A Senior’s Perspective :: The New Millennium’s OUT Generation
With a same-sex marriage rooted in the transitional one-leg-in-one-leg-out of the "closet generation," I, Bill, the rural Illinois boy and Bob, the California-native surfer boy are a most unlikely pairing if ever there was one. His family tree imbues pedigree educations, history and sophistication that stretch deep into the 16th Century.
My family’s heritage of strong work ethics is more blue-collar than white, with an honorable history traceable to the early 1800s. In that context, I am the wholesome hayseed sent to humble him. As each other’s permanent advocate for nearly 35 years, I share a perspective of and for the new millennium’s "out generation" to ponder.
In 1969, a decade before we would meet, New York’s Stonewall riots ignited the fire behind America’s modern LGBT rights movement. Bob was a 17-year old high school exchange student in Italy. I was 22, a rural Illinois graduate student engaged to my opposite-sex college sweetheart - far different stories - but both destined to be VietNam War veterans. Neither of us had fully awakened or understood our same-sex attractions. We hadn’t heard of the short life of America’s oldest documented gay rights movement, Chicago’s 1924 Society for Human Rights or Los Angeles’ 1950 Mattachine Society, the nation’s first national gay rights organization.
We met in ’79, while acting our parts as corporate heterosexuals by day in the concrete, steel and glass towers of Chicago’s Loop. Nights were spent darting in and out of the gay urban ghetto of dark windowless bars, to avoid career ending "outings" and the periodic police raids, arrests and beatings-for decades the norm of life in a homophobic America.
Personally spared the ’80s HIV/AIDS outbreak, we did not escape losing our circle of youthful hope it annihilated or the overwhelming sense of futures extinguished. Expecting to age with our friends, we witnessed them decay to mere skeletons - their hollowed vacant eyes void of the dreams once held. In an apocalyptic horror of deathbeds and goodbye rooms we became intimate with the fragility of life. Draconian inhumanity lived through families, neighbors, co-workers, churches and a government denying the needed touch, love, comfort, care and dignity of life’s final hours.
Now seniors, we live a little in the shadows of the teens, 20- and 30-somethings of the younger Bobs, Bills, Janes and Jills facing their own generation’s challenges. Similarly naive and innocent as we once were to all ahead of and behind them, they awake to face the vulnerabilities of their time. HIV/AIDS is still deadly and very menacing, but better understood, more manageable and survivable. Gay equality is nearer, but there are still no precise road maps to civil equality, justice, freedom, happiness, love and dignity. There are only the shared experiences of lives forged to survive - strategies devised to circumnavigate the humiliation, abuse and dehumanizing acts of those we and they dare trust to accept, love and protect us as we are.
It’s with this historical perspective the senior activists of our time leave the proudly open "out generation" the legacies we inherited, created, endured and struggled to improve upon. As teachers and mentors, the victories and failures of our past are now entrusted to them. The knowledge, sacrifices and experiences of all who lived before them are now theirs to preserve, protect, improve and pass to others.
Elusive and fickle timelines for social acceptance, understanding and compassion our community continues to seek are nourished by the faces, words and actions of the new millennium’s "out generation." As they reflect on the birth of their freedoms and the dear price those who won them paid, may their wills be even stronger, obstacles fewer and legacies they leave behind all the better.
Just think about it!