“What a day!” said a jubilant Harvey Fierstein, reacting to the news of the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage. “What’s great about a day like today is you have a nation standing behind you to say, ‘We respect you.’”
Fierstein, the Tony-winning writer and actor who’s been telling gay stories (“Torch Song Trilogy,” “La Cage aux Folles”) on stage for more than 30 years, remembered back to a time when he regularly encountered hatred on the airwaves and in public life. “Politicians I voted for said I was not a human being,” he recalled.
A landmark like the Supreme Court decision underscores how much that’s changed — although Fierstein admits that he wasn’t exactly confident the court would rule the way it did.
“I guess I’m old enough to not be confident about anything,” he said. “But we do have a system of government that was set up specifically to allow people to make choices. America has never been about telling you what to do. Nobody has to get married. But the possibility is there. That’s what America has always been about.”
In Fierstein’s eyes, the biggest victory for LGBT equality came when homosexuality stopped being considered a disease — back in 1973, when the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. “Once we won the battle that we were not talking about an illness, we were talking about a civil right, then the war was already won,” he noted.
But there was still plenty more work to be done, just as there is today. “Now, like with any civil rights movement, we really have to look at what protections are needed under the law to bolster it,” he said. “We’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to say, ‘Okay, we don’t need to worry about that anymore,’ and we still do.”
In entertainment, he noted, “There was a time when we were thrilled if we got a wink in our direction. Like in World War II, in a song like ‘My Buddy,’ if there was just a hint that a guy might be singing about his boyfriend, we were happy. That was true until the revolution happened, and then nothing was enough.”
He sees gender identity and transgender issues as the next frontier in the fight for civil rights, saying that the final victory for equality will come when the stories that come out of the entertainment industry — film, TV and stage — are as widely diverse as the American people. “We’ll know we’ve done it when our stories are truly blended,” he said.
For the moment, though, he took to Twitter to celebrate. He may not know what challenges lie ahead, he said, but he’s confident the SCOTUS decision is a major step in the right direction. “It can only be positive,” he said.
You never realize how heavy your burden's been until you lay it down in the promised land.
— Harvey Fierstein (@HarveyFierstein) June 26, 2015