A reader writes:
You wrote:"Gay equality is being pioneered among the younger, braver generation. They get it. And those who stood by must live with the knowledge of their own cowardice."
As a heterosexual soon going into my 60s, I find your comments on homosexuals of my generation extremely unjust. If you were an adolescent in the 1960s Southern Bible Belt, coming out of the closet could get you badly beaten or killed. Two close friends of mine who I knew as a teenager kept it well hidden, until they moved to New Orleans in their twenties where they could live there lives discreetly (they were not partners). They only admitted their homosexuality to me by showing me their lifestyle and waiting to see my reaction. They relied on their close friends' discretion to not jeopardize their physical safety or their career prospects.
They were brave young men, who tried to live their lives as best they could in an extremely reactionary and violent society which was very anti-homosexual. Neither of these men's families adjusted to their homosexuality. They later died of AIDS in the mid-nineties leaving partners, parents, brothers, sisters and friends, who grieved them.
Without these men pushing the boundaries to a certain extent, while relying on the discretion of family and close friends, homosexuals today would have a much harder time.
Are they really braver? It's much easier to be out about your own sexuality today than it was when I came out 20+ years ago. This is like saying that the black Americans who chose to sit in the front of the bus 20 years after Rosa Parks were braver than she was, which is absurd. Yes, let's give credit to young people today for being far more welcoming of gays' equality. But that's not because THEY are braver. It's because those who chose to come out 20 years, 10 years, 5 years ago were braver.
Coming out of the closet when state laws protect one from discrimination, there is an Gay-Straight Alliance at one's high school, a substantive body of law that prohibits legalized discrimination, openly gay characters on TV, and gay marriage in several states is not a sign of bravery, but of growing acceptance that makes coming out easier, if not a foregone conclusion (I am not even sure young people are even in the closet to come out of). To come out when state law prohibited homosexual activity; gay bars were not only illegal, but regularly raided by the police; and even a rumor one was queer was enough to end careers, that is bravery. How brave does one need to be to be an openly gay State Dept. employee today versus in the 50s during the McCarthy hearings?
When I came out, in 1980, Stonewall had happened and there were gay pride parades. However, to come out in the 1950s or '60s, as did the members of Mattachine Society, THAT is bravery. The young people today can mostly (not all) waltz out of the closet to accepting peers without any thought it will hurt their job or school prospects. They can do that because of, not their own bravery, but the bravery of those who preceded them. Young people today are standing on the broad shoulders of very tall, very brave giants.