I was one of the lucky ones who realized young that being gay is as unnatural as left-handedness and shouldn’t be punishable by injury or death.
Millions of Americans now also get it. Sadly, many people right here in Colorado and Aurora still don’t understand that homosexuality and gender-bending means nothing to those who aren’t gay or making up their own gender rules.
This week, the Aurora Sentinel joins Out Front Magazine and numerous Aurora groups and businesses in celebrating the first Aurora Pride.
As sweet as this long, long overdue prize is for the LGBT community here, across the state and the world, it doesn’t come without aching for those who celebrate this landmark human rights victory sporting deep scars. It doesn’t come without missing those who died before Aurora, and America, could get here.
My best pal in high school, Mike, taught me how seriously dangerous being gay was back in the 1970s. He was a famously smart and irksome guy who one day told me I had to be the stupidest person on the planet to not know that he was gay before he outright told me. He laid it all out for me while he was explaining why his dad had given him a black eye, swollen completely shut, a gashed lip and a cracked rib — because he was gay. He later said he’d long learned to live with being called a “fag,” but having the crap beat out of him hurt in a lot of ways he wanted no part of.
He eventually left home, afraid he would be killed. He took his stunning wit, generosity, practical jokes and intelligence to California, where he traded it for struggling against a life on the streets. He once told me that he was going to miss me because I was the only person he knew who didn’t see his sexuality as his defining trait. He was Mike, first. He was the funniest guy I knew, second, and somewhere down the line he was a vulgar teenager who got a thrill out of shocking me with his queer talk. My inclusion, he said, was like a magnet. It was something he craved and I willingly offered. I still miss him. He taught me everything about his humanity and mine.
So along the way to this job and this point in my life, I have had been close to a virtual herd of amazing gay, lesbian and trans people. Not long after high-school, I started losing friends to AIDS, one of the sickest episodes of cruelty in human history. I stood by and watched as friends became deathly ill and died. Often, their own families had long abandoned them.
I hurt right along with my gay and lesbian friends when they would complain about losing apartments, jobs, family, car loans, even restaurant reservations because of their sexuality.
Out Front Publisher Jerry Cunningham explains it best. He runs one of the country’s oldest gay-oriented publications. The name, he said, tells the story. Born in the 1960s, it launched the war for equality by pushing the idea of gay pride into America, instead of begging for mercy with a gay apology. The magazine has long been associated with the endless march for equality and exploration of what gay culture was and would become.
After decades of work, America finally began to move past treating homosexuality as a disability or an off-color office joke. America fumbled with the idea of acceptance.
There was a time when it seemed that was the best the country could hope for. Acceptance. In the big picture of human rights, however, acceptance is the consolation prize. America moved into the flow of “don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy. Progressive states began passing civil union laws, something that would come late to Colorado.
After years of being beaten, sometimes to death, for their sexuality, millions of LGBT Americans were finally being tolerated, albeit grudgingly, by a country where fewer and fewer leaders erroneously and sadistically equated homosexuality with deviance and molestation. I have, however, unanswered emails newer than the Boy Scouts of America decision to back off their no-gay-leader stance.
So it almost takes my breath away that, this weekend, right in front of Aurora City Hall, Aurora will hold a festival to celebrate the end of the dark days for gays, lesbians and trans people. That’s pride on a lot of levels.
Cunningham says the meaning is so profound for him because his magazine is no longer the voice of an underground society simply seeking the right to exist and make a claim to human rights. It’s now, truly, out front, where it belongs.
For the most part, our gay friends and families are no longer seen as the country’s pariahs. The bigots are.
Aurora Pride isn’t about acceptance, it’s about inclusion. Our LGBT community doesn’t have to be anything other than moms, dads, doctors, skiers, pilots, writers, business owners, daughters, students and shoppers. I would have loved to see Mike loving all this, but I’ll just have to love it for him.