Friday, June 10th, 2011
“AIDS cut a hole in our generations. A friend recently remarked that everyone he meets at gay bars seems to be under 30 or over 50. A generation of men got wiped out due to the epidemic. With the loss of so many people and friends, our oral history tradition was interrupted.
"Our community has long been built on sharing the history and traditions with the people before and after us. I remember coming to this city from Atlanta and people sharing those things with me. One of the first things I learned was how at the gay bars back then, if you moved to a different table, you couldn't take your drink with you. A waitress had to do it for you. Those are little things, but they are part of the fabric of our history and our shared understanding of gay life. I have seen our torrent of history become a trickle. A sense of our heritage is gone.
"I devoted much of my life to being a witness to our history. Some people chose to be activists, I wrote about it. I moved here in the Fall of 1979 after being an English professor at Georgia Tech. I had some friends here in the Carter Administration and thought I would try life in Washington as a writer and seek fame and fortune. I eventually got into journalism and started writing for the two small gay publications at the time: Out Magazine and the Washington Blade.
"The early 80's was such an exciting time for our community. I worked as the community reporter for the Blade and saw how we started organizing horizontally with things like social clubs, sports clubs, and community centers. Before, gay life was limited to the bars and you couldn't be out because you would lose your job. In the 80's, the gay community started openly becoming a microcosm of the community as a whole.
"In some ways, one could say that D.C. was ahead of other cities politically. In the 80's, our politics were so new, having only received self-government in the early 70's. When Marion Barry ran for mayor, he realized that the gay and lesbian community was a valuable ally, and we became an integral part to his campaign early on. I like to think that we, in D.C., had allies in city government long before many other cities. With Barry, we had gay people in the administration and there were people we could talk to about our issues. Still, it was never easy. There were a number of homophobic Councilmembers, but we found a way to work through things.
"I look around today and see such a vibrant gay community here. Still, I think back to my friends who died of AIDS along the way. I miss my friends who had dinners and parties and would call me and say, 'Jim, I want you to meet so and so.' We lost a wonderful generation of active and beautiful people in their 20's, 30's and 40's who got sick and died. I not only feel a witness to our community history, but to them, also."