1.2.11

Breaking the Silence

It all began in 1969 at a small bar in Manhattan called the Stonewall Inn.  A small, nondescript, well hidden bar that was primarily gay was raided by the police for serving homosexuals. At the time it was common for police to raid gay and lesbian bars claiming that they were looking for liquor law violations.  The patrons were arrested with no substantial charges and their names were often published in the paper.  Many people were fired from their jobs because of this.  That day in 1969, the community had had enough and decided to put up a fight and riot against the police.  That day was the birth of the modern day GLBT rights movement.

Oh how the times have changed.  I came out when I was 22 years old and thinking back, it was even more different back then than it is now.  When I started going out to the clubs and bars, they still had no windows, or if they did they were usually glass block or had a brick wall in front of them protecting them from the frequent bricks and bottles that were often thrown through them.  Most were not well known outside of the gay community and the clientele was almost 100 percent gay or lesbian.  The men went to their bars, the women to the lesbian bars and very seldom mixed company.  The occasional straight person would wander in, either out of confusion or because they were with gay friends and enjoyed the music at the clubs and were there to dance. 

I came out in the early 90's and I was just on the cusp of major change.  Gays and lesbians prior to this time period were often portrayed on television or in the movies as villains, or as the limp wristed stereotype for comic relief.  Think back to "Threes Company" where Jack portrayed the lisping, limp wristed, effeminate gay.  Its hard to believe that that was once accepted as the norm!  People didn't really talk about people being gay or lesbian.  We have always been around the arts, but it was just not discussed.  As long as we stayed within our predetermined roles as leaders in the arts, or in design or fashion it was ok.  Step outside of those bounds and people weren't so accepting. Gay men often carried on hidden relationships and many were married and just did things on the side in secrecy because of intolerance.
Will and Grace

Right about the time I came out and turned into somewhat of a club kid, things started to turn the other direction.  As a gay friend once said, in my early 20's ,"its chic to be gay now!"  I didn't know what he meant but then it started to show.  Gay characters started to show up on the television in a positive light.  Shows like "Queer as Folk", "Will and Grace", and "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" became popular and mainstream and people started to see us for who we really were.  Granted, some of the early shows focused on the rampant sex and drug use that was stereotypical of the gay community, but still they gave us media exposure and pushed us into the lime light. Shows still skirted the issues and tried to sugar coat things for the straight public in order to ease things past the censors but again, some exposure was better then no exposure, or worse yet, bad exposure. Many television stars started to be open about their sexuality.  Ellen Degeneres came out of the closet, then many other started to follow suit.  Pittsburgh started having gay pride parades as well as many cities across the globe.  I attended a pride event way back then and I think we had maybe a thousand or so people show up in the beginning, but it was a start.
Matthew Shepard was murdered during my youth and the killing made national news.  People were outraged and more focus was shifted on why there were no laws protecting hate crimes against gays and lesbians.  

I'm 38 now and things are VERY different! I just recently read an article in Entertainment Magazine about the upsurge of gay teen characters on television.  The article talked about the very large amount of openly gay and lesbian characters on various shows and how the media is now dealing with issues about bullying in schools.  We have two nationally syndicated gay networks on cable now.  There are numerous openly gay actors in Hollywood.  We have had openly gay people in government.  Companies offer same sex benefits which was unheard of in the past. You were lucky if you didn't get fired for being gay! Shows like Ru Paul's Drag race have gone mainstream. I never thought I would see that day that some of my straight friends would come up to me and say "we love that Ru Paul show."  If you haven't seen it, its sort of like an American Idol for drag queens.

I went out recently and even the clubs have changed.  Its not unusual to see gay, lesbian, bisexual, straight, black, white , Asian, or whoever, all crammed into the same club.  There is less focus on straight club versus gay club, or lesbian versus gay club.  It doesn't really seem to matter anymore.  Everyone just goes and has a good time.  Kids are coming out of the closet at a very early age now.  There is less fear and more acceptance.  Gays and lesbians are adopting kids and people are starting to realize that we are not monsters or sex crazed fiends, we are people who love each other and can be in real relationships, committed relationships. Pittsburgh pride has grown from a few thousand to over thirty thousand people last year.  Toronto pride hit a million and Europride in Stockholm this year had over 500,000 show up JUST for the parade not to mention the several million that attended the week long event. We have the Gay Games now which are like the Olympics for gay and lesbian athletes.

Although we still have a very long way to go and a great struggle ahead of us, things are definitely way easier now.  We owe a great thanks to the people before us who paved the way.  To the men and women who stood up for us at Stonewall.  For the people who have been brave enough to come out publicly and face the firestorms that often ensued.  I don't think that young people today realize that things were not always so easy and they take things for granted.





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