I met Jamie in 1981. We met in Chicago on May 18 at 5pm. I had just come from having a tooth pulled at the dentist and stopped by my job. When I walked into Broadway Drapery, my boss, Mort, introduced us. Jamie was hired part-time as a stock boy. His smile was like sunshine. And I felt its warmth. I wasn’t even out yet. Who would have known he would become my first boyfriend?
Things were very different back then. We always had to have a level of secrecy about our relationship. Over the years, we always rented a two-bedroom apartment to keep up the illusion. Jamie kept his secret from his family, but I had somehow forgone the “coming out” phase and slipped in to just being me. It was the condition of the time. We were together for nine years until the unbelievable happened.
In 1989, while in his dying bed at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, I had to call his father and stepmom to tell them he was dying of AIDS – and he was gay. I didn’t know which was worse for them. They came to the hospital only once over the 30 days he was there. We all stood by his bedside. The nurse woke him from his morphine drip to say hello. They made small talk for a few minutes before saying their goodbyes. As I walked them pass the curtained area, they whispered, “When it’s over, call us.” They went back to Michigan. The whole circumstance was numbing, but this broke my heart even more. As we all did, back then, I agreed and moved on.
As the years have gone by, the world has thankfully changed in regard to how gay people are treated. But there is still a level of hatred and ignorance waiting in the wings. Sometimes it is in your face. It is there when a bakery refuses to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. Other times, it is more subtle. For instance, when a family member’s efforts to engage is different from the straight family couple. Either way it hurts. It forces some to live in the shadows in return for forced love. It prevents someone from being able to honestly share life’s pain and joy or to build strong relationships. But yes, today the door is more widely open, but not completely.
I just read Hillary Clinton’s new book, “Hard Choices,” I realized something important. Whatever you feel about the individual, there is good and there is bad in the world. And she is good. If you’re not helping to heal and bring people together, you are part of the problem. It is just that simple.
If you haven’t read it, you should. In the last chapter, she speaks about her 2011 historic International Human Rights speech. She spoke of the myths the world uses to oppress and dehumanize gays. She clarified that gay rights are human rights. After listening to the full speech, I wondered how anyone could disagree with such a basic human rights premise? But I slap myself to reality and remember the world we live in. If you haven’t heard the speech check it out below.
After closing the book. I couldn’t help contemplating how life would be today if things had been different back then. No hiding. No lying to the ones we loved. Would AIDS had claimed so many lives? Would Jamie still be alive? I could go on… and sometimes I do. But the years have passed and there are just too many contemplations to hold on to.
Gratefully, I found love with a man I have been with now for 23 years. We celebrate every day when we can openly call each other “partner.” Recently, after seeing a movie, I reached out to hold his hand in public and for a moment I felt what it is like to be free.
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