For Don and Bruce, Who Died Because They Were Different
I’ve been teary today as I watched the crowd gather at the Supreme Court, as I watched people celebrate all over the United States, as I listened to President Obama speak about this momentous day where the law finally affirms full respect of LGBT people. I find myself thinking of Don and Bruce, and the other boys I knew in the years I was in the arts—music, musicals, the theater.
I write this post in honor of the sensitive and lovely boys I knew as a young girl in Oklahoma—the boys who played music, loved ballet, and beamed sweet smiles. They were boys who were living with a secret that many of us never knew until they killed themselves. This is for Don Z. and Bruce T., who died too young. And it’s for Roger S. who moved to San Francisco to more openly live his truth, and the other boys who would have covered up the signs they were “sinners,”–the way they would have been judged at that time. They would have been outcasts. If the truth of their sexual orientation had been discovered, they would have been shamed, shunned, and humiliated. Some preferred to die rather than face a world who would treat them that way.
When I grew up, the word “gay” did not exist. Strongly sheltered in the small town where I grew up, I didn’t know that same sex people could have sex or love each other. I didn’t know any words to describe that alternative world until I was eighteen years old. In contrast, my eight-year-old granddaughter understands that some of her mother’s girlfriends love each other. They’re married and adopted children. To her, that lifestyle is nothing special. But today’s Supreme Court decision to allow marriage equality is a gigantic step in the history of the United States, and is now a matter of law. It changes everything.
Don’s face comes to me today, his reddish blonde hair falling across his forehead. I see him playing his trumpet in the orchestra, I see the face of a sixteen-year-old boy and feel his sensitive soul. Bruce’s fingers were amazing as they flowed across piano keys. His voice was higher than some boys’, his sensitivity to the nuances of music was something to emulate. I knew these boys in my innocence, and never thought that they were different or strange or anything but what they seemed to be—kind, talented young men. Years after their deaths, I learned why they might have died so young. It left me infuriated once again at a town and world where prejudice ruled.
Prejudice was everywhere—against the “Negroes” who lived in the unpaved section of town, the “Indians” who were seen as drunk and dirty. The Christians in that town taught us to cross to the other side of the street if you saw either one coming toward you on the sidewalk.
The word “lesbian” was one of the nastiest comments you could make about someone. That kind of person was supposed to be avoided and shunned. You should never speak to any of these kinds of people, nor should you keep company with anyone where there could be a whisper of scandal. I found it hard to understand why the girls who were at the top of the social echelon could get away with having a shotgun marriage, while a working class girl would be shunned.
It’s a new world now, a world where young people know that prejudice is no longer “in.” Where people of all colors and preferences will be treated as full human beings.