|Paying It Back By Paying It Forward|
|The next day . . .|
Who among us who are unapologetically “out” and justifiably proud did it all by ourselves and without help directly from others, particularly others who came out before us? You? I’d bet not. I’d venture to guess that almost no one to this day has managed to come out without the direct encouragement, support, and guidance of one or more others who have traveled that scary road before us. Stop reading for a moment and think about those who lent you a sympathetic ear and a helping hand.
As society’s attitudes have changed, coming out has doubtless gotten easier and it, on average, happens at a younger and younger age. But the undeniable fact that it has gotten easier is irrefutable proof that everyone has benefitted from those who have gone before. In short, every person who is “out” has benefitted directly or indirectly from those who have gone before. Often those who have gone before did it with no high minded purpose and, rather, just to survive. But just by surviving in a much more hostile world, those who have gone before ran interference for us.
We owe them. We are indebted to them, immeasurably. Those historically, who have been martyred for the cause, are owed perhaps the most. We know the names of some of those martyrs who lived, suffered, and died, and who did not know our names.
When I was still in the coming out process, I attended a play in San Francisco called, as I recall, Harvey Milk. Don’t hold me to that title, but it was a one man production about the iconic Harvey Milk. It had to have been in the late 80s or early 90s. In it, at one point, Harvey Milk is responding to a question about why he was working so tirelessly and selflessly for the cause of GLBT civil equality. He said—get this—“I’m doing it so that someday some guy in Des Moines, Iowa, can feel safe to come out of the closet and live an authentic life,” or words to that effect. But he said, “…some guy in Des Moines, Iowa.” Needless to say, it touched me. I won’t forget it as long as I live.
There’s no way that I can thank Harvey Milk directly. He’s long dead, shot by an assassin. But let me share another story.
I served for many years on the Des Moines School Board. In January 1995, the school district, thanks to the impending Iowa Republican caucuses, became embroiled in controversy over a proposal to implement a long-standing policy of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation. There was a special school board meeting on January 24, 1995; televised state-wide; on the topic of homosexuality and the public schools. That night, at 10:24 p.m., I came out publically as a gay man.