Stonewall, LGBT and Me

Today marks the 45th anniversary of The Stonewall Riots, largely recognized as the beginning of the gay rights movement in The United States and, in a slightly broader stroke, the world. In June 1969, I was a pre-pubescent, awkward man-child in a small town in Ohio. I didn’t know what a homosexual even was, although I do remember Terry M. got suspended from school for saying “homo” on the bus (he was a trouble-maker).

What I did know was that I liked boys. Even then, I knew it.

I mere five years later, armed with a fake ID and older-than-my-age facial hair, I nervously entered my first gay bar, Hugel’s Nite Club in Mansfield, Ohio. Affectionately nicknamed “Green Walls” after the peeling, reformatory green paint that covered every inside wall, the bar was tended by a “robust” woman named Arlene. If your ID was good enough – and if you didn’t cause any trouble – Arlene let you in to drink 3.2 beer (remember, this was Ohio in 1974; eighteen-year-olds could drink 3.2 beer). I hid nervously at tables back by the pool table, me, along with three other friends from high school – Matt, MJ and Carla. I was lucky – I had other “gays” in high school with me, and we all managed to find each other.

Hugel’s eventually morphed into Richard’s Nite Club. It was like a gay “Cheers,” where “everybody knows your name…” I loved it there.

Over the next 5-6 years, I met and became friends with all the other colorful denizens of Hugel’s/Richard’s: Larry and Beryl, Tom F. (he could run a pool table in rotation from the break using either only his right or left hand!), Jimmie the gay and his wife Linda, Connie and Nancy, Counts and Kuntz, Doe and Dee (lesbian twin sisters!), Kurt, Kirk, Chip, Donny, Harold and Phil, as well as Chris N., Kim C. and Michael G. – the beautiful “straights” from our local Arthur Murray’s Dance Studio (Michael turned “bi” eventually!) – Mike and Wendy Bee, Rico, Janet (his real name was William Jeffrey Ray), Bill B., Kevin, Henry “Who?”, Scott P.O.M.P., Randy and Klaus, Dave the Walrus, Ric and Doo-jee, Mother Jupiter and her daughter Moon Baby (not even kidding), Jack, Gene, Ron, Big Tim, Little Tim, Just Tim, “Chicken James,” Nanette, Terry, Kerry, Rick C., Michael H., Ike, Gersha and Brenda, Anthony Tony and Albert (my Mother’s dog groomer!) and so many, many others.

I felt safe and protected in that club, although I started hitting the bars at a time when the police department routinely drove thru the parking lot, taking down all the “queer license plate numbers.” We learned to walk out to our cars in pairs, or in a group – otherwise, the police would appear, shine bright lights in our face and ask “You been drinking?” As someone there on a fake ID, that would have been trouble. We protected and watched out for one another. The police also regularly came into the bar, made Arlene and later me (I  DJ’d at Richards’s for a while), turn off the music as they shouted “ID check.” The routine? We all stood up, pulled out our ID’s and the policemen passed among the crowd, checking ID’s and just generally hassling us homos. It sucked but years later, I would learn it was an ongoing, intolerable situation just like that that prompted the riots at The Stonewall Inn. That, and – some say – Judy Garland’s death…

Remembering-Stonewall-Riots1

remembering-stonewall-riots2

Remembering-Stonewall-11Times have certainly changed – in my own lifetime, I have gone from cowering in a corner of a shitty, dank bar to being legally married to my husband. We move freely in public as a couple – no need for “fake girl friends,” no need to speak in genderless pronouns. The struggle for LGBT equality continues to be waged and I like to consider myself a long-time soldier in that army. But for many young LGBTQ-er’s, all these past events, all these memories of past injustices are abstract. I wonder if they totally understand the journey, time and sacrifice/struggle it has taken to “get here.” I challenge everyone, all my alphabet siblings (LGBTQQI,TS,A’s: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, twin-spirited and straight allies) – to look to the future while remembering the past. It is hard to know when a journey is over unless you know where it started. I hope “Rudy” is right…

Remembering-Stonewall-RiotsThank you, patrons of The Stonewall Inn, for getting “the party started” forty-five years ago. I am thankful for your courage, your conviction and your “this is bullshit” attitude. Had I been there, I woudda’ been right there along side you…

Look How Far We’ve Come

Last night, my beloved Martin and I enjoyed a post-Valentine’s Day dinner and movie night with our besties, Joe and Scott. After dining on melt-in-your-mouth filet mignons, roasted fingerling potatoes, oven-roasted asparagus, delicious spiral-sliced zucchini and the most mouth-watering, fresh-from-the-oven rosemary sourdough bread ever (Joe and Scott are gourmet cooks – I love them and am intimidated by them at the same time, LOL!), we enjoyed the 1980 gay cult classic, “Can’t Stop the Music,” featuring the Village People. It is a cinematic time capsule and unintentionally shows just how far America’s LGBT community has come since its release:

I remember seeing this film in a theater in Columbus, Ohio in 1980 (on one of the three days it probably survived in theaters!) I can remember sitting in the dark, a reasonably-out-for-the-time 22 year old “gay” and smiling at all the inside jokes in the movie that I was sure only “the gays” would understand, things like –

A male performer (in gold lame hot pants, no less!) twirling two fire batons, the actor credited as “James the Flame” at the end of the movie. James’ one big line in the movie? “James is my name, flaming’s my game.” 

Then there is the goodbye scene between actors Paul Sand and Valerie Perinne, where Perrine’s character leads on/flirts with ex-lover Sand through an extended goodbye that is a string of song titles, the passage ending with Olivia Newton John’s “I Honestly Love You.” So clever…

When complimented on her outfit, character Sydney Channing, owner of THE leading modeling agency in NYC, calls out the designer layers of her apparel as “…Halston, Gucci, Fiorucci” – a clear reference to the lyrics from “He’s The Greatest Dancer” by legendary disco group, Sister Sledge.

And finally, there are the Village People themselves. The G.I. The Construction Worker. The Leatherman. The Cowboy. The Indian. The Police Officer. Iconic gay male stereotypes. I remember thinking they were kinda’ “hot” in 1980. Last night? They looked like bad sitcom caricatures of gay men. I mean, Glenn the Leatherman’s big line in the movie? “Leathermen aren’t supposed to cry.”

We all laughed and guffawed as we watched. The acting is wooden. The plot is stupid. And – speaking of stupid? Did ANYONE in 1980 actually think those six poof-tahs in the Village People could possibly be straight?

villagepeople-1No offense, gents, but looking back at the film now? You look like a bad girl group, prancing around on stage, probably opening for someone like Miley Cyrus.

Listen, I am SO happy that the Village People “blazed the way” (another flaming reference) on the way to LGBT equality. But last night, sitting watching that movie with my legally-wed husband and our best friends that have been partnered for like a zillion years, well, I was reminded how far gays and lesbians have come in my lifetime. And while The G.I. has probably been replaced by The UPS Man, and The Construction Worker has probably been replaced with The Heart Doctor, I acknowledge and thank those men and women who were brave enough in 1980 to make that movie. While we still have a ways to go, we have indeed come a long, L-O-N-G way.

National Coming Out Day

coming out day

Today is National Coming Out Day, a holiday encouraging gay and lesbian people to “come out” and stop hiding their sexuality. Originally celebrated in 1988, National Coming Out Day is observed annually to celebrate coming out and to raise awareness of the LGBT community and civil rights movement. The holiday is observed in a wide variety of ways, from rallies and parades to information tables in public spaces. (source: Wikipedia – National Coming Out Day).

As an openly gay man, I tend to smile at the notion of a “national” coming out day – but then I remember that in an embarrassing number of states one can still get fired simply for being gay. There is also the uncomfortable, escalating number of gay bashings and attacks – a brutal one recently in Pittsburgh and one here in Cleveland as well. And finally – as happy and pleased as I am to be married to my husband, we had to travel to another state that HAS marriage equality for the ceremony. Still-in-the-Stone-Age Ohio does not have married equality. And while my marriage is recognized at the federal level for some benefits, at the state level, my spouse is still a “legal stranger” in the eyes of the law. It is beyond irritating.

So, yeah… I guess I need to remind myself I live in a bit of a bubble. I mean, while Ohio is a back-ass state in the marriage-equality department, Cleveland is a reasonably comfortable city to “be a gay” in. I am fortunate to be self-employed so I have the luxury of being “out-n-proud” without worrying about consequences. And I have an amazing family, both nuclear and extended, as well as the most fabulous circle of friends, gay and straight. I am blessed…

So I forget that there are people not as lucky or fortunate as me – people that still speak in gender-less pronouns when they share stories (“We really didn’t do anything – we just sorta’ hung out.”) There are people living where it is not safe for them to be openly gay, part of cultures that are not at all gay-friendly. There are people worrying about getting fired for simply being who/what they are. There are people being bullied for “being different.” There are people forced to hide every day in plain sight for all of the reasons listed, and more. It makes me sad.

Hiding in plain sight

So today, on National Coming Out Day, instead of taking my life for granted, I will appreciate it and commit to helping others achieve a similar life. I promise to work to make the world a safer place for all of us, gay and straight. And I will push for a future where National Coming Out Day is a faint, nostalgic memory, no longer celebrated or necessary because we will have FINALLY achieved true LGBT equality.

Does It Feel Any “Different?”

Today is Day One of married bliss with my beloved partner/husband Martin. In many ways, today felt the same as every other day we have shared over the past five years  – I woke up and saw his smiling face, we had coffee together, he did some things while I puttered around on the computer, we went and saw two movies then we came home, grabbed a bite and watched Project Runway together. All in all a nice, uneventful day.

But in one very important way, today was totally different,

You see, up until yesterday – and that defining moment when we became legally married – our relationship compared to other “real” relationships looked like this:

42-20703288 [RF] © www.visualphotos.comThing is that, no matter that Martin and I had been registered domestic partners since 2009, no matter that we share a life, friends and family together, no matter that we love one another and plan on staying together forever, in the eyes of the US government we are were “legal strangers.” Until yesterday. All it took was $40.00, some paperwork, five hours in the car and The Seal of The Great State of New York. One piece of paper changed everything. Instead of the image above, we were now “equal’ – somehow our love and relationship were “legit.” Now our “gay” marriage was largely the same as a “hetero marriage” – like this:

two applesOf course, Martin and I didn’t need any piece of paper to legitimize or validate our love. We have loved one another for five years (five years and a day now, technically!) But – when people ask, “Does it feel any different?”, I can honestly say yes and no. My love for Martin could never “feel” any different – it is bright and full and warm and perfect. But I will also confess that that one piece of paper WILL make some things, and one very important thing in particular, much easier for us now. And I thank The Universe for giving us this opportunity, for our friends and family and finally for the chance to dream about the future we have always wanted – a quiet, uneventful one.

The whole “marriage-thing” is still a bit new for us so I am sure I will post several more times about it. I will share this – yesterday was the best day of my life. Yesterday. Today was my “new” best day of my life, and I anticipate tomorrow will be another new best day of my life. I am so grateful, happy and thankful for Martin and all the future holds for us. You see, forget apples vs. oranges – me and my Angel have always been two peas in a pod. I love you, Sweetie!

two peas in a pod 

And So It Begins…

For people that follow this blog, and friends that are close to my partner and me, I am sure you know that the recent SCOTUS DOMA decision reshaped our future in a very significant way. Now, finally, my beloved SBF (Sweet Boyfriend) and I have a clear path ahead, one that does NOT include us moving to a foreign country where I would be teaching conversational English. And – as romantic as a mid-life move to Portugal sounds – I am SO glad things have worked out they way they have…

Today our journey began in earnest – we submitted our background profiles to the prominent and well-established immigration-focused law firm, Masliah & Soloway, founders of Stop the Deportations: The DOMA Project. My beloved and I had our initial meeting with one of the firm’s principals, Lavi Soloway, today via Skype. Yes, THAT Lavi Soloway.

On a Sunday afternoon. While he was on vacation. Pretty amazing, right? I am still blown away by it all…

Light at the endFor a long, l-o-n-g time, I wasn’t totally sure how the future would look for my beloved and me. I mean, I always knew we would be together, I just wasn’t sure where. Or if we would ever be able to “…buy a house and settle down.” And get a dog/have a real yard. And just feel safe being at home – you know, all the things most people take for granted. Now it all seems possible…

I like the image above because it represents the start of our journey, One step at a time, moving along a straight, defined path and out into the light. As someone that has spent almost five years now cowering in the shadows, it sure does feel good to have “light on my face.” Thanks in advance to Lavi Soloway and his firm. Thanks to all our friends and family that have supported us and boosted our spirits when they were low, defeat after crushing defeat in the past. And most of all, thanks to my beloved partner for never, ever giving up on me/us, or on hope. He steadfastly refused to believe that anything but the best would happen for us. He always has been my rock and always will be.

I’ll be posting updates as we move along the path. Please, cross your fingers for us and hold good intentions for a quick, easy journey. I’m not a religious guy but hey, prayers never hurt, right? We’d appreciate it…

 

A VERY Happy Fourth of July!

I’d like to wish everyone a Happy Fourth of July today. As a follow-up to yesterday’s post (posted today due to some “technical difficulties” last night), it did indeed wind up raining at last night’s concert but, thanks to the intuitive foresight and preemptive actions of our friends Scott and Joe, we all remained fairly dry…

I have attended many holiday concerts and fireworks displays in my life but last night’s was special. Since the overturn of DOMA by SCOTUS a week or so ago, for the first time in almost five years I can now see a future for my SBF (sweet boyfriend) and me here, in America. I am sure there will still be a few additional hurdles to overcome (legal and financial, mostly) but it sure does feel good – really, REALLY good – to finally “exhale” and begin to see a clear path for our future here in the states.

Fireworks always make me cry (I’m a softie!) and, as a former tuba player, nothing stirs my heart like a march. One march in particular always makes my eyes fill up with tears – “Stars and Stripes Forever” by John Philip Sousa. (Learn more about Sousa and the march here, including a link to a recording from 1909 of the march played by the John Philip Sousa band). I don’t get misty because I am sad but because that march touches my heart and soul. Sure, I know it’s corny and expected but honestly? I think this one musical piece embodies the spirit, hope and optimism that is America. And I was overjoyed to hear it again last night…

Lady Liberty and fireworks

Click above to hear the US Army Field Band play “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

As the music stilled and the sky became brightly lit with fireworks, I squeezed my beloved’s hand and felt – for the first time in a long, long time – that we were finally safe and home free in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Thanks, America, for not letting me down and thanks, too, for the best Fourth of July. Ever…

A New Day in the Post-DOMA World

Today – for reasons that don’t really matter – I woke up at 6AM.

6AM. I know, right? Ugh… I have to admit, I was a little afraid to wake up today…

sunrise

After yesterday – probably the biggest, best “LGBT Day” and “Immigration News” day IN MY LIFE, I have to admit – I was just a little afraid to wake up for fear it had all been a dream.

To my very pleasant surprise, yesterday really happened. Know how I can tell?

Major, national LGBT lobbying groups have already bombarded my mailbox with requests for MORE for donations (so they continue their work). Internet chatter is saturated with this talking head babbling or this news anchor quoting some A-hole, saying how yesterday’s DOMA decision all but spells the end of civilization as we know it. I even heard a rumor of some states threatening to secede from The United States before they would allow gay marriage. What? What is this, pre-Civil War America?

Know what I say to those states? Go. Get out. Boo! (and as I am saying this, I am throwing handfuls of glitter at them!)

glitter

I have still not waded through everything from yesterday’s SCOTUS decisions. Already the “scare tactics” are in play – this whatever is being challenged, that whomever has vowed to define marriage forever as between one man and one woman, Cardinal Dolan was on the verge of a nervous breakdown – jeesh, give it a rest.

Know what I say to all those haters? Boo. Piss off. Get screwed! (and as I am saying this, I am throwing handfuls of glitter at them – again!)

This is what I know for sure – No matter how great yesterday’s rulings were, we still have a long way to go before we achieve true gay and lesbian equality in America. A L-O-N-G way… But today I am happy. And today I realize that yesterday really happened. So we have more work today, more haters to still, more laws to pass and more laws to revoke. But quite probably for the first time in my whole life, I feel like my efforts in obtaining gay and lesbian equality, especially with regards to immigration reform, paid off. And with that pay-off and rewards, I am inspired to continue working, to continue pushing for true and complete gay and lesbian equality. I must say – at the risk of appearing smug – I am proud of myself, my partner, my friends and even reasonably proud of America today.

A day or two more “off” then I am back at at…

Today I Am Looking Towards The Sky

“Star light, star bright, The first star I see tonight;

I wish I may, I wish I might, Have the wish I wish tonight.”

Star

I remember reciting this simple prayer often as a child – I think it is the first prayer most children learn. Remarkably enough, it is the prayer I am again repeating today on the eve of what will hopefully, finally be the REPEAL of DOMA by The Supreme Court of the United States tomorrow morning at 10AM. I have posted many, many times about why I feel that DOMA should be repealed but in a nutshell, I believe two adults that love one another deserve the right to be together. No one should be allowed to “legislate” whom or how any one loves, and I am PRAYING with all my heart that those nine judges will put aside personal belief, prejudice or bias and simply see that a law that prohibits love between two people is wrong.

I often joke with friends and loved ones that I rarely ask The Universe for any favors. So, when I DO ask, I like to think The Universe listens.

I am asking… Please let the justices see the right answer. Please let them repeal DOMA.

My 5K Post

By this time tomorrow, I predict my blog will have had 5000 views since its inception on 01 January of this year. Five thousand pairs of eyes have virtually been “inside my head” as I have ranted and raved about every thing and nothing…

Thank you. I appreciate you all joining me on this year-long journey, my personal commitment to write every day. My blog is like my online diary and my personal soap box as well. Some of my posts have been monumental and significant; some have been fluff phoned in at the final hour.

But all have been mine… And I am proud to share them with you.

Today, on the eve of what I am hoping will FINALLY be the decision of SCOTUS to repeal DOMA – coupled with the fact that it is Gay Pride month – I am sharing a youtube video that caught my eye on Facebook. Titled “We the people…that means all of us,” it was posted by N. Jones, someone whom I have never met nor know anything about. Heck, I’m not even sure if “N” is a man or a woman but I do know that I want him or her to be my friend.

I hope you find this video as moving as I did; if so, please feel free to share it any and every way you can. Thanks again.

I hope when I wake up tomorrow, DOMA will be repealed and hundreds of thousands of America’s gay and lesbian citizens will be closer to full equality than ever before in the history of our country. Fingers, toes and even eyes crossed. Pray for America’s gay and lesbian citizens. Pray for me, and my friends. Pray for us all.

beLIEf

Lately I have become a little disenchanted with Washington, politicians and the “democratic process” in general, especially as those three things intersect with the proposed immigration reform bill being considered on the hill. Recently, amendments that would have FINALLY created an avenue for America’s gay and lesbian citizens in binational relationships to sponsor their foreign partners for immigration were withdrawn in the eleventh hour. Binational same-sex couples were thrown under the bus AGAIN, for the umpteenth time now. It was, to borrow the wording of a very large, national immigration reform organization, “dispiriting” to say the least…

The thing is, the groups protesting/squawking the loudest, demanding that these amendments be removed were the Catholic, Baptist and Evangelical coalitions – you know, the “Christian faiths” with all their alleged piety and respect for all of mankind. That makes me puke. This action – denying two people that love one another the very basic and fundamental right to just be together, physically –  is reprehensible and, in my opinion, morally-corrupt. I myself was raised in the Catholic faith and many of the things that are “good” about me are a result of that upbringing. I no longer observe the faith, more out of respect for it than animosity towards it – but that might be changing. I mean, I don’t know that I was ever the best, most devout Catholic but I do know this – the God I served, and the God you all profess to honor and worship, is ashamed at how you are behaving now.

So anyway, I know I have shared with you all before that I will sometimes scan BING images, looking for inspiration for my blog posts. And today, in an effort to come out of my funk, I typed in “believe” and hit search. This image appeared:

Belief (Lie) I must confess, I took its appearance as an actual moment of Divine intervention. In one, graphic moment, it succinctly expresses the conflict I am feeling inside about so many things – an all-loving, all-embracing God, served on earth by the largest group of haters ever; the pack of two-faced politicians I helped elect to office – the ones that lie right to your face to make you a believer/get your vote then kick your ass to the curb the minute they feel a little heat from the “Christians;” the hollow hope that within my lifetime America will FINALLY live up to the ideals and tenets it professes but falls so miserably short of attaining. These are three of the battles raging in my heart/soul at the moment, and this image pretty much sums up where I am at presently in resolving those conflicts…

I hate liars. I hate people that promise one thing and do the other. Maybe someone should invent a machine with the display above that floats over the head of every clergyman and every politician in America, so that whenever they speak, we can immediately see if they are speaking the truth from their heart (belief) or lying (LIE) to our face. THAT is an invention whose time has definitely come…