The first time I ever heard about anyone being gay or lesbian was one of my cousins, Jeffrey, who moved to Toronto in the 1960s. My younger sister Karin was closer to Jeffrey than me and must have had some sense of empathy. My immediate family, which included my other siblings and my mother, were not as understanding about gays and lesbians. Unfortunately Jeffrey was an early victim of AIDS.
My older sister always spoke of certain entertainers like the Hines brothers as being “funny” but I didn’t know what she was talking about. Later on I learned that it meant she thought they were gay. My mother, who I have grown to love, has always been uncomfortable discussing sexuality.
So like most red-blooded American male baby boomers I decided to explore for myself. I decided that women were often cute and interesting and good listeners. Men, including me, were not as good at listening. As it happened, I had a lesbian relative when I was growing up. I spoke with my older sister, whose ideas had evolved over the years, and found that one of my favorite female relatives was a lesbian. She had recently died, which prompted the discussion.
In my political life I was part of groups that whole-heartedly supported gay and lesbian rights. It was the most natural thing to do. Over the years life changed. I almost started a fight in the army with a guy who I saw a few years after I got discharged and he had a pro gay rights button at the rally where I saw him. I learned about the struggles of gays and lesbians in the service. I watched movies about gays and lesbians adopting and raising children. And I have seen gays and lesbians in the media, as politicians and as fathers and mothers.
I was on twitter cheering as my old home state of New York adopted marriage equality. I teared up watching the first couples taking their vows. It has been a million miles, seemingly from the Stonewall Rebellion and the Mattachine Society. My straight marriage ended, primarily due to my own mistakes, but not due to gays and lesbians enjoying their rights. I have come to understand there is no radical gay or lesbian agenda as some bigots would have us believe, but the simple belief in equality under law. It’s in the constittuion and it should be in our hearts.
On Dr. King day, let’s strive for a world where people enjoy the freedom to love, bear and raise children, and marry without interference from bigotry. It’s the next great civil rights hurdle to overcome.