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Markers in the Lives of Aging Gays

Posted Dec 04 2008 4:11am

[ Darlene Costner of Darlene's Hodgepodge took a fall last week and as she will be in rehab for awhile, will not be posting to her blog. Her daughter, Gail, has left a message at the bottom of Darlene's most recently post. You can add your messages for Darlene there. ]

category_bug_gayandgray.gif [ EDITORIAL NOTE:Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here.

Thirty years ago, on November 27, 1978, San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were shot at City Hall by a disgruntled ex-supervisor, a kind of premature Rush Limbaugh fan who hated liberals and fags.

I remember vividly where I was when I heard the news of the murders: I was in a Mission District thrift store looking for potential Christmas presents (tells you how poor I was).

Who we become as we age is made up, at least in part, of the memories we carry with us of events that took place around us or that we participated in. Many of these are private - anniversaries, births and deaths of family and close friends. And many are part of the national shared history - for my generation, probably one of the most vivid in that category was the Kennedy assassination.

Then there are those public events that, though not universally experienced, nonetheless were terribly important in the lives of some members of each age cohort, markers that they do not universally share with others. Gay and lesbian people have lived through a kaleidoscope of public events and attitudes toward our very being that inevitably inform our old age.

A woman named Loree Daniels Cook, who writes at the Transgender Aging Network, has performed an interesting public service. She points out that aging gay people may remember a different set of salient life markers than their heterosexual age peers in addition to the more universal ones.

So she has made up a timeline that lists what may have been felt to be important events in the lives of older gays. Here are a few such points:

Elders in their 90s may remember:
  • 1933 - Hitler bans gay and lesbian groups, burns the Institute of Sexual Science library
  • 1934 - Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour opens on Broadway to rave reviews
  • 1939 – New York City "cleans up" in preparation for the World's Fair, closing most of the city's best-known gay bars
Elders in their 80s and older may remember:
  • 1943 – U.S. military bars gays and lesbians from serving in the Armed Forces
  • 1948 – The Kinsey Report says homosexual behavior among men is widespread
Elders in their 70s and older may remember:
  • 1950 – A Senate hearing reveals the majority of State Department dismissals are based on accusations of homosexuality; Senate approves wide-ranging investigation of homosexuals "and other moral perverts" in national government
  • 1951 – The Mattachine Society founded
  • 1953 – President Dwight D. Eisenhower orders dismissal of all federal employees guilty of "sexual perversion”
  • 1954 – Dr. Evelyn Hooker presents a study showing gay men are as well-adjusted as straight men at an American Psychological Association meeting
  • 1956 – James Baldwin publishes Giovanni's Room
  • 1957 – "Transsexual" coined by Harry Benjamin
Elders in their 60s and older may remember:
  • 1960 – First U.S. public gathering of lesbians, at San Francisco's Daughters of Bilitis national convention
  • 1964 – The first openly gay person appears on national television (Randy Wicker, on The Les Crane Show )
  • 1967 – England and Wales legalize male homosexuality
  • 1967 – First gay bookstore in the U.S. opens: Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop in New York City
  • 1968 – Metropolitan Community Church formed
  • 1969 – Stonewall Riots
Some more recent events that loom large in the lives of many living gay people:
  • 1970 – The Vatican issues a statement reiterating that homosexuality is a moral aberration
  • 1973 – American Psychiatric Association removes homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses
  • 1974 – Ohio Supreme Court rules that even though homosex is legal, the state can refuse to incorporate a gay organization because "the promotion of homosexuality as a valid life style is contrary to the public policy of the state."
  • 1976 – Doonesbury is the first mainstream comic strip to feature a gay male character
  • 1976 – Renee Richards outed as MTF (male to female transsexual) and barred from a women's tennis tournament
  • 1977 – 80 percent of surveyed Oregon doctors say they would refuse to treat a known homosexual
  • 1978 – Openly gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk murdered by colleague; these events are portrayed in the current film Milk
  • 1979 – First National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights; 100,000 attend
  • 1980 – Aaron Fricke takes Paul Guilbert to his high school prom after winning a lawsuit against the school
  • 1983 – Congressman Gerry Studds comes out; first federal official to come out as gay while in office
  • 1984 – Martina Navratilova's female lover publicly sits in her box at Wimbledon and the French Open
  • 1985 – NAMES Project memorial quilt for AIDS victims launched
  • 1987 – Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights; Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt shown
  • 1990 – First National Bisexual Conference held in San Francisco
  • 1991 – First Black Lesbian and Gay Pride celebration held in Washington, D.C.
  • 1992 – Colorado voters ban state and municipal rights laws for lesbians and gay men
  • 1995 – President Clinton names the first-ever White House liaison to the gay and lesbian communities
  • 1998 – Matthew Shepard murdered in Wyoming
  • 2003 – Massachusetts Supreme Court rules it is unconstitutional to deny marriage to gay and lesbian couples
  • 2008 - California Prop. 8 eliminates state constitutional right to marriages for gay and lesbian couples.

And so on, a true rollercoaster ride of lived history. This is an amazing catalog even to me as a participant in some of it - so many very rapid steps forward, often bracketed by frightening steps back.

[ At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jo Ferguson ruminates on how our given names affect our lives - or don't - in My Name is Jo. ]

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