Thursday, September 14, 2017

60-Year-Old Man Reflects on 40 Years Out of the Closet

A must-read by my blogger friend Jim, who writes this heartfelt note on his 40th year of being an out gay man.

Jim Hopkins is feeling grateful.59 mins
Many young people today can hardly imagine what it was like to be gay in the mid-1970s outside the biggest cities, like New York, Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco.
We were for the most part invisible. There weren't any gay characters on TV, even minor ones. There certainly wasn't "Will & Grace," which didn't debut until 1998. The only movie about gay life I can remember was the incredibly depressing, full-of-stereotypes "Boys in the Band." The only magazines were largely pornographic. Books about gays and lesbians were scarce; retailers didn't have shelves devoted to the subject. We only appeared in the news when we were arrested in police round-ups.
There was no Internet to connect gay people living in the shadows. In fact, in my hometown of Providence, R.I., and most other cities outside the big metros, there really weren't any out gay people to serve as positive role models. By 1977, I had met only two out gay men. Young people especially lived nearly in isolation.
The only places where we were welcome -- and sometimes just barely -- were gay bars. In restaurants and other public places you had to be very discreet. There were no gay and lesbian community centers. There were no support groups. In most places in the U.S. and around the world, gay men traveling together rarely found mainstream hotels where they could share a room -- or, gasp, a single bed.
There were few if any cities of any size with ordinances protecting gays from discrimination in housing and employment. In one of the few places to do so, Miami, voters overwhelming rolled back the city's new ordinance after a high-profile 1977 campaign led by singer Anita Bryant. Elsewhere, it was literally a crime to have sex in the privacy of your own home; it was punishable by jail time. (This actually happened in Texas.) You couldn't serve openly in the military. Leonard Matlovich, who served three tours in Vietnam, and received a Purple Heart, was tossed out of the Air Force when he came out publicly on the cover of Time magazine. Needless to say, there was no legal gay marriage.
There were virtually no openly gay politicians, and the few out there risked their lives if they went public, even in liberal cities like San Francisco; in 1978, gay city council member Harvey Milk was assassinated by a fellow councilor. (In Providence, it would take nearly 25 more years before the city elected its first openly gay mayor.)
While gay people marched by the thousands in parades in New York City, many marchers in a Providence parade feared so much for their jobs, they literally covered their heads in paper bags to avoid being recognized.
At Brown University, where I was a junior in 1977, there were two gay students associations -- one for men, the other for women -- but they had only been active for a few years. There was no official school policy protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination. My freshmen roommate told me the gay community only survived by "recruiting" other people. There were no class discussions about gays. You could not major in Gender and Sexuality, as you can today. And this was at a relatively liberal school.
Downtown Providence, where there was a handful of gay bars, wasn't a safe place. We worried about being beaten up, or worse. You had to be careful about how you dressed so you wouldn't "look" gay.
Everything I've written above only scratches the surface of what life was like back then.
Today, and especially over the past 10-15 years in smaller-town America, gay people have made significant advances in the workplace, schools, public accommodations, the media. But life is far from perfect. Many politicians and voters still demonize us, as we saw in the fight over gay marriage. Under the guise of religious freedom, they're trying to roll back our civil rights.
Threats of physical violence are still common. During a recent walk down Bardstown Road in the very liberal Highlands neighborhood in Louisville, Ky., someone threw a big container full of ice at my husband Brian and I as they drove by; they narrowly missed. Maybe it wasn't gay-related, but I doubt it.
Most tragically, teenagers still commit suicide when they're bullied for being gay, or even suspected of being gay.
I'm recalling all this because I came out in September 1977, when I was 20 years old. Now, I'm 60, which means I've been out for 40 full years. And I'm very, very grateful for where I am.

Please share with LGBT youth and straights alike.

1 comment:

Jim Kelly said...

In 1967, I was lucky enough to meet a professor my senior year in college who insisted that I be out in all my relationships, so I became a real jerk about it and flaunted my sexuality with reckless abandon before Stonewall. I'm proud of that.

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