home about media center archive history links subscribe

Teleological Thoughts
(Ding Dong, DOMA's Dead)

Every time I go to the Gay Center in NYC, as an old man, I look up at the two story Rainbow flag fluttering in the wind from high up on the red brick building.  And I always think back to 1964 when I was 15 and discovering that I was gay, when there was no gay center.  There was almost nothing, no role model, no guidance of any kind.  And I think, now here is this place to call home, full of gay folk of all ages from morning till late at night.  There's a safe space inside just for teens to go where they can figure out who they are and be who they are.  There are gay seniors meetings, and twenty somethings, and folks in their forties, and groups for people 'into' everything you can think of including my group of gay veterans.  None of that was there when I came out.  It just brings a tear to my eye every time I look up at that flag flying peacefully just as if it had always been there.

We've actually come a long way.  When I was born in the mid 1940s, the middle aged adults then were busy contemplating a world without war for the first time in years.  Homosexuality was not in their vocabulary or minds.  My parents had fled Europe for their lives and were living in a new land with a new language, here, wondering what America would be like without Roosevelt.  We postwar children were expected to grow up to become doctors and lawyers, parents and grandparents; carrying on with what the world war had disrupted.  Neither they nor I would have been able to comprehend, back then, that I'd grow up to become a gay warrior.

Still, maybe without a word for it, my mother knew by 1954 what I was when I was eight years old.  That was when I came home one day from elementary school and innocently told her about "this boy" who was a Mexican Aztec exchange student with glowing copper skin.  I said, "He's so beautiful, can he be my brother?"  I didn't have a clue what I was nor what I was saying.  But mom, in her wisdom, got the whole picture; perhaps sighing and pursing her lips.  She never said a word, she waited over a decade; and when I came to visit her as an adult in my early twenties, she finally asked me if I was gay.  Mortified, I gulped and said, "yes."  And dear mom, bless her, said casually, "ah, I thought so."  She certainly had more patience than I did when I began battling for our rights.  A few years later, when I introduced her to my handsome Filipino lover, she wasn't in the least surprised.  She knew what I liked ever since I was eight years old.

In 1948, few Americans could have imagined that a Black-American, General Colin Powell, would become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the late 1980s. Nor could the young men of our Greatest Generation, returning home from WWII, have imagined that a Japanese-American, General Eric Shinseki, would now be Secretary of Veterans Affairs, responsible for their well being in their old age.  Very few Americans back then, aside from President Harry Truman, had the vision to imagine that a Black-American, Barack Obama, would become our President.  In the 1940s, no one could have even conceived of the idea that we'd have Gay and Lesbian Admirals and Generals now, active and retired.  My dear old dad, born at the turn of the previous century, would not have been able to comprehend that his skinny nerdy little bilingual boy would grow up to serve his country for ten years, leaving as a Sgt First Class in the US Army Reserve, and grow old as a chubby gay veteran activist editing Gay Military Signal.

In between, we came a very long way.  When I was 11, in the late 1950s and early 60s, Frank Kameny - a gay WWII veteran- was already beginning the battle for our rights along with Barbara Gittings.  US Navy LT Harvey Milk, born in 1925, was already a veteran of the Korean War era.  It would be decades before I got to meet some of these people along with Leonard Matlovich who became a dear friend.  My first remote connection to any of all that was in 1964 when I was fifteen and just realizing that I was gay.  I went to seek some counseling from the NY Mattachine Society whose dingy offices were five floors above Herald Square.  There was no Internet for me to find out about any of that.  I read about it in a paperback book.  When I got there, they assigned me to a 26-year old youth counselor named Craig Rodwell.  It was decades later that I read in a gay history book that at that time Rodwell's lover was a Wall Street stockbroker named Harvey Milk.  That same year, Rodwell participated in the first protest against the ban on homosexuals in our armed forces.  A few years later, in 1969, Rodwell became one of the leaders of the Stonewall Revolt.  It would be nearly a decade after that, when I stood at the corner of Castro and 18th in San Francisco having an hours-long chat with Milk, and a year or two later with Matlovich.  In those days, in the late 1970s, the gods of the gay revolution walked the Earth like ordinary mortals.

In 1969-1970, while I sailed aboard the aircraft carrier USS FORRESTAL, working just below the flight deck, the Stonewall Revolt raged and later the Gay Activist Alliance and other groups were formed.  Rather than picketing properly, and unnoticed, in suits and ties, GAA protestors rampaged shirtless in the streets demanding rights, performing embarrassing 'zaps' on politicians and then sending in neatly dressed negotiating teams.  The long road to our rights was being paved by these brave pioneers.

In 1975, Air Force Tech Sergeant Leonard Matlovich -a Vietnam War hero with 12 years service and a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for valor- wrote an open letter to the Secretary of the Air Force explaining that he was gay.  This was not a spontaneous impulse; it was carefully planned with Frank Kameny and the ACLU.  As expected, he was discharged and they sued.  Until this courageous act of career sacrifice, homosexuals were considered to be totally unmentionable sissies skulking in the shadows.  And then there was the war hero, Matlovich, appearing on the cover of Time Magazine in uniform and moustache, every bit the masculine American war hero.  It made all the difference in the world.  It was the start of the dialogue that led to everything that followed, including the Supreme Court deciding in June that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional.  It took thirty six years for Leonard Matlovich's sacrifice to result in the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, at last allowing gay and lesbian patriotic American's to serve our nation openly in Pride.  Alas, Lenny did not live to see that day.  He resides in the Congressional Cemetery under the epitaph he designed, "A Gay Vietnam Veteran; When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men, and a discharge for loving one."

I met Lenny in the sweet summer of 1979 at the Castro Street Fair in San Francisco as he stood in his handmade wooden booth beneath his hand lettered sign saying, "Leonard Matlovich For Board of Supervisors."  Breathless, I went over to him and told him he was my hero, because I had "served in silence."  That tall handsome sergeant bent down and kissed me.  I didn't wash my lips for weeks!  After that we became friends.  Despite his being a hero and leader, he was always a totally humble ordinary guy who told terribly corny jokes ("I'm into S&M, you know - Sneakers and Makeup...").  My partner and I would drive up to Guerneville on many weekends to visit him in his pizza parlor which he bought with the money the Air Force gave him to go away after he won his case.  Visiting his grave in Washington DC, whenever I can, is a sacred act for me and for thousands of others who reverently visit his gravesite every year.

We've come a long way since those days in the 1970s.  Back then, the idea of getting married was as unthinkable as it had been for biracial couples a decade earlier.  Who would have thought, back then, that the son of a biracial couple, born in 1961, whose marriage was forbidden in 16 states, would grow up to become the champion of our rights and marriages as President of the United States of America.

America has progressed since then to now in the dawn of the Twenty First Century, where the nation's first minority President repealed the ban on open military service by gay patriots and speaks out for our right to marry; while at the same time America's second minority member of the Supreme Court, in a biracial marriage, is a conservative opposed to many of our President's progressive ideals.  We are truly blessed with diversity! Imagine!  That Justice was unable to see our love in the light of his own.  He voted against repealing DOMA, and for ending elements of the Voting Rights Act.

With the Defense of Marriage Act having been deemed unconstitutional by a majority of the Supreme Court; all of our service members will now be able to have equal benefits with all of their marriages equally recognized, as will those of all of our veterans.

It has been a very long road, and we are not done yet, since President Harry Truman began it all in 1948 with his courageous Executive Order integrating our armed forces.  Everything followed that forward thinking moment, very slowly.  We will not wait another 65 years for our full equality.

  2013 Gay Military Signal