I have strongly supported the Pride Flag flying above the Wisconsin Capitol and efforts made through our schools to allow gay and lesbian students to know they are not alone in their walk to adulthood. What we do in large urban areas does resonate in the rural and quiet communities dotted across the state. Such actions continue to matter as the perpetually angry segment of the conservative base has ratcheted up their rhetoric and awful behavior against the gay and trans community. The most public display of their juvenile outrage occurred against Target, where store merchandise for transgender shoppers was littered about, and then like a cat who brings a dead mouse to the front door for praise, they took to social media to show off their talent at mayhem. Needless to say, the gay and trans community has every reason to hoist a flag this month, take to the streets in parades, and speak to the truth that our nation again needs to hear.
This spring, I have been reading about the life and times of the first national security advisor to counsel a president. Ike’s Mystery Man by Peter Shinkle deals with Robert Cutler, a multi-faceted, learned, articulate, and determined man who saw a need for reorganizing how a president amassed information concerning international affairs so as to better shape policy. Oh, yes, he was also gay. And living a secret life that President Dwight Eisenhower and the madness of the McCarthy era could never come to learn about. We come to discover in the pages Cutler was a banker, a poet, a cross-dresser who loved the female roles in amateur theatrical productions, and a very closeted gay man at the center of a gay White House love triangle. Cutler becomes deeply infatuated with Tilghman “Skip” Koons, a man described as highly intelligent and a gorgeous 27-year-old Russian speaker who Cutler recruited for the National Security Council staff.
When reading and learning about history it is vital to step into the shoes and time when the events occur. While that has always been my firm belief, I readily admit to shaking the book and wondering how Cutler did not rebel in some way to underscore the madness of a policy that excluded gay people from federal employment. In fact, Cutler worked doggedly to place into effect a President Truman-era order that, due to time constraints in the waning days of Harry’s term, would not be implemented until 1953. The absurdity of the mindset that gay people were a threat to national security and that ‘normal people did not associate with them’ is one of the chapters of our collective past that we need to recall as we speak out as to why we celebrate Pride Month.
Long-time readers of this blog might recall my writing about the example of bipartisanship being employed by Senator Arthur Vandenberg when Harry Truman becomes president following the death of President Roosevelt. Vandenberg, a staunch Republican wrote to Truman saying “Good luck and God bless you. Let me help you whenever I can. America marches on.” The two men, both vocal and determined from opposite ends of the political spectrum, bonded and shaped the international policy of the nation following World War II. We know that gay people are in every family, and that was the case with the Vandenbergs, as Shinkle writes with an example of the destructive nature of homophobia.
The high cost to the lives of many gay men due to Executive Order 10450, which Cutler aided in implementing, is clear to see from the data presented in the book.
Being closeted and not able to live authentically has no place in our society, and we must not allow the loudest ones on the far right to do more than shout about their bigotry and hatred. The desire by some conservatives to now open old wounds and inflict outdated and repressive ideas upon society must be utterly rejected. The reason I write that line is due to the way Cutler was forced to live if he wanted to shape policy and use his abundant skills for the nation. It hurts to learn in the book that Cutler presented Skip with a 163,000-word journal about their relationship. Their families and friends and all of Washington should have been able to participate in the joy of that relationship and friendship as it was taking place.
We celebrate Pride Month with full recognition from whence we came. The struggles and fights that had to be waged so we can live our lives authentically are what we recall this month. At the same moment, we know that never again will we take a step backward. So, lift the Pride Flag, and as it is hoisted high recall those who never had the chance to do so. That, sadly, is very much a part of the story, too.