June 26, 2013 —
Forty-four years ago this week, I woke up, went downstairs and overheard my parents discussing the news. My folks subscribed to two papers, The Sun Bulletin and The Evening Press, both published in my home town of Binghamton, NY. Keeping abreast of local and national news was important in our household. My sister and I were well read, and education was considered not only important, but also mandatory. I was 15 in 1969 and had already witnessed desegregation in schools and my mother reading Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique,” had heard the grown-ups discuss the pros and cons of the march on Washington, women’s lib, the Vietnam War and the endless arguments that ensued over the length of my hair. Many times, my parents were divided over these and other issues, but that day, June 28, 1969, the debate raged on, this time about the civil rights of a different community.
The Stonewall riots were a “series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the gay community against a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City. They are widely considered to constitute the single most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for gay and lesbian rights in the United States” (www.wikipedia.com .) I had been to the Village, had observed members of the gay community and was harboring the secret knowledge that I was “one of them,” but attempted to not let on, understanding that this was something to keep hidden and never discussed or admitted to anyone. I was ashamed, fearful and scared. The turbulent ‘60s had ushered in a new age, and everything was changing so quickly that it was difficult to know what was acceptable in polite society. Although emboldened by the news of Stonewall, I held my tongue.
All that changed, of course, and before the mid-‘70s, I was out. While I might have had a ways to go before achieving proud, there was no mistaking that my declaration to the world was loud. My father was angry, my mother wept, but the world was evolving and for me, there was no going back. Little did we know how much perceptions would change, and I’m still amazed by the headlines today as one by one, citizens stand up to be counted and make their voices heard. Are there still prejudices to be overcome in the world? Yes, but the times, they are a changin’... even here, in the Upper Delaware Valley.
Before moving to this region, I scoped out the lay of the land and discovered a couple of organizations, including The Gays of Sullivan County (dot com), the Gay and Lesbian Alliance of the Catskills (www.galacatskills.org ) and a handful of groups scattered about on both sides of the river, which gave me confidence that there were others like me (well, that’s debatable) to be found in and around what was about to be my new home. While it may have lain dormant in the back of my mind, I was never truly concerned about how my being gay would affect the welcome mat here in the area and any doubts I might have had never materialized. If there are those who consider me odd, off-beat or even just plain weird, it has nothing to do with my sexual orientation and for that, I thank you.
Last Friday night, the celebration began and I jetted over to the Catskill Distilling Company to join others out and proud, dancing the night away prior to the festivities held the next day in Callicoon Center at a “Day To Be Gay”(DTBG) festival at Hills Country Inn (www.hillsinn.com ) co sponsored by Gala Catskills and DTBG Foundation. The day involved booths, vendors, entertainment and food, and folks from all walks of life strolled the grounds, entered the pie-eating contest, bought handcrafted artwork and encouraged their dogs to take part in the pageant that awarded prizes to the cutest, or the one that most closely resembled their human counterpart.
That same night, The Indigo Girls and Joan Baez hit the stage at Bethel Woods (www.bethelwoodscenter.org ). Was it coincidence that these women have spent decades championing equal rights and served as a voice for the downtrodden? Between them, these entertainers have spoken out supporting civil rights, human rights, nonviolent demonstration, saving the environment and lending their names to scores of causes, including gay rights. While the Indigo Girls have identified as gay for more than 25 years, that “label” has clearly not affected their standing in the world of music, where they have sold millions of gold and platinum albums. As for Baez, while not a lesbian, her support for the community is legendary and she is in a class by herself as an icon, an activist and a living legend. As thousands gathered to hear the women play and sing, the “G” word wasn’t heard as I wandered the grounds and (IMHO) it’s because it’s (albeit slowly) become a non-issue. Out. Loud. Proud. I’m wowed.