Reparation is an act of reconciliation.* This is the oldest (1348, and now obsolete) meaning of this word in English, and this meaning continues to lie submerged beneath more modern meanings. Two persons or communities, which have been divided by something in their past, reconcile one to another in an act called reparation. Later meanings of the word include wrong-doing by one of the two parties which may include damages inflicted on one party by the other, and the paying of money to repair the damage created by the wrong-doing. These sentences include all the modern meanings of the word, including the reparations paid by Germany to its victorious enemies after World War I, and to Israel after World War II, and the reparations paid at various times to black people in the United States.
Reconciliation is the foundational idea of the paying of reparations. Two communities need to reconcile—they are biologically related, or they occupy the same geography, and yet they are estranged from one another because of their history. They can’t proceed into the future hating each other, so they search their history to discover what has caused the breach in their sense of community. They agree that the community that committed the wrong must pay money to repair the damages it caused to the wronged community. The essential preconditions of reparation are (1) a breach between people, (2) and a recognition in both communities that the breach needs to be healed.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, in his article “The case for reparations” in The Atlantic, analyzes the history of racism in American society. By looking at what Coates has done, we can see what we might find if LGBTQ persons engaged in a similar history of anti-gay bigotry in America. Coates suggests that Congressman John Conyer’s bill, HR 40, introduced in Congress every year for the last twenty-five years, may be the first step toward a national debate on the subject, calling for a study of the issue of reparations.
Coates, first, suggests that individual crime perpetrated by a white person against a black person is not the kind of crime we are talking about here. The courts are designed for that kind of crime, under current law. What we are addressing here is systemic crime, embodied by enacted federal law against every LGBTQ, the kind of law that makes it illegal to be LGBTQ. These were laws that criminalized a natural characteristic of LGBTQ persons. These laws said, If you have sex with your own gender, we will execute you. And we know that they did. As I said in Reparations (1), the first person executed in Massachusetts Bay Colony was a young sixteen year old boy, Thomas Granger, who was executed for sodomy with animals on September 8, 1642. We are also interested in state law and city ordnances which make LGBTQ persons criminals for engaging in the sex that LGBTQ persons naturally engage in. Sodomy laws are the kind of thing we are looking at. DADT also. And DOMA. All laws accusing LGBTQ persons of capital crimes. In short any laws that attempted to limit LGBTQ participation in American democracy should trigger the question, Does this rise to the level of a crime against LGBTQ persons that requires reparations? For example, how many people are dead because they were not allowed to get health insurance from their partner’s employment with business?
How do we find this information? Data on criminal prosecutions associated with federal and state and local laws may be available. Other databases can help us determine whether reparations are appropriate. The rates of suicide of young LGBTQ persons, when compared to the rates for young heterosexual persons, indicates whether these young people had been severely and fatally abused and their heirs deserved reparations. The number of Americans who died of AIDS during the early years of the AIDS epidemic (the first years of the Ronald Reagan administration) suggests the indifference of the Reagan administration toward preventing HIV infection. Indifference toward the AIDS deaths that resulted mounts to a criminal act against LGBTQ persons. The military, the churches, American business, youth organizations and others who used the APA DSM-2, which made a sickness of homosexuality, kept records of what they did to LGBTQ persons, which would amount to a record of their crimes against LGBTQ persons. Another area which may yield information is the health outcomes of the children of LGBTQ persons. Before Obergefell, did they get adequate health insurance and access to ADC benefits? And finally, we need to study systematically the economic effects of bigotry and to determine proper ways to measure them.
Aside from discrimination by means of enacted law, we need to determine statistically our place in American culture—who we are and what do we do. What is the data today on home ownership, a whole range of economic indicators—length of life, the jobs that LGBTQ people have, and the salaries they are paid, when compared with the salaries paid to heterosexual persons—that indicate whether and to what extent LGBTQ persons have been discriminated against.
While the consequences of legal discrimination against LGBTQ persons are well known, and while most people know that there has been some economic discrimination, many individual queers would say, I believe, that the most devastating abuse they have been subject to has come from their own families, worse, because more intimate, than abuse coming from a government bureau. Unfortunately, this kind of abuse is usually not subject to a claim of reparations.
The result of investigations, when compared to the data collected on heterosexual persons, is to determine the effect on LGBTQ persons living today of the several hundred years of anti-LGBTQ bigotry in government action since the initial settlement of this land and to determine how much this population living today deserves reparations. Reparations can be paid only to those persons who are disabled in some way by living in a culture that has historically discriminated against LGBTQ persons through government action.
The point is to enable LGBTQ persons and heterosexual persons to reconcile, one with another. I believe this is what leaders were doing in South Africa—trying to reconcile the races by telling the truth. The trouble with what we here in America are doing today—some of us are able to forget the past and move on—is that this creates a split in the LGBTQ community itself. There are those able to forget and move on and those wounded ones who are not able to forget and move on, who are stuck forty years ago, suspicious of the healing professions and crippled by family rejections or by an undesirable military discharge from Vietnam or by being thrown out of one’s own apartment because one was queer in the nineteen-sixties before it became cool. Just as important as the current split in the gay community between those who can forget and those who can’t, is the society-wide chasm between those who know the truth about the last fifty or sixty years and those who have closed minds. A great national debate on reparations would tell people what they need to know. The truth, and then, reconciliation. Do not believe that, because the Supreme Court recognized our right to marriage equality, everything is now OK. It’s not.
*Oxford University. Oxford English Dictionary, 1st ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1933.