Each of us has a part in LGBT history – here’s a little of mine

"I’m lucky to have put in 32 of my 70 years doing little things for the movement." File Photo.

by Rob Howard,
Associate Editor

“Uh, Mom. Yesterday a guy called me a queer. I don’t know what that means, but it didn’t sound good.”

That was my conversation with my mother in 1959 on the way to my eighth grade classes. My personal bully had thrown me against a locker when he called me that, but I left that part out. My mother, a reference librarian, said, “That’s a slang term for homosexual.” 

Mom was always willing to impart information, but this wasn’t helpful, because I didn’t know what homosexual meant either. She helpfully explained that it was a person attracted to others of the same sex. And so it began.

I had a word to go with how I felt. And it didn’t feel all that good. It was several more years before I learned that ‘gay’ was a term for homosexuals. There was little if any information about being homosexual in the ‘50s and ‘60s – and most of what there was, was wrong.

In college at the University of Minnesota, in 1969 the number one course on campus was Human Sexuality 101. So I snuck a peek at the textbook in the bookstore, turned to the index to find homosexual, and read the entry: Homosexual – A sexual deviation in which a person is attracted to a person of the same sex. There was more to the entry, but I don’t remember what it said. The first sentence was enough.

It wasn’t exactly helpful either, during a period of depression, that the head counselor of my dorm suggested I see a guy at the Student Counseling Service who “helps young men struggling with their sexuality.” Whoa. Wasn’t going to do that.

So my understanding of LGBT history had to wait until I came out in 1984. What most of us don’t understand about LGBT history is that each of us has a story, and each of our stories is part of LGBT history. The big events count, yes, and are important, but the efforts each of us makes are also important.

I’m lucky to have put in 32 of my 70 years doing little things for the movement, and working with a lot of others to do bigger things. In 1985, my former wife and I were among those who developed and presented the “Alternative Family Lifestyle Conference” in St. Paul, MN.

In 1987, I traveled to Washington, D.C. and joined hundreds of thousands of fellow LGBT folks at the second March on Washington. It’s hard to describe the feeling when you are on a subway train packed to the gills with people just like you. When the train arrived at the National Mall, the doors opened, and everyone cheered. Then we emerged into the sunlight, and the sobering display of the AIDS Quilt. It was a hell of a great event, and every one of us went back to our homes energized to do great things for the movement.

In 1988, I was part of a group of 17 friends who organized the first openly LGBT congregation in a mainstream denomination – the United Church of Christ. Our expressed vision was to see a future where an openly LGBT congregation would no longer be necessary. We were the 30th UCC church to become Open and Affirming, the term for congregations that welcome LGBT people. Today there are well over 1000 in the UCC, and Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Disciples of Christ and other denominations have similar welcoming organizations.

In the early ‘90s, a mechanic and I formed ANGLE, the Association of Northwest Gay and Lesbian Employees at Northwest Airlines, one of the first airlines to have an employee organization.

In 1993, I went to Washington again and joined over a million LGBT people and allies at the third March on Washington. In 1996, again in Washington, I went to the last complete display of the massive AIDS Quilt, and shed tears over the panels of over 24 people I had known personally who had died in the epidemic.

After I retired and moved to Oklahoma City, I had plenty of time for activism. I was selected to chair the Cimarron Alliance’s Holocaust Exhibition in 2005, and a huge group of volunteers put on an exhibit of the Holocaust Museum’s “Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals,” and of “RESCUERS: Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust.”

I also helped found the Diversity Business Association, and was honored to serve as Cimarron Alliance’s first Executive Director. A week after I took the job, Sally Kern made her “gays are worse that terrorism” speech. It was quite an experience.

None of those parts of LGBT history could have taken place without the efforts of hundreds of others. Each is important in its own way. But the two most important parts of my LGBT history, I saved for last. I helped raise, with the help of my former wife and my long-time partner, my son Nate, who is a long-term advocate for LGBT rights. As an ally, he has helped write pages of LGBT history. 

And the other important part is that the efforts of thousands across the country got us to the point in our history that in 2013 I was able to marry my husband, the love of my life.

We have much to do to secure truly equal rights, but we have a lot of people working for them. So for LGBT History Month, I’m celebrating our history, my history, and the countless thousands of others who have done great things and little things to move our revolution along. LGBT History is still being written, and each of us has a part in writing it.

Happy writing.

Copyright The Gayly - 10/2/2016 @ 7:46 a.m. CDT.