recently. But wouldn't it be possible to offer a person a place to sit? The simple provision of a chair would speed up this procedure considerably.

Charles Kaiser
Paris, Feb. 13, 2002

One Week Later: How to Answer the Horror?

To the Editor:

Re ''In One Vote, a Call for Restraint'' (news article, Sept. 16):

Representative Barbara Lee of California believes that military action will not prevent further acts of international terrorism against the United States. Although she was a minority of one in the House, she may turn out to be the most prescient public official in America.

Indiscriminate bombing by the United States will not increase anyone's security. And if we tried to eradicate every potential terrorist, our bombing targets would apparently have to include the ''terrorist state'' of Florida.

There is one rational course that civilized nations can take to make air travel safer. We can assign two armed marshals to sit on every commercial flight. El Al adopted that strategy several decades ago. That's why it is the only major airline whose passengers have never been successfully hijacked.

Charles Kaiser
New York, Sept. 17, 2001

December 19, 2000

Powell, Up First for the Bush Team

To the Editor:

Colin L. Powell (front page, Dec. 17) is not a hero to all Americans. In 1993, when he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he had a historic opportunity to ensure equality for everyone who serves in the military by endorsing President Clinton's original proposal to allow gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military.

General Powell could have shown real courage by emulating Harry S. Truman, whose decision to force the military to integrate its black and white regiments ultimately made it possible for General Powell to become the highest-ranking American in uniform.

Instead, the general allied himself with Congressional conservatives; together, they forced Mr. Clinton to accept the inequitable and unworkable policy of ''don't ask, don't tell.''

Thousands of gay service personnel have paid dearly for this policy -- some of them, with their lives.

Charles Kaiser
New York, Dec. 17, 2000

January 11, 2000

'Don't Ask' and the Democrats

To the Editor:

Vice President Al Gore abandoned the idea of giving a litmus test to future appointees to the Joint Chiefs of Staff after an uproar from current and former military officers (front page, Jan. 8). But Americans who agree with Mr. Gore and Bill Bradley that the current ''don't ask, don't tell'' policy is completely unworkable had no reason to cheer Mr. Gore's proposal either.

It was disingenuous for the vice president to imply that he could allow gay people to serve openly in the military simply by changing the composition of the Joint Chiefs. Unfortunately, the current policy is the result of a 1993 act of Congress, and a new law will be necessary to accomplish any fundamental reform.

On the other hand, President Clinton could immediately improve the lot of closeted gay soldiers, by ordering the Joint Chiefs to end the widespread harassment of those who are suspected of being homosexuals. His failure so far to do that gives a hollow ring to his publicly expressed disappointment over the way the current policy has been administered.

Charles Kaiser
New York, Jan. 10, 2000

December 7, 1998

Election Numbers

To the Editor:

Re a Dec. 4 letter writer's statement that only one of four openly homosexual candidates was elected to the House of Representatives in last month's election:

Actually, three of six openly gay or lesbian candidates were elected: Jim Kolbe of Arizona, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Barney Frank of Massachusetts. It was the largest number ever in a single election.

Charles Kaiser
New York, Dec. 4, 1998

September 14, 1998

Can the House Deal Fairly With Starr's Report?; Decency on the Web

To the Editor:

In 1996 the Republican-controlled Congress passed the Communications Decency Act to keep pornography off the Internet (it was later overturned by the Supreme Court). Yet with unseemly haste these same Republicans rushed to post the most salacious document ever produced by a Federal prosecutor (front page, Sept. 12). Apparently their interest in preserving ''family values'' -- and public dignity -- is rather pale compared with their determination to do anything imaginable to destroy the President.

Charles Kaiser
New York, Sept. 13, 1998

Return to charleskaiser.com