MY BROTHER David died of AIDS in May of 1991, 20 years ago. He was 47 years old. In the 1970’s he became involved in the gay rights movement and began living what he referred to as an “openly gay life”. It was during this time that he “came out” professionally and to our family, though he had “come out” to himself long before that.
He is not here to tell his own “coming out” story, but I have put together passages from his many writings in the hope of portraying a little of what it was like to be a gay man “out of the closet” during the 1970’s.
In 1977, in the midst of some important issues in the gay rights movement, David wrote a public statement to members of the entertainment industry which he had been a part of for many years. He explained his reasons for doing this: “In actuality, what I am doing is “coming out” professionally.” In addition to sending this statement to people in the Hollywood community, he sent copies to various publications of the Gay Media “… in the hope that this statement may encourage other entertainers and artists to take similar stands.” The Gay publications printed the statement. However, he also sent copies to the Hollywood “trade” papers, none of which published the statement. David wrote that his gay activist friends warned him that he was committing “professional suicide” by sending out this statement, but David assured them that at that point “I have no career to lose and, hence I am in a position to do and say what so many others would like to do and say, but are in fact unable to because of their professional status.”
“My name is David and I am an actor – a gay actor. I spent over six years in Hollywood and during that time, I became well acquainted with the motion picture industry’s attitudes, mores, and social rituals. The existing system – and make no mistake about it, it is a well entrenched system – allows the individual to do anything; as long as it is kept in “the closet”. Any controversial activities, either political or sexual, that become public knowledge are either frowned upon by the so called “liberals”, or blatantly discriminated against by the more reactionary members of the entertainment community. This system is harmful to the arts in general; but worse, it is stifling and repressive to the individual artist, attempting to create meaningful art within its confines. In contemporary society and, specifically, in western society, individuals who attain prominence in the arts are respected, even adored by the public who value their opinions on various issues. There are many actors, musicians, artists and writers who, over the years, have been outspoken in their support of the various issues surrounding the human rights movement. For this I commend them; but this is not enough. The right to love and be loved is the most personal, the most inalienable of all human rights. Why the silence on this issue by prominent members of the entertainment industry? There is probably more homosexuality and bi-sexuality among members of the arts than in any other profession. I repeat, why the collective and individual silence? Isn’t it time for the hypocrisy and deceit to end? At the very least they could support the gay rights movement as individuals, openly and publicly. At best they could acknowledge who and what they are. The cost of such silence is the respectability and acceptance of the humanity of us all.”
– June 22, 1977
In 2011 it is difficult to imagine that being gay in the entertainment industry is at all an issue, but when my brother was involved in this world, things were very different than what they are today. One of his dreams was to be a part of a quality picture that dealt with gay love. How I wish he would have lived to see the making of a movie like “Brokeback Mountain”.
As he wrote: “The real inroads in the human rights area will be made through the treatment of the issues by the arts and humanities in an intelligent, sensitive and dignified manner.”
Our parents were quite concerned about David’s “coming out” statement and did not understand his need to do this. But as David wrote, talking about our mother: “…but she has never felt the need to, once and for all, throw off the fear and guilt that are so much a part of the gay person’s experience in this society, and which can only be eased by the “coming out” process for the majority of us. While they are both in support of me, and have been throughout the ups and downs of what living an openly gay life imposes, it is difficult for them, as it is for most people, to totally comprehend the kind of oppression and discrimination I have undergone for the past fifteen years, and even before that, throughout school and even childhood.” David used to say to me: “How would you feel if you were told by the psychiatric community that you are sick, told by the religious community that you are a sinner and told by the legal community that you are a criminal?”
Attitudes have definitely improved in the 30 plus years since my brother “came out”, but we are still not entirely there. Until gay people can enjoy all of the rights that others in our society enjoy, we have our work cut out for us. As David wrote some 30 years ago: “Many of us have wondered why it is necessary for us to defend practices that we know are normal and human.” The right to “love and be loved” should not have to be fought for. However, as David wrote: “Throughout history groups of individuals have been singled out for oppression, usually as a means to divert public attention from the real problems at hand. This season and for many seasons throughout history it is the gays. We are the easiest of scapegoats because we pose a fundamental fear in the minds of bigots from all groups.” And now in 2011, we must not let the bigots win again!