Gay History Month: Tribute to Those Before Us

Today I give tribute and respect to those great people who fought for the rights and privileges that we have today as gay men and women, or transgendered people.

It was the 1980’s and a very different time for a gay person, I can tell you that.  While people were starting to wind down from the disco era and free-love, there still existed in many states the infamous Sodomy laws which prohibited much of what we did behind closed doors.  Not that it would matter to anyone and seemed to be a throw-back to the McCarthy era.  Any moment while involved with the entwining display of affection, some authoritative figure could come bursting through the door and place the participants of lust into handcuffs, if they weren’t already.  Thinking on that, it probably was an additional offense if they were.

At this time, the AIDS / HIV epidemic was starting to take hold and the government, either local, state or federal, were casually turning a blind eye, denying funding for treatment or research, because it was considered a ‘gay disease’.  In some backwaters today, it still is.  Rock Hudson’s death brought it to the forefront and suddenly, because one of the anointed of Hollywood died a tragic death, the money started to flow.  Weren’t they deliciously panicked when they realized that it was prevalent in the straight community too!

I was involved with the Gay Horizons Community Center at the time, as one of their minions in the Youth Group.  It was a safe place on Saturdays where gay youth could get together and discuss topics pertaining to their lives, with the direction of counselors at the center.  We were out there, we were noticed.  We involved ourselves with the pride parades, and helped with other organizations, such as ACT UP.  We assisted to spread the word about the Human Rights Ordinance which was being proposed in the city to protect people of different categories from discrimination in work, home, etc.  But at this time, with the epidemic coming into full swing, we watched many of our members die a very slow and untimely death.  One week they were there, and the next week, not.  This was a little hard for someone 13, 14 or 15 years old to cope with, not to mention older members or the staff.

Thinking back on that, the hardest hit to the soul was when the original AIDS quilt came to McCormick Place and we all went to see it one Saturday.  There on the ground was the panel for Brian, who died earlier of AIDS.  Under 21 years old and now just a panel on a quilt that stretched forever it seemed.

We knew of those warriors who went before us too.  Harvey Milk and the progress he made in San Francisco, for example.  The hustlers and drag queens of New York who kicked off the whole Stonewall movement when most of the organizations were in the closet and impotent.  One who’s still with us:  Chuck Renslow, who has done so much for the community in Chicago and really made the leather community stronger.  Or how about Alan Turing, the man who cracked the Enigma code and was rewarded with suicide because of his sexuality.  Yes, in the UK back then, it was very illegal to be gay.  Our famous writers who include, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, to name just a few.

Gay history is very rich and diverse with characters who helped move us along.  It’s sad that today’s younger gay people don’t take the time to see how it could have been had we not fought for the rights which are here today.  Never take for granted the liberties which you have today, because someone stood up to the system and stood proud against the norm.

By celebrating your imperfections and your diversity, you’re joining in the march of gay history, stamping it with your own personal colors.