In the early 1970s when Diane and I lived on Old York road in New Hope with John and Barbara Paglione, we joked that we were the only straight folks on the street. Until that time I had limited exposure to gay or lesbian individuals (at least as far as I knew). No one in high school or even college (both Catholic institutions) were labeled gay. I remember a guy picking me up in high school — we Bristol kids would hitch hike to Holy Ghost Prep (imagine that today). The guy looked at a book I was reading, “Seven Pillars of Wisdom.” Lawrence of Arabia was gay, he said; I was shocked. I assumed that the driver was gay. But Lawrence?
In our Peace Corps training for Libya in Bisbee AZ, the Libyian men who were living with us would walk down the street holding hands ( they included us). The men danced together. We were assured they were not homosexual. Doubt the locals believed that. Just Arab behavior. Flashes of Lawrence of Arabia.
But back to New Hope, an artist community, definitely a gay population. Across the street from us lived the Bailey boys (Mom Bailey, a delightful woman lived with them). Terry and ? ( it will come to me). They worked in New York in theatre. One was a voice coach — the Greek actress Melina Mercouri (Never on Sunday) was a client. They had a pool and since they were not around during the week we were encouraged us to use the pool anytime we wanted. Then there was Steve Katz who owned the Logan Inn. There were several other houses of gay men on the street. All very nice, friendly, non threatening. They all had parties and invited us. Diane and Barbara as well as John and I. I remember having cavier at the Bailey’s for the first time.
As Assistant Headmaster at Holy Ghost in the 1970s and 1980s, I suspected that a few of the teachers we hired were gay. But it was still the days of don’t ask, don’t tell although that wasn’t yet a spoken policy. But many gays were still in the closet. And since no one ever told be they were gay, I didn’t really label or pass any judgement. If anything I may have felt sorry that they couldn’t be more open. The homophobic behavior/comments ( real or not) of kids did drive me crazy. It wasn’t right.
In the 199os, there were several events that really impressed me. One teacher came out as homosexual with me (and probably others) but not the entire school community. Then there was the speaker Father Jim McCloskey brought to school. It was a Catholic mother of a gay guy who had died of AIDS. She spoke about how she had denied her son. And how she should have embraced and loved him. I was so proud that HGP hosted such a speaker. The third event was a discussion about gay marriage when I did the Philadelphia High School Partnership program. At one session there were about 8 city and suburban schools, private and public represented. The kids were asked to take a position on gay marriage. To my astonishment, about 99% said they really didn’t care. It was up to the individual. The only hold outs were a few African American girls who said their religious beliefs led them to say it was wrong. Not one HGP student took that position and I did not at all feel it was peer pressure. Wow, the times they were a changing. This was probably the mid 90s.
Some years later when I was teaching a film course at HGP, I started to show “Milk.” I usually didn’t show recent films but I had time for one more and the kids response was so strong I continued to show it. The response was quiet and a bit nervous and put off during the first part; cheering for Harvey Milk at the end. Gays had rights too they said. I continued to show the film.
And and of course in the ten years since then, rights, full rights, including marriage has become the major social issue. Initially I thought why the need for the word marriage. If civil unions give you full rights, enough. But then gays using the word marriage didn’t threaten me. So if they felt the need for that marriage language so be it. If a religion didn’t saction gay marriage that’s fine too. The church does not have to marry gay couples. They will marry in a church that accpts their union or they will have a civil marriage.
And then there was my last year at HGP. One afternoon, I learned the school had fired Mike Griffin. I didn’t know Mike was gay. He never told me and I knew nothing about his home life. Didn’t assume things. But fire him; not even just ask him to look for a new job. Simply put, I was furious. How could the institution that had the best years (well maybe thats an exaggeration, the best are coming). But you get the idea. I believed HGP was a progressive institution. I believed we hired gays even if I wasn’t 100% sure who was who. I heard that some of our students came out at senior retreats. Fire a man, devoted to the values of the school and the Spiritan mission because he chooses to marry in a state that accepts gay marriage. No this didn’t happen. But sadly it did.
I know I have friends who might ask what’s wrong with Vince. Why is he writing this. How can he accept gay marriage. My answer is very simple. I believe in equal rights. I have friends and relatives who are gay. They don’t present any threat to me. I believe that in the next few years, this issue will fade but for the most hardened homophobics. If some churches don’t want to marry gays that’s OK. But I don’t think that gives them the right to discriminate against gay couples.
I am am looking for a rainbow. Rainbows are colorful and beautiful. I think the rainbow has been a symbol of the gay community. I hope to see one soon. It’s coming.