In 1983, I met my first openly gay man. His name was Paul and he owned a hair salon in Denver and rented an apartment from my parents. I was really young then, very young, and very much a “tomboy”. My mother, in her never-ending quest to make me wear girly things, sent me to Paul quite often to get my hair curled.
Paul was the coolest person I’d ever met. He looked like Freddie Mercury, talked like Joan Rivers and laughed like–well, I can’t say this nicely–a hyena, in the utterly awesome way that made you laugh right along with him. The louder he got, the more you laughed. He was also handsome as hell, with tanned skin and thick muscles–and his mustache is the only time I’ve ever approved of facial hair on a guy that wasn’t scruff. Paul was cool. And Paul was funny. Paul was beautiful and full of life.
And Paul was dying of AIDS.
Every six weeks, my mother brought me to his salon for a new permanent. And every time I was there, Paul looked a little worse. Thinner, paler. His smile waned and his knobby fingers sometimes dropped the scissors. My mom stopped taking me to see him. When I asked why, she said he didn’t cut hair anymore.
Actually, he had died.
The first time I heard AIDS was from the whispers between my grandmother and mother that summer. The first time I cried over a friend’s death was that summer. The first time I lost someone to AIDs was Paul. By the time I was 21, I had lost four more.
A few years after Paul died, I met my second gay friend. Danny (yes, Darryl was named after him) was who got me involved in ACT UP. Danny was 17 and he had AIDS. That’s what we said back then. HIV we’d call it now. There wasn’t a distinction back then among whisperers. It took a lot of years and activism to get people to understand the difference between AIDS and HIV.
ACT UP- AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power – is a group of magnificent men and women have been the catalyst for a lot of positive changes for those living with HIV and suffering from AIDS related illnesses.
ACT UP is the organization which I choose to spotlight today. I joined in protests with them way back in the late 80’s. They are controversial and in your face and MLK might not have approved, but I do. I approve them.
I realize not everyone agrees with their policies. But if you want to get involved, to get militant, to free your anger through in-your-face activism, ACT UP is a good place to start.
Rachel Maddow has a pretty cool video about them where you can learn more: http://video.msnbc.msn.com/the-rachel-maddow-show/47213127#47213127
Their website has many articles on LGBT oppression. It’s both saddening and empowering. Don’t let the melancholy take over, because there are thing you can do, even petitions help.
Thank you for listening. And thank you for your support of the LGBT community.