Ari Shapiro pays homage to progress in gay rights

Nathan Zoschke

NPR correspondent Ari Shapiro delivers the UMKC Pride Keynote Address on Thursday, March 7, in Pierson Auditorium Photo by Sai Srikar Kadiyam
NPR correspondent Ari Shapiro delivers the UMKC Pride Keynote Address on Thursday, March 7, in Pierson Auditorium
Photo by Sai Srikar Kadiyam

National Public Radio correspondent Ari Shapiro reflected on more than 50 years of progress in gay rights at the UMKC Pride Keynote Address.

Shapiro, 34, recalled growing up in Portland, Ore., during the 1990s. He wore a backpack with a pink triangle—a symbol used to identify gay prisoners in Nazi Germany—his senior year of high school.

In the ’90s, attitudes toward the gay community were changing for the better. Today, Shapiro said he is fortunate to live in an era in which he is a journalist who happens to be gay, not a “gay journalist.”

Shapiro recalled the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York, a critical rallying point for the gay liberation movement.

As police raided the Stonewall Inn and other gay bars to arrest purported homosexuals, they encountered resistance, including drag queens who flung their heels at officers.

The Stonewall Riots occurred nine years before Shapiro was born, but progress in gay rights movement encountered a major obstacle shortly after his birth: the AIDS crisis.

As a young adult, Shapiro read biographical memoirs about two gay men from earlier generations, Denny Hansen and Paul Monette.

Like Shapiro, both were Yale graduates, but gay men of the Stonewall era encountered a bleak social reality of confusion, isolation and despair.

Hansen committed suicide, and Monette died of AIDS a few years after his partner succumbed to the disease .

Shapiro reflected on previous generations of gay activists who died tragically young, regretting that they were unable to live to see drastic progress.

Shapiro traveled to San Francisco, the hometown of his partner, Michael Gottlieb, where the two married in 2004.

A later ceremony performed in Napa Valley included both families and their rabbis.

Today, their marriage remains in limbo as California Proposition 8, a ballot initiative to amend the state constitution to ban marriage for same-sex couples.

But Shapiro is optimistic. He said the drastic shift of public opinion in favor of gay rights that has occurred over the past several years is a snowball that can’t stop gaining momentum.

Shapiro pointed to two U.S. Supreme Court cases argued this year that will determine the fate of the national Defense of Marriage Act and California Proposition 8. Both measures bar recognition of marriage for same-sex couples, and the decision is expected to come out in favor of gay rights.

Support for marriage equality is no longer limited to the gay community and liberal coastal elites, Shapiro said. Those who have filed amicus curiae briefs in support of marriage for same-sex couples include the Obama administration, prominent Republicans and major corporations.

Shapiro also discussed his career with NPR, where he became the first reporter to be promoted to correspondent before the age of 30. He has covered the White House as a correspondent since 2010, focusing on national security and legal affairs. He was previously NPR’s justice correspondent for five years.

“People can tell when you’re comfortable in your own skin, whether you’re open and honest,” he said of being a journalist who is openly gay.

The Pride Keynote Addess was sponsored by the UMKC Division of Diversity, Access and Equity.

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