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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Monday, June 09, 2014

A Personal Pride

LGBTQ Pride for many in today’s generation means an opportunity to party and celebrate.  Sadly, many don’t even know what they are celebrating.  No joke; they don’t.  They are ignorant of the past and what their elders had to overcome to reach a point today when there is actually something to celebrate.  
Proud at Pride
Not that things are perfect, but life is a whole lot easier today for those who are gay, bi and lesbian.  Not so much yet for transgender folks though improvements have begun and should continue, albeit at a slower pace.  Progress won’t fully occur until what it means to be transgender is more understood by the masses.

So every year at this time I reflect on the meaning of Pride.  Am I proud that I’m gay?  Of course not.  It’s not an accomplishment.  It’s nothing I worked for where I succeeded in becoming gay.  I’m no more proud of being gay than my being left-handed or that I have brown eyes.  As in the case of these other traits, it’s who I am—for better or worse. 
When the notion of “gay pride” was formulated, it followed the Stonewall uprising (45th anniversary this month) whereby people who have been oppressed by the police, by the Mafia bar owners, by society in general took a stand and fought back.  It wasn’t so much that people were proud they were LGBT but that instead they were fed up at being shamed for being who they are. I was too, but it took me much longer to summon up the courage to find my path.  In fact, way too long.   

Like many in my generation, I felt shamed by society because I was gay.  As I was compelled to hide in the closet, I was not aided by support groups to assure me that I am not alone.  There were no such things like the Internet to keep me informed. A paucity of books on the subject.  No social media to establish connections.  Nothing.
I could never think of disclosing my sexuality to my family.  I never shared this aspect of me with my friends, even my close friends.  I always felt pressure to do the “straight” stuff socially, especially during my college years, and it was like trying to write with your opposite hand. 

While I had a nice job, I could never come out; there were no employment protections.  When I was drafted into the Army, I obviously couldn’t reveal the fact that I was gay, yet ironically it was during that experience I came out.  By coming out I don’t mean broadcasting publicly my sexual orientation. Rather, it was the self-realization that this is who I am; I’m no longer deceiving myself thinking and hoping that it was a “phase” and soon I will be like everyone else.
I patronized gay bars after being told where they were in NYC by the soldier with whom I had my first gay sexual experience.  Even then I was cautious and peeked around before I went in to ensure that no one I knew witnessed my entering a gay establishment.

When I moved to the Baltimore area in late 1977, still closeted, I was a little more open especially at work but not much.  That is mainly due to the fact my section contained other gays and lesbians.  I still could have been fired and could have been evicted from my apartment.  Lord knows my neighbors had to suspect!
I began writing for the then Gay Paper in 1980 but declined to spell out my last name in the bylines for a while.  Then I grew a pair and reasoned that if anyone happened to see my name in the publication, the question begs, what made you pick up something called The Gay Paper?

I already had met Bob Ford by then who was also in the closet.  We attended Pride events each year, but were cautious not to be caught in the lens of the TV news cameras during the time such events were considered newsworthy by the mainstream media.
Gradually, I summoned up the courage to liberate myself. I became much more comfortable with who I am, and having Bob at my side during this journey has been key.  I made sure my family knew the truth, and they accepted Bob and I unconditionally.  My newspaper bylines contained my full name as did the many letters to the editors of a number of publications.  I was a little more out at work but still pretty private to most people even though they suspected or assumed I was gay.

The single most dramatic turn occurred on July 23, 2009 when I married Bob in Provincetown, Ma.  After 29 years together, I think it was time—especially because I loved him so much (and still do), it was legal in that state, and there were rumblings at the time Maryland was going to recognize it.
When we returned I posted a notice on Facebook, and my neighbors, former co-workers and other friends applauded us and wished us well.  Not that they were surprised but they like us and were sincerely happy for us.  It was the turning point with a lifetime of weight lifted off of my shoulders and for Bob as well.

Coming out is what we should be proud of.  That’s where the pride is—the removal of any shame for being who you are.  Yes, Pride is equated with drinking and reveling.  But coming out and seeing the advances myself and other LGBT folks have experienced is what really defines Pride. 

And I’ll drink to that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am about 10 years your junior. When I came out there was more discussion in the public. Phil Donahue, Dr. Ruth, and few other public figures were supportive. There were support groups at the community center and a hotline to ask questions. There were GLBT groups at almost every college. I was very active in mine and was considered the most OUT person at UMBC when I was there. It was also the heyday of the AIDS epidemic, and to be sexually active was to risk a horrible death. Why I feel proud is that I survived that time when so many friends did not. I never thought that being gay was evil. I came to terms with my “queer” side and my spiritual/religious side. I marched for anti-discrimination laws and against the military ban. I am even recovering from the substance abuse that so many of our number never kick. I celebrate all those people who were able to make a real life for themselves when family and church and friends turned on them. I have always been involved in organizations or one sort or another, so Pride has always been a work day, staffing a booth or being in a performance.
My nephew is gay and he is taking it so much more in stride than I did, even when his family had not been the most supportive. He does not see much of a reason to have Pride Day – I try to explain, but it’s pretty useless. Gay is just what he is and he sees no reason to hide it or feel uncomfortable around people because of it. He is the result of the long years of struggle