I came out forty years ago, in late December of 1973, to be precise. After years of therapy, judo classes at the YMCA, and furtive sex in college bathrooms I decided, at the age of 20, that it was time to take the next step. I told my parents, visited my first gay bar, and made my first gay friend. And I decided that I would never again hide my true nature, no matter what the consequences were.
This was not easy. This was 1973, at a time when most LGBT people were only out to their partners, their close friends, or their therapists. Membership rolls in queer organizations, where they existed, only listed first names and last initials. Though everyone “knew” about Rock Hudson or Jim Nabors or Richard Chamberlain, these fine gentlemen kept their sexual orientation to themselves. Even obvious ones like Liberace would take journalists to court if they even hinted that Lee’s interest in women was platonic. They were right to be careful, for being out and proud had its consequences. I almost lost my job when my then-partner and I appeared on the back page of the Miami News, the day after Miami-Dade County voters repealed their county’s human rights ordinance (1977). Of course the Miami News has since gone out of business, while I am still here.
Finding a famous LGBT person to serve as a role model was not easy in 1973. Most of the time, unless you were convicted of a sex crime, one kept one’s sexual orientation to one’s self. All in all, there were two types of people who were out in 1973: artists and activists. This served me well, because my goal in life was to be an artist (actually an author) and an activist. (This is still my goal.) Writer Truman Capote’s gayness was well known, even in 1973. Other gay writers talked about their sexual orientation in interviews that appeared in Gay Sunshine journal; interviews that were later (1978) collected in Gay Sunshine Interviews. They include William Burroughs, Charles Henri Ford, Jean Genet, Allen Ginsberg, John Giorno, Lou Harrison, Christopher Isherwood, Harold Norse, Peter Orlovsky, John Rechy, Gore Vidal and Tennessee Williams. Though of all of them are gone except Giorno and Rechy, they continue to inspire new generations of LGBT people.
Not everyone can be an Allen Ginsberg or a Gore Vidal. On the other hand, anyone can be an LGBT activist, even in 1973, if she or he has the right amount of courage and determination. Though LGBT activism lay low in Miami in 1973 – Richard Inman had moved away, Miami’s Gay Activist Alliance had gone out of business and the Dade County Coalition for Human Rights was yet to be – my college reading of “gay liberation” books had informed me of a new crop of queer activists who were making their mark in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. I wanted to have a lover like Peter Fisher and to have fun with Jack Nichols and Lige Clarke. (Nichols and I later became good friends.) Most of all, I wanted to be like The Gay Crusaders, fifteen LGBT activists honored in Kay Tobin Lahusen and Randy Wicker’s book of the same name. Though I once wrote about The Gay Crusaders it does not hurt to call out their names, one more time: Troy Perry, Jim Owles, Phyllis Lyon & Del Martin, Craig Rodwell, Dick Michaels, Frank Kameny, Jack Baker & Michael McConnell, Ruth Simpson, Marty Robinson, Lige Clarke & Jack Nichols, Arthur Evans and Barbara Gittings. Though most of these activists are gone, they still occupy a place in their community’s grateful memory. They certainly did more for us than today’s “brave” celebrities, who came out because it is now safe and convenient to do so.
by Jesse Monteagudo