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Kate Clinton - Lesbian Comedian - Talks About LGBT Movement

Kate Clinton, Lesbian History and Stonewall

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Kate Clinton

Kate Clinton

© David Rodgers
Updated July 06, 2011
Kate Clinton is a comedian, author, political commentator, activist and actor. She’s been out and involved in the LGBT movement for decades. As we approach the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, Kate Clinton sat down and spoke with Lesbian Life about the changes the LGBT movement has seen in the past 40 years, why she thinks technology is good for the gays and how young activists are firing her up.

You put a call out on Facebook that you wanted to do some interviews around the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, so what did you want to talk about?

I don’t know if we’re celebrating it enough, if people are talking about it enough.

Obama issued a proclamation. What are your thoughts on that?

That’s fabulous and now we need some other action. We need employment non-discrimination passed, we need don’t ask, don’t tell thrown out, we need DOMA overturned. There’s lots more he can do.

I want to get back to Stonewall in a minute, but since we’re on the topic of current legislation: hate crimes, don’t ask, don’t tell, same-sex marriage, these are the issues that seem to be galvanizing our community right now. Is there something else you think we should be fighting for, or do you think we’re on target?

I do think that what I’ve learned in the movement is you can’t really tell what people are going to get behind. I don’t know if I would have chosen gays in the military or gay marriage as my issue, but I’m down with it! What I think we need to do, as a way to make connections with people working in other movements is to work against violence. That means we can certainly include violence against gays, the anti-bullying stuff that’s coming up through various states, which I think is wonderful. I also think it connects us to the women’s movement, it connects us to feminism and it connects us very closely, of course, to anti-war. As an opportunity to connect with other progressive people I would do things about violence.

Do you think our community connected enough to other movements?

I don’t think we have enough, I think we’re getting it. We don’t have enough people speaking about gay equality who are not necessarily gay. I think we need that. I think that was one of the painful lessons of Prop 8 (Prop Hate) that we really did not make coalition with people who are there to help us. It’s one of those wonderful, painful learning moments.

A while ago, you talked about how we had gone from being a gay movement to being a gay market. And that our community seemed to be more about commercialism than activism. What are your thoughts now? Do you think activism is back?

I do. I think one of the things that was exciting to me after some of the rallies that I’ve been at after Prop 8 is to see the number of fabulously entitled gay people. They were serious about it. They were like, what do you mean I can’t get married? It’s wonderful. It’s delightful. I’m learning a lot from it. Why am I asking for something that should just be the way it is.

Let’s get back and talk about Stonewall. Where were you in June of 1969?

In June of 1969 I had just graduated from a small Jesuit college in upstate New York.

Were you out yet in 1969?

No, when I look back I was in a gay resistance movement. Resisting my own trying to come out. I really didn’t come out until 78. And I came out in 78 because I just kept meeting wonderful gay people who challenged me. Like, “Oh yeah, you’re straight (sarcastically).” So I was there in 1969 and I do remember hearing about it.

What were you involved in in 1969? The anti-war movement?

I was. You’ve got to remember through my college years I lived at home. By day we would take over the administration building and then I would go home and my father would be waiting up and say, what did you do today? Yes, I was involved in that and the burgeoning of the feminist movement. In the past 40 years what events do you think have most impacted lesbians? I would say the lesbian cultural work, the amazing network of music producers and show producers. The old Olivia and Redwood. It wasn’t there, and so we created our own culture. That was critical. Also the written word, was so important to me, so early lesbian presses were putting out Mary Daly and Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde. It was the beginning of women’s studies. I think that was a really critical thing that came out gay movement and the anti-war movement. Lesbians looked around and said, there’s no place for us here. We’ll make our own spot. And the continuation of some of those. The good ol’ Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival is important.

I actually want to ask you about that, because I came up through that culture too, the women’s music festivals, and it seems to be shifting to more circuit parties like Dinah Shore and Aqua Girl. Which seem to me devoid of the politics. What are your thoughts on these new events and where the lesbian community seems to be going as far as our national gatherings?

I personally think there’s been some L Word damage, just in terms of haircuts for Christ sake. (laughs) Before, we partied, but we also fought about everything politically – inclusion, exclusion, monogamy, non-monogamy, transgendered issues. I think the market and media has blanded out that lesbian edge. My lesbianism was really about feminism. I don’t think there’s that base philosophy in what we see now. And the level of alcohol is frightening too.

Well, we’ve always had that in our community.

Oh right, I was doing it.
Next Page: Kate Clinton talks about her role on The L Word, why new technology is so important to the gays and how young activists are inspiring her.
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