Born in 1965 in Arlington, VA. Started school in 1970 in Balston Spa, NY. Started High School in Niskayuna, New York in 1979. Changed schools in 1979 and graduated from High School at the Milton Hershey School in Hershey, PA in 1983. Following high school spent six years in and out of college and trade school, trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, and learning about myself and my community. Had a very brief stint in the Air Force during 1989. Finally at the end of 1989 settled down, grew a career, met the man I would eventually marry, and have been together ever since. I returned to school and in 2010 earned my Doctorate of Education. That is the short version just to give you some background and put the timeline into perspective. Oh, I guess I may have given away my secret in this, I am gay, and very happy with who I am.
I guess I figured out my orientation someplace in 1976 or possibly earlier, but it really doesn’t matter how I figured it out, it really is just another part of the story. I was not a nice teenager in the late 70’s. I had a few minor run-ins with the police, school officials, and my parents around that time. The decision was made to remove me from public school and send me away to boarding school in the farmlands of Pennsylvania where I would be under a little more control, and possibly learn a trade. It was possibly the best thing that ever happened to me. Not only did I excel in school, I learned to love agricultural work, and I learned that I liked competitive sports. I did pretty well with swimming, and because the swim coach was also the track and cross country coach, I ended up doing pretty well as a distance runner with those two sports as well. By this time others had figured out the fact that I was not chasing the girls, and that the guys may have been a little more interesting, but until I was a junior I never acted on this. Except for once at the beginning of my time at Hershey I was never harassed either. Eventually I would end up in student government and graduated knowing that I had gained some respect and self confidence in the process.
Being sent to Hershey for school did something else for me, it gave me the opportunity to see parts of the country, parts of life, that I had never seen. Sure, as kids we traveled, but looking back at it, the travels were always a controlled travel. Three times a year I would be taken to the bus or train in Harrisburg, PA and go first to Philadelphia, then to New York City, and then on to upstate New York for vacations. After the first trip I never made the connection properly in New York City. See, from either Grand Central or the Port Authority Bus Station, it was a very short walk to Greenwich Village, or Times Square. And, being a young guy in that area, I made friends, fast. And no, it was not sexual friends until years later. But, I found the community centers, I found the non-adult bookstores (OK, I found some of the later as well), I found the underage clubs, and more importantly I found people I could relate to. 1979 to 1983 was pretty much before AIDS. It was a happy time, lot’s of freedoms, a sense of community was building. Those of us on the East Coast were not aware of the horror’s that were building on the West Coast. You have to put the time into perspective, this was before the days of the Internet. It took a while for news to spread, and it had to be acceptable by the main stream news outlets. I know that I was totally unaware until after High School graduation because I also had the restrictions of a set of houseparents whom controlled the programming that we were allowed to watch. My trips to New York City also showed no sign of awareness until much later.
In 1983 I graduated and spent the Summer working on the farms attached to Milton Hershey School, and later working on a neighboring dairy farm. I then started school in Cobleskill, New York as an Animal Husbandry major. I made frequent trips to Albany and a few to New York City during this time. I lasted in school until 1985 when I decided that this was just not for me. During this time I started participating in the gay pride events, some of the marches, and some of the demonstrations.
Sometime in 1984 the shoe dropped, the world I lived in went to hell. AIDS was becoming more and more rampant. I had discovered the Gay Community Center in Albany, NY and had started making friends and had started finding mentors. True, half the people there were just a bit too far out their for my tastes, but I found some down-to-earth people that made a difference in my life. I remember a trip in late 1984 where I drove up to Albany and was surprised by the feeling of fear. Everyone was scared. There was a general feeling of “did I have it?” among those standing around talking, and having coffee. I went to the Playhouse night club that evening and for the first time ever I saw people with signs outside of the club calling it the “plaguehouse” and demanding that the police shut it down. This got worse over time.
Someplace in 1985 I remember walking into the community center and most everyone was it tears. It seemed one of the founders had died in the previous month. I knew he was sick, but no one knew what it was. There were several people sitting around and talking about what they were going to put on the panel of remembrance for him on the AIDs memorial quilt which was being built. This was the first time I had ever heard about the quilt. Over the next few years I learned about, and heard about the quilt more than I ever wanted to. The community center in Albany had dedicated a few rooms upstairs where panels of the quilt were constantly being sewn. One panel would be done and another one would be started.
In this time there was also a fear that laws were changing. Under the umbrella of stopping the AIDS crisis the local politicians, police, and religious groups began to become frequent visitors at the bars and nightclubs. The purpose of these visits was to harass the owners and patrons by asking for ID’s, collecting names, and in general trying to shut the clubs down. In two or three cases it succeeded. I remember one bar that I used to socialize at never had any alcohol, was a piano bar, and was raided a few times because they were trying to catch the bartender selling booze without a license. They never did because it was a coffee bar. But, this gives the type of idea. Albany quickly became too small for me. I did not feel that this was the place I wanted to call home.
Someplace in 1986 I moved to New York City. Along the way I started becoming more and more in tune to the politics involved and I was becoming tired of watching people I knew die. Then, there was a movement building, blaming the government for not doing anything to cure the AIDS crisis. The government at this time was as bad as the religious organizations that had their heads firmly planted up their collective rear ends that this was a disease that was “God’s revenge (or solution)” to the homosexuals. I was 21 at this point and had started to vote, had started to realize that I needed to be involved. In mid to late 1986 there was a plan taking place. At first it was secretive, closed door, invitational only meetings, some in places I do not want to describe. Everyone was afraid of the backlash from the straight population of gay men. The plan involved many people, from all over the country, all showing up in Washington, DC demanding that the government do something about the AIDS epidemic as it had largely been ignored. In July of 1986 there was a public planning meeting in West Hollywood, CA that I was unable to attend. But the outcome was positive. The planning continued with a follow-up meeting that representatives from all gay organizations were invited to attend in New York, NY in November, 1986. After that there were a few more major planning sessions.
On the morning of October 11, 1987 I made my way to Pennsylvania Station and along with thousands of others (so many Amtrak had to hurry to put extra cars on the trains) we boarded trains for the 6 hour ride to Washington, DC. People were showing up with signs, banners, and those who didn’t have some were hurriedly given some. Upon arrival we made our way to the National Mall. The energy was high. Then there was silence. Then there was anger. On the mall the volunteers from the NAMES project had assembled the AIDS quilt and it was breathtaking. It pissed me off. It pissed everyone else off. It made people cry. I remember people wandering looking for the names of their loved ones, their friends, I remember the pure outpouring of grief. I found someone that I had gone to school with that had attempted to commit suicide while in school. He was now a name on the quilt. His true love was sitting there and touching the panel. He was also a classmate. He told me what he wanted on his panel, a promise I made, and kept a year later. I do not remember much more from that day, it was a day that rebuilt the community. Between the quilt, the march, the anger, the grief, and the birth of a new organization – ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power.
We left Washington, DC in smaller groups of people for a much quieter trip back to our homes. But we left with a purpose. Chapters of ACT UP grew in most major cities. And we were not quiet about it. I participated in almost weekly marches in New York State – New York City, Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse carrying the ACT UP banner, the pink triangle with the words SCIENCE = DEATH. See, the purpose of these marches was to demand that the FDA release the “experimental” AIDS drugs through a fast track in the FDA. The only drug that had been released was a drug called AZT. AZT was responsible for more death than the AID’s virus itself. I saw a few of my friends be diagnosed with HIV and low T-cell counts be put onto AZT and die faster and harder deaths than those not on AZT. If you didn’t take the drugs you were actually better off. In fact I knew of a few people that refused the drugs and self medicated with marijuana and lived to the release of the current range of medications, and though we have lost touch, I suspect are still alive today.
ACT UP was successful. The in your face attitude of the protesters pissed off the politicians, upset the religious organizations, and in general did everything it was supposed to do. It was disruptive. It caused inconvenience. It brought attention on those dying and those living. It forced change. Yes, protesters got arrested (it amazes me to this day that I didn’t), we had to deal with tear gas a number of times, we had to deal with being called every name under the sun and then some. But, we did not give up. I was proud to be active until late 1988 or early 1989. For me the next part of life happened. I had to get a job, through these years I survived on managing a McDonalds, running a few Radio Shack stores, and in general minimum wage positions. I could no longer afford to live in New York City and make ends meet. I was also very disappointed and disgusted with some of the people whom I had considered friends.
During this time I had also gone through a series of failed relationships, I was somewhat trusting until I was proven wrong, and then I had no forgiveness. Scott, Shawn, Eric, Frank, and lastly Brian all had come and gone in five years, I was madly in love with them, but because I worked and they didn’t, I finally figured out what made them stay until I threw them out. I had some money, I always had food, and I had a place to live. Every one of them I had caught cheating. I blamed myself for many years, it took me all the way into my late 30’s to realize that it wasn’t me, it was them. I now believe that only because of my throwing them out the second I had the “they are cheating” feeling, or when I became aware, I was able to avoid AIDS myself. I had lived life in the early to mid 1980’s like many of my friends had. But, because I was considered sort of a “stuck up farm boy” by many, was still into athletics, and had different values I really was not that much into the partying and “free” sexuality of the times that took the lives of so many.
In 1988, after the last failed relationship, I made the decision to join the Air Force. Why? I have no idea, but I was looking for a career. So, with care I completed the enlistment process, leaving a few blanks on the paperwork that for some reason were never caught, and was given a “report” date in May of 1989. Between my enlistment and report date I went on the road again, alone, and went back to the West Coast to probably my favorite city in the country, Portland, Oregon. But, it was different this time. The clubs, the community, and the attitude was decimated. While I was on the East Coast I was unaware how badly the West Coast was ripped apart by AIDS. But, I did see some glimmer of hope. Seattle, Portland, and other cities were starting to pass laws that protected those with AIDS from harassment and discrimination. These were the same cities that a few years prior were trying to pass ordinances to outlaw the though of being gay or associating with gays. In May of 1989 I drove back home to Albany, NY, put everything I had in storage, and reported to basic training.
My time in the Air Force did not last long. I was quickly identified for extra security screenings, perhaps the name gathering at demonstrations, bars, and where ever else may have had some impact, who knows. It sure was not through my lack of effort or anything I did in basic. I was a squadron leader, probably the Drill Sergeants pet (I still thing she was a very butch lesbian as I thought I saw her at an event a few years prior). I was confronted and asked if I were homosexual and had any homosexual relationships. At the time I was sort of interrogated (it was not a miserable experience, it was kept pretty civil) I was told that if I owned up to it I would receive an administrative discharge rather than a dishonorable discharge that would screw me for life. I chose to cooperate with the system.
While I was pissed I knew enough that a dishonorable discharge would have prevented me from accomplishing much in my future. However, this little “break” from the world and the ACT UP movement was enough of a break to make me evaluate what I had done and what I wanted to do. For me, 1989 was the year I knew that I really had to settle down. I could not continue doing what I was doing. So, I went back to New York state and stayed with a friend in the Utica/Rome area (one of my ex’s that I still talked with and he was now with someone else, so I accepted the offer of the couch).
After a few months I had the opportunity to follow him and his partner (fling of the month) to Dallas, TX were one of the first things he did was to introduce me to one of his ex’s from a prior life in Dallas. Well, one thing led to another and we are still together today.
Looking back at this all, I was one voice in a thousand. I played a very small part in the rights movement, the fight for AIDS drugs, and government recognition. I am happy I caused some inconvenience for government officials. Probably caused a few cities to spend some extra money cleaning up fake blood from their city hall steps (Albany, New York). But my part in the grand scheme of things was such a small part. However, I would not ever want to re-live life and not be a part of it. I grew up in those years. Carrying the signs, screaming with thousands of others the now gone chant of “we are here, we are queer, get used to it” at ACT UP marches. The only thing I wish was different was that the government had reacted and released the drugs we all knew that they had much sooner. Lives would have been saved.
In 1996 the AID’s quilt was displayed again on the National Mall in Washington, DC. I saw pictures, I was too busy with life, and I could not be there. It would be the last time the quilt would ever be displayed in one place as a whole. It had gotten too big to transport and display. There was not enough room to lay it all out. In 2012 it was estimated that the quilt now weighed over 54 tons with the names of 94,000 people. Unfortunately, it is still growing and the size and growth is not something to be proud of.
I started this article with the title, “The Job is Not Over” because the job is far from done. Prior to the AID’s crisis the gay community was winning. Life was good, government had started accepting, and it looked like things were going well, as things were until late 2015. In July of 2015 the Supreme Court ruled that gay people had the right to marry and that they had to be afforded the same rights as heterosexual people with this respect. The rights of marriage include survivor ship, medical decision making, and tax benefits. It may not seem like much until you are looking at a major health crisis, or at your income tax returns.
As we all know religious organizations have been attempting to figure out how to shut down the gay rights movement for years. In late 2015 they started a new game of filing “Religious Protection” legislation at a state level in order to protect the religious freedoms of those that do not wish to acknowledge the LGBT community. These religious freedom laws allow for people to discriminate against the LGBT community based on their religious views. An example of this would be a baker, or a wedding venue, or even a county clerk saying “my religion is against homosexuals so I will not serve you!” and because of the law there is no legal recourse. These laws also allow an employer to terminate an employee because they are gay or lesbian.
In a few states there have been laws passed regarding education. One state has changed the law regarding science education that evolution is no longer taught, creationism is. The same state has changed the law on sex education that homosexuality must be taught from the bible rather than from science and that safe sex practices cannot be taught as the only form of sex ed is abstinence. Other states have gone so far as to try to put laws into place that if a teenager under 21 wants a condom the parents must be notified. Other states have begun to try to pass laws that prevent community centers, bars, and clubs from opening or staying open based on the sexual orientation of those expected to attend. Further, there are three or four states right now passing legislation on the ability of people to protest. These states are making it a felony to protest in any way that disrupts public access to a building or highway. In fact, one such law says that if a motorist runs their car through a protest (permitted or not) they cannot be sued or held criminally responsible for their actions. Another state has removed all references to the gay rights struggle from the 70s through 90s from the approved textbooks in their schools. History has been re-written with the attempt to be forgotten.
What do all of these laws have in common? They will eventually push the LGBT community back into hiding. That is unless the youth of the LGBT community sit up, pay attention, and take notice! To our young folks…. please consider the rights you have today, the anti-bullying laws, the idea you can get married, the idea that you cannot loose your jobs or housing for being who you are. The protections you have today were won for you by my generation and the generation before me. You do not have to deal with the AIDS epidemic at the same time, but you have to deal. Your rights to be who you are and not be pushed around for who you are, are on life support.
In January of 2017 the scariest thing since the start of the AIDS epidemic happened. A new President of the United States was sworn in. Along with this new president came his vice president, his cabinet, and all of the secretaries of the various federal agencies. Every single one of these people has strong ties to various religious organizations that have taken a stand against the gay community in their recent past. Every one of these people has already said that they will turn control of funding, education, and environmental controls back to the states because only their voters know what will serve the people of that state the best. Why is this scary?
Someplace in Wyoming there is a young teenager in middle school who is slowly realizing he is different from his peers. Someplace in Wyoming there is a religious freedom bill in the state house and senate. In many places in Wyoming there are pastors and preachers preaching the evils and the sin of homosexuality to their churches on a weekly basis. Someplace in Wyoming there is a teenager that is forced by his family to be sitting there listening to this on a weekly basis. This teenager will go on to high school and because of the religious freedom laws will not receive the education to protect himself and his partners from disease, will not receive the protection of anti-bullying laws, and will not have access to the community organizations that receive funding from the federal government for outreach and education. If he survives high school without being killed for being gay, this teenager will eventually leave Wyoming for a class trip, an athletic event, or to go to college. He will be expose for the first time ever to freedom. You can bet that this teenager is going to try to find out about, and try, much of what he has been missing. Without the education, the knowledge, and the science he is going to die. Replace Wyoming with any state in the union.
I have come to realize over the last few years as I have observed the changes that religion and some government officials are trying to force on educational policy that unlike the chants of my time, “SCIENCE = DEATH” the new generation needs to take up signs that say “NO SCIENCE = DEATH.” Because when you take science and history out of the schools, out of the states, out of the news media you are doomed to repeat the past. The past was not pretty.
What can be done about it? Many of the people that won these rights years back are gone. AIDS took many of them. But, those of us remaining, those of us who are concerned would tell everyone one thing. You cannot fight this battle on Facebook or via email. You cannot fight this battle with Instagram or SnapChat. You need to personalize this battle with bodies. Electronic communications, petitions, and other such things are easily ignored. People are not. Why do you think states are trying to pass anti-protest laws? I have not seen an anti-email law yet. Learn from the lessons of the past. Make some signs. Stand up for your rights, do so in person and with force. Do not allow them to just delete you and your rights. That is the process that began in November of 2016. You were marginalized. Do not allow it to happen again.
The next March on Washington is planned for June 11, 2017 on the heals of Capital Pride. Are you going to be there? Are you going to be doing anything more than getting drunk, laid, or partying? I hope so. Go to one of the rights groups and ask for a sign. Better yet, help make some. Your work is not done. It is up to your generation to protect everything my generation and the prior generation worked for. Do not be the single generation in gay rights that will go down as the generation that has done nothing.