Coming out in the early 1970s, you had two, maybe three, identity options: either you were gay, lesbian … or bisexual. Today, there is an alphabet soup of possibilities: LGBTQQI (the last four letters standing for transgendered, queer, questioning, and intersexed), adding to the confusion that can accompany the realization that one’s sexual orientation is “different.”
I came out in 1972, just three short years after the Stonewall riots of June 1969 catapulted the gay liberation movement into the public consciousness. For people like myself, there were pitifully few positive role models—no openly gay movie or sports stars, politicians or clergy; no Will and Grace’s and Ellen DeGeneres's on television or Torch Song Trilogy’s on the stage or silver screen. The best that Hollywood had to offer were the pathetic stereotypes of The Boys in the Band. AIDS was not yet in the vocabulary and legalized gay marriage was an idea too fantastic to even contemplate.
The world is a very different place today. Dramatic changes have taken place in the last three or four decades, mostly positive. Yet the memory of Matthew Shepherd—the 21-year-old Wyoming college student who was savagely beaten, tied to a fence, and left to die, simply because he was gay—looms large, and too many still cower in the closet.
October is Gay and Lesbian History Month, with October 11 designated as National Coming Out Day. It was introduced in 1988 to celebrate the first anniversary of the 1987 March on Washington, and since then, many colleges and universities sponsor annual events to further understanding and encourage honesty and openness about being lesbian, gay, bisexual (or TQQI …). Doing our part, The Juilliard Journal asked several members of our community to share their stories with you.