I lived in New York for most of 1963, and one of my best friends was an actress, three years older than I, who had a major part in a major soap broadcast from New York. She was my cousin, and we had much the same background in South Carolina—conservative family and a desire to leave the South. The actress lived with an antiques dealer who had a shop on the East Side. The antiques dealer came from Mississippi, and her family owned a plantation. The three of us sat up many nights, drinking too much, talking about ourselves, our families, politics, and about America at the beginning of the Sixties. We enjoyed being together, going out to dinner, to the movies, and to the theatre. We supported each other. They were gay, but at that time, and in my cousins’s profession, it was difficult for any of us to come out, even to each other. They are both dead now.
This morning, the headline on the front page of The Boston Globe, read, “Firms call Defense of Marriage Act unfair.” The lede read, “Nearly 300 companies and business groups across the country, including many prominent Massachusetts firms, are asking the US Supreme Court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, saying it forces them to discriminate against married gay employees.” In the next paragraph, the article says, “A who’s who of corporate America signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief filed Wednesday.” I was astonished that a who’s who of corporate America could be brought together to support such a goal. But as the day went on and I thought more about these events, I began to think about the people who would have been even more astonished than I at such at a headline and grief-stricken that they had not lived to see it.
I know plenty of people who didn’t live to see what’s happening now, who fought for it but who died before we were this close to victory. The slow march of time presents us with one victory after another, and that same march takes down one friend after another. What we hope for is that we will accumulate more victories than defeats. For decades in many of our lives, it has been just the other way around. My friend the student at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, coming from Pride one year, said to me, “They are all celebrating, but I don’t know what there is to celebrate.” He had AIDS, and he saw his life dribbling away at a faster rate than science was accumulating cures. He understood very clearly that he was in a race, and he suspected that he was going to lose that race, and the expression on his face, every day, said, hurry hurry.
So, on a day like today, with a headline like today’s in The Boston Globe, and thinking of the actress and the antiques dealer in New York and that art student in Boston, I know the meaning of bittersweet.