OpEd: LGBT History is Important

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Photo: Tony Webster.

As our community moves through its LGBT history month, there are three local events of interest worth noting, even though, shockingly, none of them were my birthday today.

First, let’s talk about the Pride Center and where we have been. There was a time not too long ago in South Florida, when gay men and women met in dark alleyways, not in Cadillac dealerships along Federal Highway. Your willingness to stand up and be counted as conscientious citizens, not closeted queers, has built new lives for countless generations of gay men and women.

Our legacy tomorrow and our history today has been written by your courage, and don’t let anyone ever take that away from you. It was not always an easy road. Wilton Drive was no rainbow. When people like Charlie Bado came on a radio show to talk about his new organization, in the 1980’s, Gays United Against Repression and Discrimination, (GUARD), Fort Lauderdale was not issuing proclamations. They were raiding gay bookstores and bars, arresting gay men at every turn.

The South Florida gay community has grown from fringe groups with bullhorns standing on the corner of the streets to owning them. At the end of this month the display of gay humanity celebrating Halloween in Wilton Manors will be nothing short of remarkable. For the Pride Center: it is demonstrative proof that our community has leadership which embraces and enhances our lives, making us players who are a part of our cities, not apart from them.

There is a second group of people to celebrate and call attention to during this history month, and though they did not make our cover this week, they are all cover girls. Apparently, this is the first time the Miss Florida International Pageant is being showcased in Broward County.

Like the transgender Southern Comfort Conference, or Pride Fort Lauderdale’s noble bid for World Pride, our area codes are moving up in the LGBT universe. We are not just 305 anymore; 954 matters.

Hey, there is a reason I have been successfully publishing the Express Gay News, and now the South Florida Gay News, since 1999. It’s because you have made our community consequential. Whether it is gay professionals expanding their law firms, or LGBT guest houses lining our beaches, the greater Fort Lauderdale Gay business community is drawing national attention and international tourism.

We are fortunate to have the backing and the bullhorn of the Broward County Convention and Visitors Business Bureau behind us. Thank you, Richard Gray.

All of you have played a part in being stakeholders in our lives. Be proud of your role in building our corner of the world, whether you boldly advertised yourself as the first openly lesbian candidate for office or the first gay realtor to lead the Fort Lauderdale board. Maybe, like George Castrataro, you have used your firm to advocate civil rights. We each do our part.

You see, you bucked the tide, you dealt with adversity, and now you are entitled to an ice cream cone from the Wilton Manors creamery- because the two proud gay parents who own that place are only there today because of what you did yesterday. With every gay dentist that opens and advertises his practice in Oakland Park on the pages of SFGN, you lend authenticity to our lives and advocacy to our cause. You become our history.

The Miss Florida Pageant celebrates years of hard work by courageous performers whose cutting edge politics paved the way for our progress today. When the gay community needed voices to speak out or fundraisers to generate revenues for HIV patients, they were our first responders. The Miss Allyson’s of our world have done so much for so many with class and distinction; grace and honor along the way. Can’t say enough about our ladies in lace.

Long before there were Pride centers, there were Tiny Tina’s amongst us donning the mantle of activism to fight for our rights- to pave the way and set our course. Before there was an Our Fund to raise monies to seed our legacies, drag queens were our soldiers, albeit dressed in uniforms much more lavish than some of our own. They put themselves out there when a lot of us were still afraid to do so.

Last week I was thinking how far the gay community has come in my own lifetime. I remember 40 years ago standing with Dean Trantalis, Bev Cothern, Tom Bradshaw, Robin Bodiford, Gary Steinsmith, Jamie Bloodworth and a few others, creating a little group of activists called United Citizens for Human Rights. We were all outsiders looking in. Not any more.

I remember Alan Schubert pitching a shovel of dirt to kick off the groundbreaking of a new Pride Center on Andrews Avenue. I remember Alan Terl and Brad Buchman arguing for domestic partnership legislation in the 1990’s at the Broward County Commission meetings, and Dennis Delia protesting Reverend Kennedy and the Coral Ridge Church’s opposition to anything gay. I remember when the LGBT community was an afterthought, heck, an after birth. Not any more.

I saw last week that the AIDS Healthcare Foundation has led a charitable endeavor to bring relief, supplies and sustenance to our friends and families in Puerto Rico. Not too many years ago, Father Bill was pleading with cities to allow us to open food banks for people living with HIV in South Florida. Not any more. Now we have men like Michael Weinstein at AHF stewarding worldwide non profits which enable relief efforts for the needy around the globe.

I saw a new gay kickball league being founded and written about in our newspaper last week. I wondered if they knew about the gay softball league so many guys like myself, Jim Stork, Stan Butler, Dave Liddy and a score of others provided the impetus for 35 years ago. Go to the Village Pub and read the plaques saluting those pioneers. It’s our history, and whether you were a plumber or a painter, you helped color our lives, Jerry Polis.

We can’t and all won’t make headlines. But we can all make and have made headway. It’s not just gay ‘history’ month. It’s a celebration of how far we have come from being ‘Boys in the Band’ to the leaders of it. We are architects of the new tomorrow. We tear down closets. We don’t build them. Not any more.

Our community has gone from dark alleyways to civic celebrations and block parties closing down streets and opening doors. We are about social organizations, charitable ventures, and community involvement. Our paper and community now celebrates businesses who make a difference. You want press? Tell us about the pet project you sponsor, not just the 2 for 1 special you are promoting this weekend.

To those who are 20 and struggling with who you want to be and where you want to go, let me share this about gay ‘history’ month. What matters most is not where we have been. Don’t worry about me reminiscing about what happened once before.

What matters most is where you want to go, and the history you want to create. To thine own self be true. Be who you are. Become all you can be. Make that happen and you will write your own history.

 


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