AIDS was a death sentence in the 1980s when it exploded into the American psyche. I met the first person in this area to have the disease, and the man was being treated by his neighbors and the rest of society as if his skin were radioactive plutonium. Dying slowly, unable to find a doctor who could help him, shunned and ridiculed, he only wanted to ensure his six-year-old daughter survived. A woman I knew was interviewing him, and the whole time I felt as if I was observing the first of many people to die of this mysterious plague.
Rock Hudson’s death from AIDS stunned many people. Hudson was one of the Beautiful People living the dream in Hollywood. But he was also the gateway for the adoring public to realize sexuality was not always what it seemed. It took famous people dying from AIDS for the general population to accept that sexuality wasn’t the cause or the only vector of the plague.
The death of one of their own prompted movie stars and big money to support the funding and publicity of finding a cure for AIDS, which led to a greater understanding and empathy of the Gay community. Closet doors swung open, and to the surprise of some and the shock of others, gay wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and simple, ordinary people, stepped out.
While in the army in 1984, I met a fellow soldier, a cook, who was gay. When the military discovered this, all hell broke loose, and she tried to kill herself. The last I heard was she was in a mental hospital. We went from persecution to don’t-ask- don’t-tell, and finally, acceptance.
Speaking up and defending someone for being gay would have gotten me kicked out of the army, but I regret not making a stand. More people died of indifference and ignorance than they should have. The same holds for men and women discharged from the military, some decorated combat vets whose sexuality made no difference in how they served this country. The disease of fear, ignorance, injustice, cruelty, and outright hatred stalked the military ranks no less than anywhere else in America.
Like a virus, hate spreads from person to person, is transmitted easily, and relies on indifference and ignorance to propagate.
Hatred pushed a friend of mine into near suicide; all I could do was watch silently. A reporter interviewed a dying man, a pariah, the American unclean, the unholy and unbearable, who would die wondering what would happen to his daughter. All I could do was embrace silence again.
The time for regret is over now. It is now the time to speak up, to shout that love is love, that people are people, and that hatred is division. Equal rights are not a pie; you do not lose yours by allowing others to have theirs. You do not lose your life, freedom, dignity, or security by allowing other people to love as they please.
Freedom to love is the most basic of all human rights. We should all say this, and it is worth fighting for.
I’m saying it now. Let people love who they love.
Happy Pride Month.
Mike writes regularly at his site: The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.