Thoughts on a joyful two days, amid the bad news

Last week was a stormy one in the U.S., marred by political and racial strife, while the Covid-19 pandemic continued to spread in large sections of the country. Except for two days, when Stew and I felt a welcome respite from all the gloom.       

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “[a]n employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.” 

The decision was stunning on two counts. 

The Trump administration had urged the highest court to rule against gay and transgendered workers. 

The second part of this double-whammy was that the majority opinion was written by Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, a conservative appointed by Trump, and the decision was seconded by another conservative on the court, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. 

Then, on Saturday, Stew and I celebrated the 48th anniversary of being together, though we didn’t officially get married until 2013. 

For us, there was an arc of joy connecting those two events last week. 

June 20, 1972 is a rather arbitrary date we use to mark the beginning of our relationship. That was the day when we crammed our belongings into Stew’s green 1970 Mercury Montego, and headed north from Bloomington, Ind., where we had both completed master’s degrees, to the big city and bright lights of Chicago, where our first full-time jobs awaited. 

There were no wedding bells or any semblance of ceremony or formal recognition of our relationship, even by our parents or close relatives. We moved into a modest ranch house, in  suburban Warrenville, 30 miles directly west of Chicago, with a beagle, a dachshund and an enormous gray cat we named George, after South Dakota senator and 1972 Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern.  

Naturally, and in typical gay style, we renovated and redecorated the daylights out of the place, which served us well when it came time to resell it a few years later. 

Then, and for decades afterward, we didn’t have the fig leaves of imaginary girlfriends or fiancées to bring to the office Christmas parties, or mention in conversation, though I suspect that most people we worked with, and without much effort, quickly put two and two together and came up with four, or at least three-and-a-half.  

My career in subterfuge formally began when I took a bureaucratic job with the then-U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, at a medium-security research laboratory, southwest of Chicago. One of the requirements was a security clearance and filling out of a lengthy questionnaire that included a question about “homosexual tendencies” or other “mental disorders.” Of course, I checked “no”, at the risk of perjury, penalties, fines and the wrath of the federal government. 

And so our lives went on, for six years, in our hermetic suburban closet. Change, big change, though, came on the fifth year, when I left the government job and enrolled at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, and picked up a second master’s degree, and began a career in the magazine/newspaper racket. 

From the somnolent, closeted suburbs we moved to Chicago’s vast gay hub of Lake View. We’d gone from living with no gay people around, to gay people everywhere. I think even the neighborhood dry cleaners was gay-owned. 

Initially, my work life was suddenly free from fear. At the publications where I worked, nobody seemed to notice that I was gay, or gave a damn if they did. For his part, Stew took jobs at DePaul University and then joined another gay guy to set up a quite profitable home-inspection business. No problemas. 

Chicago 2014: Still here after all these years.

It was a comfortable life in a big-city gay ghetto, except for the homophobic winds blowing across the rest of the U.S., which crept ever closer to us in the form of anti-gay legislation at all levels of government.

Anita Bryant, a second-rate singer and peddler of Florida orange juice, was soon joined by a parade of countless preachers, singing the same anti-gay tunes. 

For a moment, the country seemed obsessed with “rooting out” gay people wherever they might be, from public schools to the American military. 

Further shattering the false security of living in a gay ghetto, the AIDS pandemic exploded. At times it seemed as if everyone we knew was either dead, or sick and destined to die a slow, horrible death. 

Those were not a happy times. But gradually the tide turned, and turned decisively. 

I don’t know what triggered change. It may have been the riot, on June 28, 1969, by a mob of angry patrons at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, who pushed back against police brutality and extortion. Many gay people consider this our “Independence Day.” Or the activism and protests against perceived government inaction regarding AIDS. Or perhaps it was the gradual emergence of gay people from the closet, who’d suddenly become everyone’s co-worker, neighbor or dear relative.  

“We’re everywhere” was an often-heard, and I believe, one of the most persuasive, slogans used by activists. 

Once in a while, though, I was reminded that all was not yet well. At an endorsement meeting of the editorial board of The Chicago Tribune with a Republican downstate politico, who opposed gay-rights legislation, I asked him, “So, if the Tribune were to fire me for being gay, would you support that? 

He gulped, and after a few seconds, said, “Hmm. Yes, I would.” Even then, bigotry lived on. I don’t remember what happened to him. I hope he lost the election. 

Monday’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court put an end to that sort of discrimination, and was the latest in a series of dramatic gains by gay people, including the right to marry. 

In most large cities, Gay Pride parades are one of the highlights of summer festivities (except for this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic), and are led by a delegation of state and local politicians.  

The Stonewall Inn was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2016.

Indeed, we’ve come a long way during the past 48 years. Glad Stew and I have lived to watch it together.  

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