Norm Kent

Life Out of the Shadows

Filed By Norm Kent | February 10, 2013 11:40 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: changing times, gay rights, out of the shadows

Last week was yet another significant one in the realm of emerging gay rights in American society.

First of all, there was a pronouncement from the Boy Scouts of America that they were rethinking their policy of excluding openly gay scouts from their membership. That is no small victory, as the Supreme Court of the United States protected a decade ago their decision to do so. It does not matter yet that they delayed the vote. Civil rights victories emerge slowly over long periods of time. bigstock-Shadows-of-people-walking-27028109.jpgThe needle has been pushed and can never again be turned back.

Second, on Sunday evening, in an interview with CBS News, just before the Super Bowl, the most watched television event in history, the President of the United States of America reasserted his commitment to equal rights for gays and lesbians by encouraging the Boy Scouts to follow through and change their past practices. From his historic Inaugural Address on the steps of the White House, to a fireside chat on national television, our President has demonstrated he will make gay rights for us a legitmate human rights concern for our nation and the world.

Third, playing on the Super Bowl champions, Brendon Ayanbadejo went on CNN to talk about the rights of gays and lesbians to freely marry without legal restriction. Let's not underplay the timing and sequence of events.

Ayanbadejo has become a national and straight spokesperson for same sex marriage. He was interviewed Monday on CNN by daytime talk host Don Lemon, an openly gay man. What we saw was two top tiered professionals calmly and intellectually exploring equal rights for all without a religious freak intervening and saying how we are all going to burn in hell. Thanks to the voices of people like Wayne Besen from 'Truth Wins Out' the voices of morons from the Westboro Baptist Church are largely being laughed at, scoffed, or ignored.

Fourth, proving they do more than hold Muscle Beach parties on South Beach, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force sponsored its 25th Annual National Conference on LGBT Equality on 'Creating Change' in Atlanta, Georgia. Thousands of activists from around the world appeared, and President Obama made a guest video appearance supporting their efforts, because in venues from Russia to Nigeria the struggle is far from over. But now is the time for our national rights organizations, from GLAAD to the HRC, to step up and honor not mainstreamers who lived in the closet, but our own activists who have paved the way for many others. Let's celebrate the Mark Segals from the Philadelphia Gay News who have fought our battle for a generation before we coronate Perez Wilson for his gossip columns.

Fifth, the New York Times ran a front page Sunday feature on six openly gay Congressmen now populating the House of Representatives. Candidates are making a name for themselves based on their past performance and stellar reputations, not because they have been diddling pages or patronizing gay escorts. Let's not forget the Steve Gundersons of the world who created safe harbors for Jared Polis and others.

The world is changing and we with it. Having the word gay next to your name is no longer a sin to be ashamed of, but a sign of progressive equality. As we write the stories of our future, we need to celebrate more than just 'coming out.' We need to celebrate lives and personalities of people that have lived out loud in the face of fear and approbation.

Sixth, when you ask why that matters consider the lives of both Ed Koch and Jim Nabors.

Last week, at the age of 88, the former New York City Mayor of Ed Koch, and a part time West Broward resident since his retirement, passed away. Koch lived in an era of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' as it applied to public office holders. He was an enigma who gave us an enema.

On one hand, he co-sponsored the first gay and lesbian rights legislation ever introduced into Congress. On the other hand, when Koch, who never married was forced to respond to gay rumors, he found a beard in consumer affairs advocate Bess Myerson. He lived in a closet he would not break down.

Sadly, he compounded his flaws in the 1980's by remaining silent about AIDS, failing to deal with it responsibly as a public health crisis. Koch was probably afraid to speak out more fiercely for fear that it might spur discussion back to himself about his past homosexual relationships, which he desperately tried to conceal.

Koch was a passionate leader and a unique icon, buried with honors for his service to the city he loved. As we memorialize him though, never forget- the thousands who died of AIDS and the voice he could have been for so many of them. But it was not his time to speak out. That is both sad, and too bad, because he could have made a difference for so many others.

It has never been a secret that Jim Nabors, a remarkable baritone, a talented actor, and hilarious comedian, was gay. But last week, in front of a judge, at a Seattle hotel, the man we loved as 'Gomer Pyle' married his partner of nearly four decades, Stan Cadwallader. Nabors was able to do so because progressive laws in Washington now allow him to put the stamp of marriage legitimacy upon that 38 year long relationship.

Nabors is now 82, and he was therefore 34 years old in 1964 when Hollywood gave this young (gay) man his own show, Gomer Pyle, USMC. But America was all black and white back then, and there were no colors on the rainbow to paint the screen- no coming out at the Golden Globes. So Nabors lived in the closet, not a secret to anyone, but not a public spectacle to any.

In the county where he was born, Talladega County, Alabama there is a stretch of highway named the 'Jim Nabors Highway.' It is not the most liberal of places, and it is a far way from the Hawaii that Nabors now lives in. But maybe some young gay kid growing up bullied in a repressive community can find solace and hope in knowing that no matter where you come from, you can be gay, you can be healthy, and you can grow up and become a happy and successful person.

In the world Ed Koch and Jim Nabors lived in, there were few support groups, and no 'It Gets Better' campaigns. There were no 'You Can Play' Projects for young athletes. There was no Human Rights Campaign, no national task forces, no PFLAGS, no Brendon Ayanbadejos or Don Lemons to help us see our way.

Today, a young man named James Duke Mason, the grandson of the famous actor, the son of a renowned singer, Belinda Carlisle, has launched the 'Trailblazer Campaign.' His bold effort reminds us how many in Hollywood remain in a transparent and glass closet, though it is embarrassing and unnecessary.

Another young man, Zach Walls, goes on national forums to remind us that you can grow up straight with two mothers. Soldiers like Dan Choi, fighting now as a civil rights activists, remind us that the price of freedom may still mean being jailed for your beliefs. The battle, my friends, goes on, from lesbian teenage partners in Mississippi being denied entrance to a class prom, to young men in New Jersey being bullied by peers. The battle goes on because there are still Matthew Shepherds we can never forget, Tyler Clementis' we cannot ignore.

We have a new weapon in our arsenal today. That magazine is not a loaded gun, but a wealth of spirit and love and trust and acceptance across this nation that we have always been right and others are essentially wrong. Our new America recognizes our love is real, our lives are just, and our passions honorable. We have come from the pain and ignorance of yesterday to the awareness and consciousness of today.

Discussions of gay life today are no longer about what we do or who we do in a bedroom. They are focused on our capacities as human beings to love or marry each other, or raise children and have families of our own. They are over whether tax codes are equitable or city partnership benefits are equal for LGBT couples. Ironically, making some of these decisions are justices and legislators who have lived their lives behind closet doors, just like Ed Koch.

Just as Europe has gay prime ministers, America can have gay and lesbian CEO's, from the Chicago Cubs to the Apple Store. We are living in a world which is coming to see us in the daylight with our clothes on. What any of us do with our clothes off has never been anyone else's business but our own.

From the dark shadows cast over us for decades, somehow we got here. It has cost us the lives of Leonard Matlovich and Ronnie Zamora and too many others to count. But from Jodie Foster to Anderson Cooper, we have found the light, and the light has found us. We can all be proud. We are a community now and forevermore. Like the words from the song 'Hairspray,' written by Harvey Fierstein, I believe, 'you can't stop the motion of the ocean...'

It's a rainbow. Deny yourself not. Join it, be part of it, and grow with it. If this is you, come out, come out, wherever you are. Within the illuminating glow of this radiant light, there is room for every color, every shade, and every person.

(Shadow people graphic via Bigstock)

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