Life is tough, but it is tougher if you don’t tell the truth about it. The hardest part of growing up gay in the years after World War II was not knowing what the truth was. People lied to us and about us—people and institutions and organizations, governments and religions—and it was difficult to know the truth. Then it got to be hard to determine where those lies came from.
I was ten years old, and I didn’t know how to fight against all of them—the president, the newspaper, preachers, the governor, my teachers, my scout leader, my grandparents, aunts and uncles, my parents—who laid down what I was supposed to believe about myself. I was really unsure whether or not I was supposed to fight against any of them. I was an adolescent, and I was surrounded by all these hard things people were saying, and I didn’t have any idea what to do, because I wasn’t sure that they weren’t right.
At first, I thought, my goal was to find a way to make the pain stop. The other was just too big a job. I ran away when I was eighteen, and when I was twenty, and twenty-three. I tried to find a way of living that didn’t hurt so much, and then, later, I tried, piece by piece, to find what was causing it. This little bit comes from these people. That little bit comes from those folks. But if you can’t get away and you can’t make it stop, then you start thinking, I must deserve this. For decades it has been easy for gay people to think we were somehow guilty.
So it’s necessary that we search out the truth and then tell it, every little bit of it and never forget it. This is the world we live in. It’s the only way to move into the future. We have to determine and then remember what happened. For example, we can’t forget that federal public health officials under Reagan said they had “plenty” of money to fight AIDS. And when we have determined who said what and who did what, we can’t forget what we know, that these people—among them the public health people under Reagan, the Republicans who provided the votes to pass DOMA and DADT, and all the sorry lot of them under Bush II—committed great crimes, and they were never charged. We must never forget who the criminals are. If we forget that, we’ll have forgotten our history.