35 Years Slogging Toward Progress


Amidst the darkness of post-election despair, my husband and I celebrated our 35th anniversary.

When we first got together, we had one friend who told one of us, "You can do better." And one of us had a godfather who said, "It'll never last, Ducky."

The idea of a husband and a 35th anniversary nearly defied comprehension when we first got together as students in Boston in 1981.

My husband and I were born into a country where sodomy was a felony in every state. It was an era when the witch hunt of homosexuals in the United States government contended that gay men and lesbians were security risks and communist sympathizers, thereby removing them from employment. As for suspected gay people in the military, it was court-martial and dishonorable discharge.

We came of age in a country that would incarcerate us for what we did in bed. Well, actually, it was either imprisonment or hard labor. Throughout our years in secondary school, the American Psychiatric Association maintained that homosexuality was a mental disorder.

We endured Anita Bryant's virulent campaign against gay rights only to wake up to a disease that was originally termed G.R.I.D. (for Gay-related immune deficiency) before its designation as AIDS, which became an epidemic that our (Republican) President refused to name, let alone address.

And the year that we left the country to live in the South of France was the same year that our (Republican) First Lady refused to assist her erstwhile best friend actor Rock Hudson who needed treatment for AIDS, thereby leaving him to die in Paris.

Returning to the States, we survived the Supreme Court Decision Bowers v. Hardwick which included the Chief Justice's opinion stating that homosexual sex was a "crime not fit to be named," thereby ensuring that we had no constitutional rights in the bedroom for the next 17 years. On the up side, it was around this time that the American Medical Association decided that homosexuality was no longer an illness. (Wasn't that nice?) And somewhere in there, we managed through eight years of W. amidst an ongoing war on equality and his desire to amend the U.S. Constitution with a ban on same-sex marriage.

Nonetheless, in spite of our lifelong checkered history as gay men in the United States, we might have been feeling somewhat upbeat on November 8, 2016. But guess what, one more appointed homophobic administration (that didn't win the popular vote) isn't enough to break us.

In hindsight, there were signs we overlooked. A twenty-something Florida girl, asking at dinner why we were so concerned. "It's only four years," she said with a shrug. How could we explain to her the lifelong impact of Supreme Court appointments and decisions?

How would she comprehend that we were born in a country where interracial marriage had been outlawed by the Supreme Court for 84 years before it was overturned in Loving v. Virginia in 1967?

Here in Manhattan, we live on Frederick Douglass Circle, our windows overlooking an eight-foot high bronze statue of the African-American abolitionist and statesman. People from around the world make pilgrimages to this statue in the circle and nearly every day, we catch couples and families and students taking photographs with Frederick Douglass. It was Douglass who wrote so eloquently of his escape to freedom: "The flight was a bold and perilous one; but here I am, in the great city of New York, safe and sound, without the loss of blood or bone."

Thirty-five years ago, when my husband and I first got together, the idea of same-sex marriage in the United States was nearly incomprehensible--at least to us.

Amidst the post-election despair, we keep reminding ourselves of another of Mr. Douglass' quotations, "If there is no struggle, there is no progress [for] power concedes nothing without a demand." If Mr. Douglass could go on, so can we.

Thirty-five years on, we're still here together, fighting for our rights--because love trumps hate.

(Photo of Robert Doyle and Mark Thompson in Montpellier, France, 1985 ©MRNY)