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Monday, January 18, 2010

Today I Bear Witness

"May you live in interesting times" is as much as a Chinese curse as it is a blessing. Today on Martin Luther King's birthday I think about my own life and my own experiences as a gay man living in a time of rapid social change. That this battle for the full participation of African-Americans in the American experience continues as well for all minorities in their quest for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Today, I feel its important to bear witness to what gay men have endured in their own battles for equality. As reflect back on my own youth, my own "history", I can see how many of my experiences are vastly different from what young people may live today. Now, I can look back and see the systematic oppression perpetuated on gay people, gay men in particular. I can understand how hate crimes work, what bullying really is about and how legal codes were put in place to systematically intimidate and extract a price. Most importantly I can look back at age 42 and remember the death toll of the AIDS epidemic and the governmental apathy that lasted until the death toll reached of 50,000 men before the leader of ALL American's could even say the word AIDS.

I remember clearly in 9th grade at the "gay boys" who were systematically hazed and tortured. I saw a kid stuffed into his locker. Another beaten up every day after school. I don't know if these guys were gay or not, but they were different and it was made clear that they didn't meet the standard of "masculine". Nobody came to their defense, not the administrators, not the teachers, nobody. Slowly but surely they disappeared into the shadows of school life: sneaking out during lunch breaks. Working the school schedules so they could leave school early or wait till Senior year to take gym with the Freshmen, so they could avoid both physical and psychological torture. Or they just dropped out altogether. Today I want to bear witness to the lost potential of these boys. To the ones who dropped out or committed suicide. I want to bear witness to the years of pain they endured. This is part of my civil rights struggle.

When I was 20 I was arrested for "battery on a police officer" when I grabbed the ass of a undercover police officer wearing a red Speedo at a gay beach. He was muscular and male model handsome. He flirted with me. He invited me back to his place. We turned to leave and when we got to his car he arrested me and put me in a van with 20 other unfortunate individuals. Over the course of the day 50 men were arrested on various trumped up charges from battery to lewd activity. In each case the police officers entrapped the beach goers. We were offered a deal: $1000 fine or they would call the newspaper and print our names and the charges. For eight hours work, the police department made $49,000. I was the only one who fought the charges. Today I want to bear witness to unjust treatment of gay men by the authorities. This is part of my civil rights struggle.

Few outside the gay community care to remember the AIDS epidemic. Sadly, 300,000+ gay Americans perished in that epidemic. For men my age, the medical breakthroughs ended the previous decade of deaths. To this day, gay men in their late 40's and 50's are a very rare breed indeed. Today I want to bear witness to these men who died pointlessly because the larger society felt they were not worthy of one penny of additional funds for research and care. This is part of my civil rights struggle.

Of course its important to understand that much has improved in my lifetime. I just want to bear witness that the oppression was real. That many of my gay brothers never reached their potential for happiness and success because of it. That we as gay men, should never forget that we too have fought, sacrificed and died in the battle not just for equality, but for our very lives. That is part of my civil rights struggle.