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.
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.
Third, playing on the Super Bowl champions, Brendon Ayanbadejo, featured last week in SFGN, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
From the dark shadows cast over us for decades, we got here anyway. 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. Join it, be part of it, and grow with us.