Sharing Stories of the LGBT Journey

by William E. Kelly

Rage Monthly

Sunday October 29, 2017

January 1975

I was 28, stationed at the USAF Academy in Colorado Springs separating from a four-and-a- half-year tour of duty and my wife of five years. It is a long story, but suffice it to say we were both unwitting victims of a societal charade and needed to start new lives that would be true to our

differing realities.

So it began. The long, long journey of admitting and accepting that what I had always needed was another man who would be my life-time compan- ion, confidant, partner and lover.

In a fog of competing emotions, I turned over to my wife the keys and title to the Volvo, the contents of the apartment and the checking and savings accounts. I loaded a four-drawer filing cabinet, a lawnmower, clothes and some personal items into a U-Haul trailer hitched to my Ford Pinto. My loyal Cocker Spaniel waited in the passenger seat.

With $500 borrowed from my siblings in my wallet and no plan, I was on I-80 heading east to the stiflingly conservative hometown along the Illinois River where I grew up. Family and friends had no clue as to what was happening or why. Waiting for me was a gaudy flower patterned love seat-sized sofa-bed on the back porch of my parents' home.

For the next 21 months after working swing shifts at the local paper mill, this is where I would sleep.

Fast forward to late summer 1977, when I came to realize that loving another man wasn't wrong. The wrong was the poisonous seed of self-hate planted in me from the moment I was born, through the first three decades of my life. It was time to get off my self pity pony. Freedom and all I had been denied-or denied myself-was just 60 miles down the road in Chicago!

The Gay liberation and rights movement was in its formative years. Closets were still very necessary, but in the Gay ghetto of Chicago the doors were being cracked open in a neighborhood now called Boystown. It was an oasis for people like me that we dubbed Newtown, a community created by people who did not and were not allowed to openly fit into a still very hostile, heterosexual world.

Like many post-Stonewall communities that emerged in urban America, we found our voices and joined the ranks of others who had found theirs. We dedicated ourselves to getting back the same sense of belonging, community, opportunities, happiness, love, respect, understanding, compassion and civil equality of which our heterosexual counterparts had judged us unworthy.

Documentation revealing past and present beatings, murders, tortures, death threats, arrests, firings, public shaming, family rejection and discrimination on every level is plentiful. I need not dwell on the atrocities, instead, I recall joining arms with others like me under cover of night in windowless gay bars still subjected to police raids. But it was at Chicago's Belmont Beach, the Gay Beach, known in the '70s as The Rocks, that we boldly began to venture

into the summer sun. It was there I met old and new friends and came to know what it felt like to fall deeply in love and be loved for who I was, rather than who I was expected to be or love.

These memories are shared because they reflect a commonality that history needs to remember. These are the truths of those who engaged in the initial fight and will engage in future battles for our freedom and equality.

The sacred ground of the freedoms we enjoy today were built on the pain and suffering of those who came before us. Men and women of today are extending the boundaries of that ground upon which many of them will also never walk or lie their heads in peace.

Think about it.

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