Saturday, October 12, 2013

National Coming Out Day

Me and Bill, my spouse

Yesterday was National Coming Out Day.  For those of you, both gay and straight, who aren't familiar with this "holiday", it is the day that encourages closeted gay men and women to come out of the closet.  To toss of the yoke of oppression that many in Straight Land have had on our necks for centuries.  

To those of you who have followed my blog regularly you know that I have been out of the closet for fifty years.  I came out in April of 1963, long before it was fashionable or even safe.  Not that I was any hero or anything like that, I came out because after serving three years in the Army (Army Security Agency working at the National Security Agency where they had regular purges of the "security risks" homosexuals), I decided I wasn't going to live the rest of my life in fear and self-hatred.  I was 21 years old, just starting out in life after having served my obligation to our country.  If I wasn't gay I would have stayed in the Army and made a career out of it but that wasn't an option for a gay man in 1963.  According to law I was a criminal because I was homosexual. 


Me at the White House in 1962 when I was working at NSA stationed at nearby Ft. Meade, MD - totally in the closet because I didn't want to get kicked out of the Army for having "homosexual tendencies" 

Yesterday I posted my brief history of coming out in 1963, knowing full well I would ruffle some feathers of my more religious family members and others on my Facebook page.  Sure enough I did.  

This is my way of shaking things up.  I've never participated in a gay pride parade in my life, not that there is anything the matter with gay pride parades.  However, I have been in two marches on Washington D.C. in support of equal rights for gays and lesbians.  The first march was in 1979.  I was nervous as all get out but I was asked to go and I went.  I was so nervous and sure I would be arrested I didn't even take my camera so no photos from me on that march.  


1979 Equality March on Washington D.C. (not my photo - I was too afraid to take my camera)

The second march in support of gay rights I took in 2009.  This march was a lot different.  I wasn't nervous and had no fear of being arrested or brutalized like I did at the first march.  In fact, this march was more festive than anything else, a celebration.


Me in front of the White House, rainbow flag, beads and all - no longer afraid - 30 years made a big difference

This past year I was privileged to be asked to testify before both houses of the Delaware state legislature in support of marriage equality.  
Me waiting to testify before the Delaware state senate sub committee in support of marriage equality

I am happy to say that the marriage equality bill passed in Delaware and the man I've been living with for the past 49 years and I got married this past July, on our 49th anniversary.  


Me and Bill the day we got our marriage license at the Sussex County Courthouse in Georgetown - hey folks, we're not in Kansas (or Arizona, or South Carolina, or Texas, et al)


Our official wedding portrait with our witnesses
While I don't believe in forcing my gay brothers and sisters into coming out what I can say is that if and when you do come out you will feel the indescribable feeling of freedom when you lift that yoke of oppression off of your shoulders.  You will be surprised at how relieved you will feel once you take control of your life.  As Harvey Milk said:


“Gay brothers and sisters,... You must come out. Come out... to your parents... I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth! Come out to your relatives... come out to your friends... if indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors... to your fellow workers... to the people who work where you eat and shop... come out only to the people you know, and who know you. Not to anyone else. But once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake. For the sake of the youngsters who are becoming scared by the votes from Dade to Eugene.”

Is there a risk to coming out?  Sure.  Harvey Milk paid with his life.  I've been luckier but I've had some might close calls in my life too.  I've had a gang of toughs try to run me down with their car.  I had another gang of drunken teenagers chase me down a center city Philadelphia street wielding baseball bats when I was on my home from a gay bar.   I've had several other encounters with violent homophobes that through luck and quick thinking I avoided being injured or killed.  However, I have lost two jobs because of homophobic bosses and they got away with it.

Harvey Milk - San Francisco - 1976

It isn't easy but then claiming your right to live as a free man (or woman) sometimes never is.  Even today, in our so called "enlightened age" I have been confronted with the ugly face of homophobia most recently when I visited my father's birthplace in the mountainous hills of western North Carolina.  A relative asked me if I "practiced the gay lifestyle".  When I answered "If you mean am I gay, yes."  He then said "Now you listen to me bud, if you dare to step foot on my parent's property (his mother was the granddaughter of my great aunt), you will have to deal with me.  You got that bud!?"  When I heard those hateful and threatening words a familiar cold chill went down my spine again.  The same cold chill that went down my spine when I watched Pat Buchanan give his infamous "Culture War" speech at the 1992 Republican Convention in Houston Texas.  



Up until that time I was a conservative Republican but when I heard his speech that dehumanized gay men and women and watched the "good Republicans" (much like the "good Germans" cheering Hitler), a chill went down my spine.  I realized "I don't belong here.  These people want me dead."  Oh of course I heard the faux rationale "Love the sinner but hate the sin" but I knew then and there that until everyone came out, that the cancer of homophobia would continue to flourish even though below the surface of the "good people."  


I believe a lot of the homophobia is based on ignorance of gay people.  Until those people who are so afraid of gay people, know someone who is gay they will be afraid and thus try to "control" us by keeping us in the closet.  



The only way we will end homophobia and discrimination against gays in this country is for every man and woman who is gay to come out.  Already there are cracks starting to appear where none were before like professional sports.  No longer are those coming out just celebrities in the movies or singers. 
 
Yes, that is "Crocodile Rock" Elton John - he "might be gay" and he is definitely out of the closet

The walls are coming down folks, slowly but surely.  I just hope I live long enough that when I identify myself as gay I don't hear "Well, it says right here in the Bible........." Ironically, actually it doesn't say anything about homosexuality in the Bible.  But that's another whole blog posting that I am not going to get into here.  

I'll end with this posting with quote I heard from an anonymous source a few days ago:

"Hating gays is a lifestyle choice."


16 comments:

  1. "Yesterday I posted my brief history of coming out in 1963, knowing full well I would ruffle some feathers of my more religious family members and others on my Facebook page. Sure enough I did." - fuck 'em. WHY should you hide who you are? it's up to others to adapt to you, not the other way around. I am happy you and bill can celebrate your true selves.

    and I am grateful to have so many gay boyfriends in my life; they make my life better!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's what I say Anne Marie! Why should I hide? I don't have the "problem", they do. Even though it was fifty years ago I remember my decision to come out as if it was yesterday. I just decided that I wasn't going to let others define how I should live my life. Sure, I knew I would lose friends and family and lose respect of some but so what? Again, that was and is their problem. They don't know what a good friend they're losing. And they are losing no matter how much in self-denial they are. History is passing them by.

      Ron

      Delete
  2. It really wasn't very long ago when homosexuality was considered a crime, a serious afflction, and a mental illness. It's chilling to think of the Nazi-like tactics that were utilized to "cure" gays and turn them "straight". Ironically, most of the movies and novels portrayed homosexuals as being mentally tainted and extremely unhappy. I'm thinking of only one random example - - "The Children's Hour" , where Shirley MacLaine hangs herself for merely having "unnatural feelings".

    Homophobic straights desperately wanted gays to be unhappy. I'm sure many gays were driven to suicide by Bible-thumping, self-righteous zealots. I'm rambling again, as usual. Is there a point to my comment? Heck if I know - - but I'm delighted that things are changing and closets are opening......

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jon,
      When I came out in Pennsylvania in 1963 being a homosexual was against the law. I remember that I was afraid of being arrested if one of my former "friends" reported me. Some of my former friends were very angry and upset that I identified myself as gay.
      My Mother literally went off the deep end. She was in hysterics. She wanted to know "What did I do wrong?" "I tried to raise you the right way!" Then she had my father and two brothers try to forcibly remove me from my apartment (grabbing me by both arms) to take me to "the hospital" to get well. I guess I understand why she did that now, she was in a panic and worried about what the neighbors would think. There was a year or two we were estranged but eventually she came around to realizing I was still her son, flawed as I was, and I wasn't going to change.

      You're right about some straights desperate that gays should be unhappy. They just can't understand how gays can be happy. Have you seen the faces of ALL THE GAY COUPLES who have recently got married? See any unhappy faces there?

      In my extended Tipton family I still have more than a few self-righteous religious zealots (especially one branch) who will never see reality. I guess I have to face reality and accept the fact that that branch of my family is gone from me forever. Sad but that's reality.

      Ron

      Delete
    2. I admire you for "coming out" so soon and having the courage to live your life openly and honestly. I never did officially come out - - except to my closest friends (and I never lost any of them). I try to keep my life somewhat private & mysterious - - but there's no doubt that everyone has guessed the truth by now.

      My lover Greg (in California - he was a pianist, like myself)) was nearly destroyed by his homophobic mother. She called the authorities, claiming that Greg was crazy. They came into the house, broke down his bedroom door, and hauled him off to a mental hospital agaist his will!

      Greg's Mom tried everything to destroy our relationship. She was wealthy and influential - which made things even worse.
      It's bitterly ironic that Greg is now dead and his mother is still alive, in her 90's.

      Delete
    3. Jon,

      My Mother had a similar reaction when I told her I was gay. Off to the hospital for "the cure"!

      By the way, did you just say "but there's no doubt that everyone has guessed the truth by now"? I think you just came out to your blog readers Jon. :)

      Ron

      Delete
  3. Ron

    You have lived and continue to live your life without having to skirt around the truth of who you are. And I believe the relevant quote here is "the truth will set you free". I esteem you for that.

    Pat

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Pat. I've been called foolish and naive and even stupid for living my life the way I live it, but it is my life and I'll live it on my own terms. I'm not hurting anybody and I don't force my views on anybody else and I don't want anyone to force their "values" on me. That's not asking a whole lot in my book. And the quote "the truth will set you free" is absolutely true. I know because I have lived igt.

      Ron

      Delete
  4. I think you are mostly correct. Except that unfortunately, it's still not safe for some people to come out. It's a very personal decision that has huge ramifications to one's well-being, for better or for worse. I don't think you can make a blanket statement that the only way we will overcome all the prejudice and homophobia just by having everyone come out. How many could be in danger if suddenly we wore our orientation on our foreheads? Lots. I believe that yes, over time, as more and more of us come out, life be better for all of us. No question. But I would never encourage an LGBTQ youth to come out if they believed they could be in any sort of danger, the same applies to adults. Until all the Christofacists and loud mouthed homophobes lose their mouthpieces, hatred will continue to foster, much as it does for blacks, and other ethnic minorities across the country.

    For me personally? It's nice to be about 70% out (if I had to quantify it). And I care less and less who knows, though to be completely honest, there are people I simply don't want to know - at least not yet. I'm not willing to lose their friendship if I came out to them. There are those who would say "then that's their problem", but no, it's MY problem, too.

    The changes will be gradual, there will be a 21st Century version of Mass Resistance in places like Virginia/Tennessee/Alabama/Georgia/North Carolina, etc. etc. etc., and a lot of people will not change their views even if every person on their block turns out to be gay. It will take the courts many years to undo all the horrible laws that hold us back because in many places, the voters will never change the laws themselves. Then it will take time for people to at least act like we are equal, as they (mostly) do for blacks and others.

    Peace <3
    Jay

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jay,

      While I agree with you that it is a personal decision each person should make individually, if everyone did come out at the same time homophobia would end overnight because the homophobes and the ignorants would realize that gay people are all around them and not just the stereotypes they conveniently choose to believe exists only with the types they see in gay pride parades and gay folks in entertainment. When they realize that their mother, father, grandfather, grandmother, son, daughter, grandson, granddaughter or other members of the family are gay, only then will homophobia cease to exist. Do you think it was easy for me to come out? No way. Was I scared? You bet, scared shitless at times. But I refused to live my life defined by others. And of course that makes those "others" very uncomfortable and angry because they realize they are no longer in control. Actually Jay, it is easier than you think to come out as a gay man or woman. Will you lose friends, co-workers, family? Absolutely. But you know what? That's their loss. You don't want them anyway. Do I have regrets that I came out? Not one moment. Sure, I lost two good jobs, really good jobs because I worked for homophobes who I frightened and caused discomfort because I refused to live in a closet just to make them comfortable.
      I don't believe in outing anyone against their will but I do believe that every gay man and woman should have the courage to come out and live their life according to their own terms, not someone else's.

      Ron

      Delete
    2. You call it "their problem", but when you are someone (me) who lost almost all of their friends in one life catastrophe, taking the chance of losing more can be more than one is willing to bear. I very much want my friends, and if not being out to them is a (minor) condition to keeping them, I am willing to do that. Eventually, they'll find out or figure it out and then we'll know their reaction. I've been a pariah once, I'm not willing to be one again.

      Had I known how to do this at 14 or 15, when I figured it all out, I'm sure I would feel differently. You did it 50 years ago, and have had time to deal with the ramifications - loss of jobs, friends and family. I don't have 50 years left. So I'll be a lot more careful.

      I just don't think homophobia will end just because everyone realizes they probably know someone who is gay. I can't imagine being out at work in this conservative area in a state where you can be fired for any or no reason. I have bills to pay, and a life to live, and you can't do that with no income. Coming out there would not be "their problem" in losing me, it would very much be MY problem since I would no longer have a place to live, nor any way to pay the bills. You don't know how much I'd like to explain to my supervisor that her "metrosexual" son is most likely gay (my gaydar is seldom wrong), but doing so would place me in a precarious position. So I choose to stay silent. At least, unlike some other blogger friends, I don't listen to a steady stream of homophobic statements/jokes/comments, nor do any of my friends make comments like that, so it's not like life is unbearable in my world.

      Yes, everyone should be able to come out, with or without courage, but for me, just coming out to the ones I have (including some of my family) has taken almost all the courage I've got. But my life isn't defined by others. Many of the things I am missing (a relationship is one big one) are not being placed on hold because of others, but because in some things, I am quite naive in knowing how to "fix things". I am slowly but surely figuring things out.

      Jay

      Delete
  5. Oh Jay, I can't impose my decision on you or anybody but I can only relate from my own experience. I know myself I do not want "friends" who do not accept me as I am. Been there, done that. When I came out I discovered so many turned on me so fast. They said unbelievable cruel things about me. Mocked me. These were my "friends?" My only regret is that I didn't come out sooner and drop these losers who cared nothing about me as a person but as someone they wanted me to be.
    I understand coming out will result in a loss of a job. That happened to me, I lost my job. A damn good job too. And yes, I had money problems for a while but I overcame them. The homophobic bastard who engineered my firing eventually got fired himself as I knew he would. He had done this kind of thing before at his previous place of employment.
    Even though I did come out a long time ago, being out today still has it's ramifications and I feel it. Just last week at my family reunion, many of my more religious family members didn't attend because Bill (my spouse) was there. I had posted I got married on my Facebook account and I assume they saw it. Know what Jay? It's their loss. I'm done with them and actually I feel cleansed as a result. If they're that bigoted and ignorant, I don't want them for friends or even family. I have people in my life now who love and respect me. At this time of my life I'm not going to waste what few healthy years I have left trying to please people who are unable to understand or accept me as an equal human being.

    As I said before, this is my course of action. Everyone has to make their own choice but I firmly believe that if everyone without exception came out, homophobia would end overnight. Would people be hurt? Yes, of course. There are always casualties but if the cause if right, it is worth it. I have no regrets even though I am still losing friends and family by just posting my opinion in this forum and on my Facebook account. It is their loss because they will never have a friend or a family member like me again in their lives and I think they know it.

    Thank you for your comments Jay. Always appreciate having a good discussion. I'm always open to a good discussion too.

    Ron

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am thrilled to discuss this. I appreciate that this isn't personal at all! It's all a general talk. You are one of the people I look up to, and admire because you DO have a relationship (AND A SPOUSE!) and can live 100% openly. I think (I HOPE) that one day I will be there, too. If only our skin were green or purple so people would just KNOW, and that part of the equation would be taken care of. African Americans never had to deny who they were, since skin color is hard to hide, though many light-skinned and mixed race people hid much as we gays do until things were more conducive to their "coming out". I am still amazed that many blacks do NOT feel like our struggle for equal civil rights is in any way comparable to their struggle for civil rights. It also drives me crazy that I have friends who drink the "Christian" Kool Aid and think that civil marriage is something that we shouldn't have because the Bible tells them differently.

      I definitely find it difficult to lose friends. One family I am close friends with, and whose sons are quite close to me, would likely disappear if they knew I was gay. It would be a shame to lose them (especially since the younger son - 19yo - would not be available to do my stupid yard work - now that is a minor loss).

      There is no magic pill. Even if everyone in the world came out tomorrow, homophobia would still exist, and still be at least as loud. Time is the only thing that will fix it. I figure about 150 years. ;-)

      Peace <3
      Jay

      Delete
    2. Jay,

      I am glad to have this discussion too and of course it isn't personal. As far as coming out I believe each one of us has to evaluate our own situation, I cannot make that decision for you or anyone. That wouldn't be fair. I don't approve of outing people. However, I do believe that because more gay men and women have come out that our lot is easier in this world. But of course, we still have a long way to go. Maybe not a 150 years but a few more years.

      Ron

      Delete
  6. I agree; it is hard to 'hate a people' when you actually know someone of that persuasion. It make it personal and not as able to demonize others.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dr. Spo,

      You are exactly right and that is why discrimination and hatred of gays would end overnight if everyone came out. Then those who oppose and discriminate against gays would discover that members of their own family, co-workers and so many others are just regular folks like them the only difference being is who they love.

      Ron

      Delete