For Dougie

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I grew up in a family of “eccentrics.” I’m a direct result of their quirks and quips, attenuated somewhat by the many years I spent un-learning much of what they taught me.

My mother’s family were products of the Great Depression and grew up very poor in Brooklyn.

Pride and Protest: LGBTQ Pride Meets Black Lives Matter

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Queer Liberation March enters Greenwich Village (Sunday, June 28, 2020)

The Queer Liberation March for Black Lives and Against Police Brutality took place this past weekend and was a spirited, enlivening, cultural melting pot comprising 50,000 enthusiastic participants, the ending of which was unfortunately marred by momentary police violence, somehow very fitting on the 51st anniversary of the Stonewall Riots that happened only a few hundred yards away.

Marchers at the staging ground at Foley Square

Because of the arrival of COVID-19 this spring, annual LGBT Pride festivities around the world had been canceled. But, as health conditions improved in NYC a month ago and the importance and visibility of Black Lives Matter grew after the murder of George Floyd, a consensus developed that NYC needed a march and it had to be centered on the movement for Black lives. Fortunately, Reclaim Pride, a scrappy do-it-yourself LGBTQ activist group formed in 2018 in reaction to the inflexibility of Heritage of Pride, the traditional NYC Pride March organizing body, took over and made it happen.

Black Lives Matter – Why We March

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NYC Gay Pride 1978 – post-march rally in Central Park

As we approach this year’s LGBTQ Pride commemoration on Sunday, the focus in most locations will be on supporting the Black community and opposing police brutality, two very important initiatives that have belatedly been embraced by a majority of people in the U.S., as well as many globally.

I’ve been thinking about the LGBTQ civil rights movement lately—where it came from and how it has evolved. What was once simply called the Gay Liberation Movement has grown more diverse over the decades as that largely gay and lesbian community expanded to include those with other sexual orientations and others who don’t fit within society’s rigid binary gender construct. In the process, we’ve expanded into an LGBTQ alliance that insists upon the full range of its civil rights.

The arc of progress in nominally achieving LGBTQ rights over the last half-century has been stunningly quick by any standard.

Brown Gay Students Association – NYC Gay Pride 1978

By comparison, the modern women’s civil rights movement is more than a century old, having first achieved the right to vote in the US in 1920. Still, an Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution guaranteeing equal legal rights regardless of gender has never been passed.

Similarly, for the Black Community, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a landmark U.S. civil rights and labor law that outlawed discrimination based on a number of factors, including race. Yet, we’ve seen stark proof of the ineffectiveness of such legislation in insuring equal treatment according to skin color while observing the recent spate of police violence against Blacks.

The fact is that civil rights have not been allocated or enforced across any of the many minority groups they are meant to protect. The lack of equal treatment for some groups is an insult to all of us. Making equal rights conditional ( i.e., only applying to some and not all people) sets a dangerous precedent, tacitly fostering discrimination against anyone who does not fit into the societal norms of a particular time or era. We can see that happening in the US now with the divisive leadership of Donald Trump and his marginalization of LGBTQers, women, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, immigrants, people with disabilities, and other minorities.

NYC LGBT Pride 1978 – religious anti-gay demonstrators

The rights we fought so hard to earn (and are still struggling to secure) as LGBTQ people are the same rights that all minorities deserve. That is why it’s important that LGBTQers demonstrate in force, in whatever ways we can, in favor of Black Lives during this year’s Pride activities.

In fact, many Pride organizations across the US and some around the world have chosen to demonstrate solidarity with Black people by joining forces this year. For example, if you’ll be in NYC this Sunday, come to Foley Square (in the government district not far from City Hall) at 1 p.m. and be part of the Queer Liberation March for Black Lives and Against Police Brutality. While there, be sure to wear a mask and practice social distancing to stay safe, but let’s demonstrate our commitment to making the world a better place for Blacks and for all of us. The time is now and we must act to ensure justice is finally served equally to all people.

LGBT marchers in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral at NYC LGBT Pride in 1993

Looking Back—AIDS in the Time of COVID

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I listened with interest to the recent online discussion Reflections on the AIDS Crisis in the Time of COVID-19 hosted by BAMMER with Eric Sawyer and leading AIDS physician Howard Grossman, as they described the history I lived through as a straight medical student and resident in the early 1980s.

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Comparing the AIDS Crisis to COVID-19: AIDS Veterans Weigh-in

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BAMMER hosted its first Zoom webcast “Reflections on the AIDS Crisis in the Age of COVID-19” on Saturday evening, May 9th, with close to 100 participants signed up from all around the world.

Self-Acceptance and a Queer Life in India

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The colors of life, love and pride

My name is Rahul. I was born in a small town in Tripura state in North-Eastern India where I spent my first 18 years.

My earliest memories are of how much I loved my sister’s colourful dresses and dancing in front of the television. Neither of these were the typical masculine traits expected of young boys in the conservative patriarchal society of countryside India in which I was raised. As I grew older, I started to recognize my attraction to men, but I couldn’t share those feelings with anyone. Little me somehow sensed that these feelings were unusual and generally unacceptable to those around me. By that time, I was already dealing with discouraging comments from family members about my body language and my love of dance. I didn’t dare add another trait which would surely have made me the subject of the highest level of bullying.

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BAMMER: Cliff Morrison, The World’s First AIDS Ward, Pt. 2

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PODCAST: Interviews by baby-boomer LGBTQ historian Mike Balaban, with a diverse guest list, covering issues and themes from the global LGBTQ community.

EPISODE 14: Cliff Morrison talks about forming the first AIDS ward in San Francisco General Hospital in 1983 as well as his recent involvement in the making of “5B”, an award-winning documentary about that experience (now available on Amazon).

Looking Back

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Indiana Shores, Lake Michigan (1981): Rick Angulo (rear left), Brian Riley (rear center), and Rick Lomanto (front right) all died from AIDS late in the ’80s. Jeff (front left) has been celibate for 32 years, a less visible victim of the disease.

Two recent developments refocused my attention on all the friends I lost to AIDS in the 80s and 90s.

Recently, Peter Gorobetz, a teammate from my Gotham Volleyball League days in NYC in the early 90s, came to a BAMMER meet-up in Ft. Lauderdale, where he and his partner now reside. While reminiscing about the good old days, Peter and I discussed Dan O’Connor (Pic #8 here), my cabin mate on the RSVP Caribbean cruise I took in 1991, who was also the volleyball league Commissioner that year.

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What “Ordinary People” Thought About Gays – 200 Years Ago

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We can change the past by what we choose to remember. Too often historical narrative is controlled by the status quo, those in power, those with money. In this remarkable discovery of a personal diary from the early 1800s, we see the acceptance of homosexuals (and by extension, all those who do not fit in) by a common person that is probably more indicative of the thinking in those times than we’ve been led to believe by mainstream historians. And this is why we must write!

From BBC.com:

Historians from Oxford University have been taken aback to discover that Matthew Tomlinson’s diary from 1810 contains such open-minded views about same-sex attraction being a “natural” human tendency.

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BAMMER and Me: Jacob Tobia—A Coming-of-Age Gender Story

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PODCAST: Interviews by baby-boomer LGBTQ historian Mike Balaban, with a diverse guest list, covering issues and themes from the global LGBTQ community.

EPISODE 13: Jacob Tobia is a gender-nonconforming Los Angeleno who’s on a roll. Three years ago, they landed a job as an executive assistant on the hit Amazon series Transparent.