Carson Kressley, gay television celebrity, initially known for his key role in the first “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” and now on Bravo in “Get a Room with Carson & Thom,” is coming to Fort Lauderdale on Feb. 22, as a personal favor, to present me with an award from Stonewall. 

 We’ve never met in person, but when I wrote Carson, and asked him if he’d come, he quickly responded that he’d be honored. Our lives intersected at an important time nearly forty years ago.

In 1983, when I served the Mayor of Boston Kevin White, as his liaison to the gay and lesbian community, my younger brother, Tom, also gay, and also working for the mayor, sent me a newspaper clipping that said Carson Kressley, when asked why he felt comfortable as a gay student at Gettysburg College, replied, “When I was a freshman, they had Brian McNaught speak…” On a whim, I wrote him through his publicist, and got back a very meaningful note about my impact on his life. You just never know who’s listening.

When the Stonewall National Museum, here in Fort Lauderdale, told me they were giving me their Legacy Award, I asked if they’d like me to see if Carson might come. I really look forward to meeting him face to face. If you don’t have plans that night, please join us.

None of us know how our words, actions, silence, or inaction impacts others. I’ve had the joy throughout my career of hearing how a talk, a book, or a video of mine had a positive impact on another person’s life. I’ve never gotten a swelled head, but I have gotten a swelled heart from learning this. 

 I don’t make it about me. 

It actually has little to do with me. For me, for Carson, and for everyone else, is that when we positively impact others, we’re channeled the truth, humor, joy, pride, strength, clarity, and kindness of the Universe. It’s the light that seeks to shine through our window. And when we let it, it’s our legacy to those around us, and to those who will live after us.

If I’m given time to speak after receiving the award for my legacy, it’s my intention to talk about the legacy we’ve created together as a generation of queer people, and our allies. 

After a talk at Notre Dame many years ago, I was approached by a Residence Advisor who told me that a gay student came out to him, and when he asked the student why he felt he could trust him with this very personal, mostly misunderstood information, the student said, “A couple of weeks ago, one of the R.A.s told an anti-gay joke, and you were the only one who didn’t laugh.” 

 We never know who’s listening.

Any person who was once heterosexually married with children, and came out, has been a full participant in this extraordinary global awareness that “Being gay is not what I do. It’s who I am.” Any transgender person who transitioned while married, and while on the job, has been a full participant in the legacy of normalizing the fluidity of gender, in identity and in expression.

Most older people in our community many years ago mustered the courage to go into a gay bar, risking the loss of a job. We seniors marched in early Pride parades where people threw firecrackers at us. We dared to write letters to the editor, using our real name, to be photographed lying in the street with Act Up, to lobby our congressional representatives, pastors and rabbis, and union bosses, to hold the hand of a stranger with AIDS, to come out in the Armed Forces, to hang the rainbow flag from our front porches, and to put decals and bumper stickers on our cars. 

We did this not in a welcoming environment because most straight and cisgender people were uninformed, and frightened, and some dangerously hateful. Our vision of living whole, happy, safe lives in which we were valued by our family and friends, and protected by our government, was the evolutionary call of the Universe, and our rising to the occasion is our legacy to all future generations globally.  

Because, while we were writing, speaking, protesting, coming out, burying our dead, creating our quilt, and getting married, other people, young and old, gay, bisexual and straight, Catholic and Jew, rich and poor, black and white we’re watching us, listening to us, and discussing us with others. And among them all, there were allies who stepped boldly forward on our behalf, and together, we changed the world forever. 

That’s our legacy. 

When my name and face were in newspapers and television news reports in Detroit in 1974, an envelope was left at the door of my home. It was from a 12-year-old boy down the street. The envelope had pictures of naked male statues, cut from a history book or encyclopedia. “I’m like you,” the note read. Seeing me be an openly gay man gave him the courage, like Carson Kressley, to come out. 

You just never know who’s listening.


Brian McNaught has been a leading educator on LGBTQ issues globally since 1974. He has made his many books and DVDs available for free at The New York Times named him “The Godfather of gay diversity training.

Check out other stories by Brian McNaught

McNaught: Shared Beliefs on the Unknown

McNaught: What Makes a Family

McNaught: Keeping Them Together

McNaught: Memories Light The Corners Of My Mind

McNaught: Through Thin And Thick

McNaught: The Way We Were