The motion to guard LGBTQ civil rights encourages us to be daring

SAN FRANCISCO – About a week from now, Pride month will begin, marking 52 years since the riots in the streets of New York City instigated by the NYPD raid on a dingy, rundown Mafia bottle club in the city’s West Greenwich Village .

It also marks fifty-one years since the March for Justice in Town for LGBTQ People the following year, on the first anniversary of those three days of rioting, was held at the Stonewall Inn by the Gay Liberation Front and LGBTQ activists who eventually became Pride. which has also been mirrored in other cities by LGBTQ activists across the country.

This reporter was 10 and 11 years old, respectively, growing up in rural Ontario, Canada, completely unaware of the impact these landmark moments in LGBTQ history would have on my life. That being said, factor two would be the pioneers of the LGBTQ activism movement from this period and beyond, whose influence would also have a significant and personal impact on my life.

Today, Saturday, May 22, 2021, it would be Harvey Milks’ ninety-first birthday and yesterday, Friday, May 21, 2021, my friend would be Dr. Frank Kameny’s ninety-sixth birthday. I was extremely fortunate that these LGBTQ icons, their work, their impact, their history are woven into my professional career, but even more so into my personal life.

In the spring of 1979, I was a very confused, narrow-minded gay twenty year old in college who was deeply unhappy and constantly struggling with my sexual orientation. My best friend, who was growing up, suddenly announced right after high school that he was moving to the States to “be free.” I didn’t realize at the time that he too was struggling with being gay like me, as we were only marginally involved with this topic. He landed in San Francisco and faithfully sent postcards showing the various attractions in the City by the Bay and surrounding areas with cryptic notes on how groovy his neighborhood at Castro was, as I later learned.

He kept telling me that I would have to come and visit and even move to California. As my struggles increased and the struggles with my family continued to escalate, caused in part by my inability to escape my feelings and unhappiness, not to mention living in constant fear of discovery, I gave in and flew in late May 1979 to San Francisco 10am on the morning of May 21st (note the date folks what?)

The events of the next few hours are still blurry, partly due to the shock my best friend revealed he was gay, my first encounter with the Castro, my first real encounter with a ‘gay community’ and then the beauty of San Francisco . But what happened in the hours later that day would change my life forever, as I, like the thousands of others that night, was involved in what would later become known as the White Night Riots.

The next day, Harvey Milk’s 49th birthday, twenty thousand people gathered to pay tribute to the man everyone knew only as “Harvey,” including my friend. Over the course of that summer, I met people who knew Milk very well, including Dan Nicoletta, Lee Mentley, and Cleve Jones. In fact, I can attribute my pursuit of journalism to a series of conversations I had with Cleve in the summer of 1979. I’ve heard “Harvey” stories, learned about gay rights history, the Prop 6 fight, Anita Bryant and her attacks, but mostly I’ve learned about myself.

Unfortunately I couldn’t stay in San Francisco and ended up back in my home country Ontario, but with a new perspective and a new knowledge and education actually from my time at Castro that there were many, many, many people like me. Unfortunately, it also marked my retreat into the metaphorical closet because I discovered that I would not be able to be overtly gay and, in fact, in some cases this could lead to arrests, public humiliations, but most importantly, loss of a career that I cherished.

A jump to 1993, to be precise, April 25, 1993, when I stood on the edge of Layfette Park across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House in Washington DC and watched thousands of LGBTQ people pour by on what was called the third of March via Washington for LGBTQ equality rights – I literally decided that right now is the time to embrace who I really am and I stepped off the curb to join them and end my personal agony forever.

I was introduced to Frank Kameny later that month.

Dr. Frank Kameny celebrates his 85th birthday with friends and sponsors. (Photo by Washington Blade Picture Editor Michael Key)

During the time I was working in DC before that April day in 93, I snuck into the gay bookstore owned by an incredible gay couple Deacon Maccubbin and Jim Bennett. Lambda Rising was more than just a bookstore, it was the center of Washington’s DuPont Circle gay community. I picked up my copy of the gay newspaper ‘The Washington Blade’ there every Friday. I think you could say that it’s a bit ironic for me to be editor of the sister paper to this publication now, more than 37 years later.

Even so, I was still so insecure, and afraid that a fellow press colleague would discover me, that after I grabbed my copy, I put it in today’s edition of the Washington Post so I could safely take it with me to read. Sounds paranoid on steroids, I know, but that was my reality. But, I digress, it wasn’t long after this march when I was in Deacon and Jim’s shop looking through the adult magazine rack when I literally met Frank. Actually, I stepped on his foot. This started a conversation that was to begin our friendship, which lasted until Frank’s death, on National Coming-Out Day in 2011, of all places.

Frank decided that his mission is to train me in LGBTQ history, and as a result, I received a BA in Gay History from Kameny University, for which I am forever grateful. I think the only event that stood out was the time we were at Frank’s home in Upper Northwest DC and he showed me his handmade petition to the US Supreme Court denying his request for Certiorari, in his case, that he was fired for his gay release by the federal government.

Frank’s stories were the stories of the early LGBTQ movement, some of which, while serious in nature, gave me a little ease. He and pioneering gay journalist Jack Nichols had founded the DC branch of the Mattachine Society and also started some of the earliest public protests by gays and lesbians, especially outside the White House. The Mattachine Society had published a newsletter which it then mailed to subscribers and members and a Washington power couple, the seriously closed FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and his significant other, FBI assistant director Clyde Tolson.

With a grin and a wink, Frank told me how he was visited by office agents on behalf of ‘The Director’ to beg him not to send the newsletter anymore. For some reason that just made me laugh.

The other stories were compelling and compelling. Frank’s work alongside Jack and Jack’s lover Elijah Hadyn “Lige” Clarke, Barbara Gittings, who organized the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis and, together with her partner Kay Lahusen, published the national women’s wear magazine The Ladder – actually the entire homophile -Movement as then it was known. Through Frank I met gay luminaries like Dr. Lilli Vincenz and Paul Kuntzler know and have been thoroughly educated about what the emerging LGBTQ movement could achieve.

As I stood still at Frank’s memorial service in the old Carnegie Library, surrounded by people who were his friends or simply influenced by his work, and stared at his flag-draped coffin, I softly mumbled Frank’s signature mantra / slogan out loud: “Gay “. is good.’ The person standing next to me turned and said, softly but emphatically, “Yes, it is.” That person was Washington Mayor Vincent Gray.

Today is Harvey Milk Day and in his proclamation, California Governor Gavin Newsom wrote:

“Today, as we honor Harvey Milk, we remember his words,“ Hope will never be silent. ”Members of the LGBTQ community – in the United States and around the world – are still exposed to the discrimination and violence found in rooted in the same hatred that Milk died against. They deserve hope and they cannot stand our silence. We must continue his fearless advocacy as we work towards a California for all. “

I will remember Milk’s words alongside Frank’s words, because as I discovered on my personal journey, gay is indeed good, and as long as there are those willing to carry on both Frank and Harvey’s legacies, hope will never be silenced .

Happy Birthday Harvey and Frank with great affection and respect.

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