To be on TV or not to be on TV, that was the question. And I chose to be on TV.
I look back at that decision, and I am thankful, because, were it not for my presence at that early Gay Pride event, I may have remained behind an ajar closet door for more than an already eternal seven years. But it was that picnic and a KOMO-TV news crew that kicked that door from ajar to wide open.
I came out in the summer of 1970. But it was a limited “coming out.” Close friends from high school and college were informed why my social life veered away from them and began to revolve around gay people, parties, events, and gay bars. But I did not come out to my family.
There were many reasons for my familial secretiveness, reasons too complicated to go into here. It was not until 1977, therefore, that I came out to them. I had to.
My parents were in Europe that late-June. Seattle’s Saturday Gay Pride March, and it was a political march then, not a celebratory parade, had meandered through downtown Seattle, ending up, I believe, in Pioneer Square. A picnic was held the next day at Seward Park. I attended, wearing a t-shirt announcing “A Day Without Human Rights is Like a Day Without Sunshine;” it mocked the Florida Orange Commission’s “A Day Without Orange Juice is Like a Day Without Sunshine” campaign featuring homophobic entertainer Anita Bryant.
KOMO’s reporter Ken Schram noticed my shirt and approached. “May we photograph your shirt?” he asked.
“Sure,” I answered without hesitation.
“May we pan up to your face?”
In an instant, Gay Liberation and “coming out” became personal, real, and risky. And I knew I had to say yes or I would be a hypocrite and chicken-shit activist. Therefore, my shirt and my face, although not my name, aired throughout Western Washington on that evening’s local news and I knew I had to inform my parents as soon as they returned home, before someone else did.
At the time, I worked with my father, a man who spent the early hours of every Saturday morning at the office catching up without being interrupted. Nevertheless, I interrupted him there, on his first post-Europe Saturday. His response to my announcement was calm, accepting, and true to his progressive, tolerant political philosophies.
“I’m telling Mom next,” I told him as I stepped to the door.
“Oy vey,” he moaned.
I drove to the family home and was greeted by my mother. “I have something to tell you,” I announced. “Sit.”
“Oh, no,” was her typically negative response. I explained that I had been on the local news and why.
Was she supportive? Was she calm? Hardly.
“Where will I move to? was her self-involved response to my being gay. She said this in her thick German accent. “They will be whistling from the rooftops.” Her shocked, muddled mind reverted to a German idiom for gossiping and translated it to English.
“Who will?” I asked.
“My friends. They all will be whistling from the rooftops. I will have to move. Where will I move to?”
Suddenly, my coming out was about my mother. She was the victim, the inconvenienced one. “Why would you have to move?” I asked.
“Because they will talk behind my back. They will abandon me.”
“Well, if that is the case, Mom,” I said, “you have a bigger issue to deal with than a gay son. You’ve picked crappy friends.” She gazed down, at her lap.
“Yah. That is easy for you to say,” she replied, minimizing the challenges and difficulty I may have endured prior to coming out. “I can’t look at any of them.” Her eyes shot up. “Oh, now I understand what Betty meant.”
“Yah,” Mom continued. “I talked with her on the phone Thursday. She said she saw you on the news at a picnic. ’What picnic?’ I asked. But she did not answer. She changed the subject.”
“So, Betty saw it,” I said. I wonder how many others saw it, I thought. I never found out; no one else ever said anything to Mom. No one ever said anything to me about the picnic, my t-shirt, or my being gay.
In the end, Mom did not move, nor did her friends abandon her. And I no longer had to play closet games with my family. It only had taken me seven years since I began living as an “avowed homosexual.”
And I proudly thank Gay Pride and KOMO-TV News for that.