When I came out of the closet 30 years ago, my liberal parents decided to disown me. Overnight, I lost my family and my home, and I began searching for a way to rebuild them both. At the same time, on the other side of the country, the only LGBT city in the world was being born. When my parents kicked me out, West Hollywood took me in.
1984 was a watershed year for me personally, but also for the Gay and Lesbian community at large because it was the year that homophobia, fueled by fear of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, reached a fevered pitch. I can vividly remember people moving to the other side of the street when they saw two men or two women walking together. Hate crimes, which didn’t even have a name back then, were a weekly occurrence. And to make matters unbearably worse, many of my gay brothers were passing away faster than I could mourn them. Prejudice and discrimination against LGBT people was bad before the epidemic hit, but the early days of the disease turned the hatred of our community into outright hysteria. Silence really did equal death.
For me, pride in my sexual orientation has always expressed itself through political action – one of the best ways to bring about lasting change. All those years ago, it is where I found my voice, my strength, and the community cohesion it took to really challenge the status quo. There was – and remains – no better cure for injustice than being an advocate for justice.
Pride meant attending marches, distributing petitions, and lobbying legislators. At the same time, many LGBT people were also becoming frustrated with unchecked homophobia and other related issues like misogyny, racism, and transphobia, which deeply impacted our community. We needed an organization to harness and direct that fury and frustration. And while many groups were started at the time, the one that had the biggest impact on my life was ACTUP.
ACTUP was pissed off, theatrical, and incredibly effective – all at the same time. We may have had to chain ourselves to buildings (which we did), yell at the Statue of Liberty on July 4th (yup, did that too), and block traffic with our bodies (uh huh), but slowly and surely, the urgency of our plight started to shift the hearts and minds of millions.
Thirty years have passed, and as we celebrate Pride Month 2014, I want to commemorate these parallel historic happenings – the birth of the modern LGBT political movement and the birth of the one and only LGBT city in the world – West Hollywood. It seems to me that these events coincided for a reason. While our community needed the ways and means to organize politically, we also needed a safe place to come home to at the end of a long day fighting for social justice.
Although there are many gains that still need to be made for both the LGBT community and the City of West Hollywood, we should be incredibly proud of the victories we’ve won to date. For in truth, Pride is Action.