Sexual orientation recently became a hot topic within the city of Susanville. I’m not going to take sides to criticize or praise anyone. I just want to share some of my experiences and maybe shine a little light on this topic — even though I know I’m really an outsider looking in.
One of my mother’s best friends was a gay woman called Toni Bruce. She was down on her luck, and for a year or so she lived in our house in a room at the top of the stairs with her crazy dog Hank when I was teenager. I loved Toni with all my heart because she was a such kind, wonderful and giving friend. She gave me my first 12-string guitar when I was in high school.
As a teenager exploring and discovering my own newfound sexuality, we talked about gaydom because no matter how I thought about it, I just couldn’t square it. Why would a woman want to have a woman partner? It just didn’t make any sense to me.
She told me she didn’t choose to be gay — she was gay. There was no choice about it. She said when girls her age started looking longingly at boys, she started looking longingly at girls, hoping one would look longingly back at her. It’s that simple, and she’s not the only person who has told me the same story. Now I’m sure there are some who choose to be gay, but every gay person I’ve known realized that’s who they are, and then they had to somehow deal with that reality. I can’t even imagine what conflict that epiphany brings to a young person growing up in our allegedly straight world.
I grew up in the Fresno’s Tower District — which has been the gay part of town since the 1930s. One day I realized I was living in a sea of gay people. Many residents were gay. Most of the shop owners were gay. The owner of my favorite restaurant was gay. But I also realized except for their sexual orientation, they were pretty much exactly like me. So, I accepted our differences.
Later I encountered some of the hatred and fear members of the LBGTQ+ community can face. In the early 1980s when AIDS arrived like a deadly hurricane there was no cure, almost no real medical treatment and that diagnosis essentially meant a death sentence. We invited Stephen, a gay friend of ours dying of AIDS, to come live at our rented farmhouse in Fowler outside of Fresno because he had no one to take care of him and his beloved cat, and he didn’t want to be a burden on his family. We shared some of his horrible end of life nightmare.
Ah, but when the farmer found out a gay guy with AIDS was living with us in his house, he had a fit because he said we had ruined his property forever. His house was now infected with the AIDS virus and there was no way he could ever clean it. Rather than deal with his ranting and raving, we promptly moved.
In between writing jobs, I worked as a server at a Dennys in Fresno the day of the Gay Pride Parade in the Tower District. About a dozen or so Dykes on Bikes stopped to have breakfast, and the waitresses were terrified. Dykes on Bikes, yikes! I laughed out loud and said put them in my section. One of those gals unhooded a Ku Klux Klan protestor as she rode by in the parade later that day.
Just days after I left my job at Dennys, some diners nearly beat a gay server to death right there in the restaurant after he answered their question, “Yes, I’m gay.”
I don’t know what to make of the disparity in the statistics about the percentage of the population that identifies as LGBTQ+ — some go as high as almost 25 percent. Instead, I’ll challenge you to look at your own family. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts you have gay family members. I know I do.
But here’s the bottom line — we’re all just people who should be afforded the same human rights, dignity and freedom everybody else enjoys. If we make that affirmation for the LGBTQ+ community, we also make it for ourselves. I’m not gay, and I never will be, but if you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community, you should not live in a world of discrimination and fear. What our society chooses to do to you, it can choose to do to me, and as a freedom-loving American, I find that unacceptable.
You know, that old Golden Rule has always sounded like pretty good advice on how to treat others, especially those who are different than me.