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Note:  This piece aired as commentary this week on the international LGBT syndicate This Way Out.   It was previously published on The Huffington Post.

History repeats itself.

Just last week, I went into the new Philadelphia AIDS Thrift at Giovanni’s Room, the organization that took bought the old Giovanni’s Room Bookstore, the iconic bookstore that opened in 1973. I was thrilled to hear that Giovanni’s Room was continuing in some form, of course. But friends had told me that, alas, it just wasn’t the same. For lesbians and gay men of a certain generation, Giovanni’s Room was more than a store. It was a safe haven. It even has a mention in my book Tea Leaves, a Memoir of Mothers and Daughters (Bella Books, 2012).

So I was delighted to wander in and find that the store is charming — and remarkably similar to the old bookstore. In line at the register were a couple of very young gay men with short spiky hair and flesh plug earrings. (They looked like the young dykes of my time.) One was buying a used copy of the collected works of Oscar Wilde, and telling his young friend (who was unfamiliar with the author) who Wilde was and how important his work is. My heart was warmed, of course.

Later I reflected that it was more than heartwarming, the fact that Giovanni’s Room is continuing is historic survival.

A few years ago, I heard a rumor that many young people in the LGBT community were not interested in learning their history. I don’t know if this is true, and I certainly hope it is not true.

However, if it is true, it is understandable. We live in a time of rapid acceptance of LGBT rights. Same-sex marriage is legal in far more states than it is banned. And while federal recognition of marriage and other LGBT rights may be an ongoing battle — it is sure to follow. But not that long ago (everything being relative), gay rights were dismal and before that they were nonexistent.

I’ve always preferred learning my history through literature. That’s why I was excited when I heard that Cleis Press reissued Ann Bannon’s Odd Girl Out, a lesbian “pulp” classic first published in 1957. The “pulp” lesbian novels published roughly from 1950 to 1965, were written by such authors as Valerie Taylor, Claire Morgan and Marijane Maeaker ( who wrote under the pen names of Vin Packer and Ann Aldrich) among others. Ann Bannon (also a pen name) was known as the “Queen of lesbian pulp fiction” with her “Beebo Brinker Chronicles.”

The pulps were published during McCarthyism, a severely repressive time of U.S. history. In 1952 the House Un-American Activities Commission investigated gay men and lesbians in the public arena. The lesbian pulps were an important window into an identity that was illegal.

In the introduction to the re-issued edition (from Cleis) of Odd Girl Out, Bannon writes that she was a young housewife when she wrote these books, explaining that she was:

“just plain scared of to assume an identity that seemed to me full of mystery…I also had a fully reasonably fear of the public consequences. God forbid that a policeman should ever pluck me from a table in a lesbian bar, shove me into a paddy wagon, and put my name on a roster of criminals. The bars underwent regular police raids in those days…”

She also puts lesbian “pulp” fiction into perspective:

How did we get away with it, those of us writing these books? No doubt it had a lot to do with the fact that we were not even a blip on the radar screens of the literary critics. No one ever reviewed a lesbian pulp paperback for the New York Times Review of Books, the Saturday Review, The Atlantic Monthly. We were lavishly ignored, except by the customers at the drugstores, airports, train stations, and newsstands who bought our books off the kiosks by the millions. The readers tended to enjoy them furtively: probably feeling as wary as I did when I wrote them.

For a novel labeled as “pulp,” Odd Girl Out is remarkably well written and with an ending that is empowering rather than tragic — unusual in literature with lesbian characters at that time. When my partner asked me if it were worth reading, I gave her a resounding, “YES.”

I was also excited when I heard about Terry Mutchler’s heart-wrenching memoir, Under This Beautiful Dome: A Senator, a Journalist, and the Politics of Gay Love in America. I read this back to back with Ann Bannon’s lesbian classic and quickly realized that the two books shared the similar emotional underpinnings of the love that dare not speak its name: lesbianism.

The difference is that while Ann Bannon’s book was first published in 1957, Under This Beautiful Dome was published (by Seal Press) in 2014 and recounts the facts of a relationship that ended tragically when Penny Severns, an Illinois state senator and one of the mentors of the now President Barack Obama, died at the age of forty six from metastatic breast cancer.

It is a poignant love story about two women who fall in love. There are other reasons not to disclose their relationship — Penny is a journalist and it presents an ethical dilemma for her to be involved with a politician. But the primary reason — especially after Penny is diagnosed and Terry becomes her press secretary so they can spend more time together — is homophobia. In the high powered world in which they lived, being openly lesbian was a career killer.

After Penny dies (without a will) and her relatives step in and take over, Terry is locked out of the home she shared with her lover (but does not have her name on it). Wills would be public — which is why the two women did not have them — but Terry had an agreement with Penny’s twin sister, Patty. As often happens after the death of a loved one, the sister’s behavior quickly changed. She shut Terry out completely. Mutchler, who has experienced the loss of her lover plus the betrayal of someone she thought of as family, writes:

“I felt as though I had split into two people, two Terrys: the lesbian Terry whose mate has just died and was grieving deeply and needed help, and the press secretary and good friend Terry, who created a life of lies very carefully to keep her love and partnership a secret.”

The book is flawlessly and unflinchingly written. Especially touching is the caring that Terry did for her dying lover. But for me, the saddest part was that this story in different details and variations is one that I’ve heard more than a few times when one partner dies without a will, and the surviving partner is left unprotected to the vagaries of the deceased’s biological family.

In addition to being a moving memoir, Under This Beautiful Dome is a reminder that we have to protect ourselves and our rights — or history will repeat itself.

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It’s been a cold winter. Very cold. One of the things that I’m doing to keep warm is to take an imaginary LGBT cruise in my head — through books — to exotic lands.

The first stop was the land of queer history, which I entered by reading Katie Gilmartin’s mystery Blackmail my Love from Cleis Press. This who-dunnit traces a lesbian narrator, Josie, tracking down her gay brother’s disappearance in 1951 in San Francisco. The book begins with Josie donning her brother’s clothes, exploring gender as she interviews people who knew her brother. One person she talks to is a deeply closeted, gay, school teacher. At that time, gay school teachers had to keep their sexuality under wraps at all costs or lose their jobs. One of the chief misconceptions was that “homosexual” was synonymous with being a child molester. The thought of being thusly accused is at the heart of this gay teacher’s internalized homophobia. He watches himself scrupulously — his every movement. The story of intrigue also leads us through the underworld of gay bars. This page-turner of a mystery is rooted in historic fact and is a reminder of how LGBT people survived before gay liberation.

My next stop was sunny Thailand in Ladyboy and the Volunteer by Susanne Aspley (Peace Core Writers). I learned a little bit about the Peace Corps but far more about the culture of Thailand where sixty percent of foreign men entering the country participate in the sex industry. I also learned about “ladyboys”, who are male to female transgendered women, who in many ways are accepted in their culture. Many of the ladyboys participate in the sex industry to send money home to their families. In my favorite passage in the book, the straight but not narrow female narrator asks her ladyboy friends what their clients do when they find out. One replies:

When I do tell them, they get more excited, because they have never been with a ladyboy. Susan, all men are a little gay. Homo in some way. They just don’t admit it. When they travel to Thailand, no one knows them here, so they do things they would not do back home. Experiment.

When I picked up Love Together, Longtime Male Couples on Healthy Intimacy and Communication by Tim Clausen, I thought I would be reading about an experience vastly different than mine. But what I found was that as a lesbian in a long-term relationship (thirty years now and counting), I have a lot in common with these guys. The author interviews many couples by the length of time they have been together, starting with ten to twenty years and ending (in Section Six) with couples together sixty to seventy years. Overall, I enjoyed reading the commonalities between all the couples. Many talked about making each other laugh and gave commonsense advice such as being kind to your lover.

I loved reading the words of the men who had been together many decades — maybe because they had much wisdom to offer or because they made me feel young again (possibly both). In particular, I enjoyed reading the words of John McNeill described as “one of the true giants of the gay and lesbian community.” McNeill is a former priest and in 1976, penned the groundbreaking book The Church and the Homosexual. He’s been with his partner Charlie for almost fifty years. In the interview, he says:

Spiritually, I take very seriously that statement in the scripture that God is love. Any if anyone loves, they know God. I have always believed that this includes a gay love relationship, which is a genuine human love and therefore contains the Divine. It’s another way of knowing God. That certainly has been the fundamental belief system for me in my relationship with Charlie for the last forty-seven years.

The temperatures were dropping, but I was a little warmer when I came back from my cruise.

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I like surprises. And (almost) nothing is better than a good book that takes me to an unexpected place. I recently picked up Lesbian Marriage: A Sex Survival Kit (2014) by Kim Chernin and Renate Stendhal, and then I picked up Active Duty: Gay Military Erotic Romance, edited by Neil Placky, and Rookies: Gay Erotic Fiction, edited by Shane Allison. The latter two books were both published in 2014 by Cleis Press. I like to mix it up a little. What the books have in common is that none of them was what I expected.

When I first heard of Lesbian Marriage: A Sex Survival Kit, I expected a book about, well, sex. But the book is written by a lesbian couple in a committed relationship who in 2013 celebrated the anniversary of 28 years together by getting married. The book is about relationships and is told from the first-person perspectives of the authors as well as other coupled lesbians. Its 12 chapters — each starting with a story that presents a relationship challenge — are followed by a “Dos and Don’ts” section following up on the relationship challenge.

I shouldn’t have been surprised that the book is so well-written and useful, given that I was familiar with the work of one of the authors, Kim Chernin, who in 1982 published In My Mother’s House, which, although I didn’t know it at the time, was probably one of the major inspirations for my book Tea Leaves: A Memoir of Mothers and Daughters.

When my partner of 30 years and I married this past year, we did so to claim our equality for legal rights. We were also caught up in the mad rush of history. But the fact is that there are many pros and cons of marriage — even when claiming your equality. As Chernin and Stendhal point out in Lesbian Marriage, “half the people who get involved in it for the first time get back out again. The second time they try, sixty percent leave it behind.”

When I was younger, I never wanted to join the rest of the population in what is, basically, a failed institution. But then my partner and I got older. Suddenly we had to face the inequalities of being a same-sex couple — including a lack of hospital visitation rights. Considering that many, if not most, of the lesbian couples who marry are younger, the question posed by Chernin and Stendhal is a valid one:

We are obviously not intending to make gay marriage a replica of conventional marriage … so what do we want? It’s probably a good idea to have the discussion before we, and as we, and after we rush down to stand in line all night at City Hall.

 
 

The authors address the issue of “lesbian bed death” — the dwindling of sex in a long-term relationship. They put it in context by stating that “all the couples we know, and I mean all the heteros and a lot of the boys, too, are complaining about not having sex,” and by concluding that “marriage is not the remedy for couple trouble.”

Some highlights include sex after menopause (don’t think you are defined by your hormones), arguing fairly (don’t berate your lover), issues around monogamy, listening to each other, and scheduling time for play (“time is like freedom; no one gives it to you, you have to take it”).

Thinking about marriage left me thinking about gays in the military, another mainstream institution that I have had a change of heart about. While I once had the viewpoint that no one, including the LGBTQ community, perhaps especially the LGBTQ community, should have anything do with the military, I came to the conclusion that having equality is far better than not having it.

After I read Active Duty: Gay Military Erotic Romance, I scanned the bios in the back of the book and did not see anything that led me to believe that the writers were actually in the military. Many of the writers in this anthology must have talked to friends in the military, however. In addition to being well-written, most of the stories got to the heart of the matter of what it means to be openly gay in an hostile institution. The editor of the anthology, Neil Placky, explores the experiences of two prisoners of war, both of whom happen to be gay, in Afghanistan. The two men manage to escape — but, of course, not before a tryst. In this story, which is remarkably written with a strong sense of place, as in many of the others, there is a sense that the two men want to get together again after they return to their respective units.

There is overlap with the other anthology from Cleis Press, Rookies: Gay Erotic Fiction, particularly in the story “Busted” by Johnny Murdoc, when the cop character talks about his brother being a soldier in Afghanistan: “I miss Bobby. Then I think about him shooting at people in cars and I hate this whole fucking country.”

So the cops in this anthology have moral compasses, and they have fully developed characters. They cross the line, as in “Busted,” from arresting a man for smoking a joint to smoking one with him (and having sex with him). In another piece a rookie cop and his partner find themselves in the position of having to investigate a park where men meet for sex. The ending of this piece, by Eric Del Carlo, is perhaps predictable, but it’s touching, as the partner satisfies his rookie partner’s long-suppressed longing.

There is something appealing about cops stepping over the line, but as I read these two books I began thinking about something else. The characters in these anthologies are young — as the writers most likely are. They are from a post 9/11 era. Some of the men have husbands. And some are planning to have families. There is little to nothing written about the horrors of war or the perils of a police state. At first I was concerned for them — that they may be more conservative, despite the gains that the LGBT movement has made. Then I let the thought pass. They are of their time; they’ll figure things out just like we did.

from The Huffington Post

 

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I still remember the first time that I set foot in Giovanni’s Room, the beloved LGBT bookstore that recently closed its doors this past May. It was 1981, the year that I came out. I was in my early twenties. I had known about Giovanni’s Room, the gay and lesbian beacon on the corner of Twelfth and Pine Streets in Center City, Philadelphia. The store was founded in 1973.

The storefront was a rare and welcome presence for gay men and lesbians like myself who came out in a hostile time before the television shows Will and Grace, and Ellen, but after the Stonewall Gay Liberation Riots in 1969 which meant that gay bookstores, gay, lesbian and women’s presses were in existence. Gay marriage was just a glimmer in the eyes of our forebears (such as Gertrude and Alice) and still way in the future for us.

Stepping into Giovanni’s Room in 1981 felt like an act of courage and it was. Years later, the bookstore hosted Rita Mae Brown as a guest signing her books. I stood in the long line that went up the narrow staircase to the second floor where Rita Mae was signing her books. I arrived upstairs just in time to hear Rita Mae ask Ed Hermance, the owner, how many rocks had been thrown through his store windows over the years. As I recall, it was a high number.

On that first visit to Giovanni’s Room in 1981, I bought a book about Sojourner Truth, the African American abolitionist (born into slavery) and women’s rights activist. The book was hardback and had an off-white dust jacket with a pebbly feel to it. The title was Sojourner Truth: A Self Made Woman. It was in many ways a safe pick for me. If I ran into someone on the street and they asked me where I had been, I could be honest and say Giovanni’s Room which was a feminist bookstore, too. But Sojourner Truth had been an important figure in history and someone who gave me courage in my young life.

After my first trip to Giovanni’s, it was easier to go back. Inside the walls of that corner city house turned bookstore, I found a community of past and present. It was where I heard activists and authors of all types speak. And it was where I became most intimately acquainted with James Baldwin (whose pioneering novel Giovanni’s Room the store was named for), Willa Cather, Sappho, of course, and so many others.

Finally, Giovanni’s was a place where I came to find myself as a lesbian and as an author. I had been writing since childhood and began taking it seriously at the age of twenty-nine, the same age I learned that Gertrude had been when she started writing as a daily practice. When I began to get published in journals and anthologies, I would come into the store and find myself on the shelves. A little while later, when a small press began publishing my chapbooks, they were in the poetry section. A poster with one of my poems on it was in the rack upstairs. In the last five years, when I had readings for a novel and then a memoir, I had my book launches at the store.

I was part of many readings at Giovanni’s over the years, but that is what not I remember most. I remember that Giovanni’s shaped me as a writer and that Ed Hermance nurtured my talent. Ed and I would often talk when I came into the store, and he was always let me know when a new book had come out that I should check out, including a new translation of Sappho and a collection of James Baldwin’s letters. It was more than just good business. Ed really cared.

One of the people we both cared about was Toni Brown, the late lesbian poet, who worked at Giovanni’s Room for a stint when she first moved to Philadelphia from Amherst, Massachusetts. Toni died, unexpectedly, at the age of fifty-five. I had a very large print made from a photograph that I had taken of Toni made for her memorial service in April of 2008. The photograph was displayed on the stage of The Painted Bride Art Center where the memorial was held. Toni was a tall African American woman, about the same height as I, and the service was packed with a diverse crowd. I remember standing on the stage talking to Ed Hermance, both of us crying, and me handing him the photograph. He displayed it in the store for a time, on the wall behind the cash register. I remember thinking that I could walk into Giovanni’s Room at any time and see Toni.

Losing Giovanni’s Room is in many ways similar to losing a good friend. It was a place that contained our history, as a movement, as a people. It was a place that gave testament to our lives. It was a store that gave so many of us a safe haven and, in reality, saved many lives.

It was a place where we could be ourselves.

Note: as of this writing, Giovanni’s Room is still awaiting the decision of a potential buyer — which most likely will come by the middle of June.

 

From The Huffington Post

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“So are we all legally married?” was the question that I posed to our long-time friends, Mary and Joanne, and my partner as we all drove to a Thai restaurant. Last summer, the four of us went to the Montgomery County Courthouse when a judge went rogue, got married, and afterwards went to a nearby Thai restaurant.

“I don’t know,” replied Mary with characteristic drollness. “But I don’t think it’s fair to call Pennsylvania ‘Pennsyltucky’ anymore since Kentucky struck down its same sex marriage ban.”

This time we were having Thai again and had lots to catch up on after the long cold weather that kept us in our respective homes. My partner Barbara and I have been together for 30 years and Mary and Joanne have been together for nearly as long. We have known each other for decades. Joanne and Barbara used to work together at the Post Office.

After lunch, we spent the afternoon sitting on the patio behind Mary and Joanne’s lovely home. We talked about many things — chiefly about how we all were living on less money (both of us consist of one partner who is retired and the other self employed) and how we actually have a higher quality of life.

Gradually, the talk turned to marriage.

We all agreed that same-sex marriage is redefining the institution of marriage. For one thing, we are not taking each other’s last name. (Straight women often disappear into their husband’s last name — unless they choose to keep their own.) As lesbian-feminists, all of us dislike the word “wife” and refuse to use it to describe ourselves.

We were having such a good time sitting in the sun and laughing, that we forgot to check the news, even though we knew that the ruling on the PA constitutional ban against same sex marriage was due soon. It wasn’t until my partner and I had had left and were driving down the street, that Joanne came running after us and told us the good news.

I gave my friend a high five, kissed my partner (now my legal partner/spouse), and as we drove home, we joked about putting a sign and a trail of tin cans on the back of our car.

“Same-sex marriage is legal in 17 U.S states and the District of Columbia: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington,” according to CNN.

The Huffington Post quoting the Associated Press, explains:
“Pennsylvania’s ban on gay marriage was overturned by a federal judge Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III called the plaintiffs — a widow, 11 couples and one of the couples’ two teenage daughters — courageous.
‘We now join the 12 federal district courts across the country which, when confronted with these inequities in their own states, have concluded that all couples deserve equal dignity in the realm of civil marriage,’ Jones wrote.
An appeal to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is likely. Gov. Tom Corbett’s office had defended the law after Attorney General Kathleen Kane called it unconstitutional and refused to defend it.
State marriage bans have been falling around the country since the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
In all, 18 states give legal status to gay marriage. If Jones’ decision stands, Pennsylvania would become the 19th and legalize gay marriage throughout the Northeast.”

The ACLU has an online petition requesting that the PA Governor (who is running for re-election this year) respect all families in the state by not appealing the ruling. I signed the petition and hope you will too.

I have to admit it feels good to have equal rights.

(from The Huffington Post)

Post Script:  Today (5-21-14), I read the news that the PA Governor is not going to appeal the ruling.  Now it feels REALLY good to have equal rights.

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from The Huffington Post

Since the Duck Dynasty controversy surfaced, I’ve been keeping my distance.

Even though I’ve never seen the show — or heard of it before the controversy — I found the whole thing, well, distasteful. I’ve been a lapsed vegetarian for years — and still avoid red meat and pork. And the few times that I’ve eaten duck, I found it not too my liking. It’s too greasy for starters. And it tastes like an old friend from my childhood.

The Story About Ping was one my favorite childhood books. Written in 1933 by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Kurt Wiese, the story chronicles the life of Ping, a duck, who lived on the Yangtze River with his sisters and brothers and his extended family on  a “wise-eyed” house boat.

I mentioned The Story About Ping in my memoir Tea Leaves in the context of reading The Magic Mountain, to my dying mother, a classic book and 700-page tome by Thomas Mann, and one of her favorites that she had read start to finish years before I was born “just because,” she told me, “I wanted to.”

Reading to my mother about the protagonist’s (Hans Castorp) experience in a tuberculosis sanitarium in the Swiss Alps provided us with some closure — she was returning to a world that she once inhabited in a book and I was, in a way, returning to the pages of my childhood.

As I read, my voice grew low and sleepy. Reading out loud to my mother recalled my childhood, her voice lulling me to sleep, weaving through the worlds of Treasure Island, Anne of Green Gables and, my favorite, The Story About Ping. Now it was she who was wide awake remembering the world of this book that she once inhabited as she jumped ahead, telling me about Hans and the other patients sitting outside every afternoon taking “the cure,” wrapped in blankets, inhaling the cold air, attended to by nurses who must have been wondering if they were going to be next.

Books have always enriched my life. I am a thinking person and, as such, also find reality TV rather distasteful. Or, as I have long been fond of saying, “I am not a big fan of reality.”

Some notable exceptions have been the Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best? reality show (loved the “lesbian episode”) and RuPaul’s Drag Race.

The fact is I rather enjoy not being in the American mainstream — and, for the most part, being oblivious to it.  But when Jessie Jackson released his statement saying that the Duck Dynasty “Patriarch’s” comments on race being “more offensive than the bus driver in Montgomery, Alabama, more than 59 years ago,” I took notice.  I remembered shaking Jackson’s hand in 1984. I remembered that I was part of his rainbow coalition.

Part of what I find distasteful about the Duck Dynasty controversy is that it proves the saying that there is no such thing as bad publicity — even when it comes to racist and homophobic comments. Sales of the shows products have skyrocketed.

Then I read about the comments that this same Duck Dynasty “Patriarch” made at a Christian conference in 2009 advocating that men marry teenage girls. (In most states this is against the law.)

What the Duck Dynasty controversy illustrates most strongly is that we are more alike than different. Racism and homophobia and sexism all have things in common. In addition to offending African-Americans, the LGBT community, and women, his comments also offend those who love women which, one can assume, includes most straight men.  In a just world, the man who made the comments would be fired from his job.

In a just world, the LGBT community would not have to fight for the legal right to marry. When I heard the news about the Supreme Court putting the brakes of same-sex marriages in Utah — at least until “a federal appeals court more fully considers the issue” — I was not, in fact, outraged. But then, I am an old-school lesbian feminist activist who has seen a lot of history and know that change happens slowly.

I have met queer college students who are angry. One college-aged lesbian I met in Atlanta said to me, “I thought that the whole gay marriage thing should be a non-issue by now. It should have been taken care of before I was born.”

Amusing as her comment was (especially since this young woman had grown up in the deep South), I had to admit that she was right.

Last summer, I was married during the short window of time when Montgomery County, Pa. Register of Wills, Bruce D. Hanes began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. My partner and I have been together for 30 years and deserve the same legal recognition as any opposite sex married couple.

But after, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court upheld the state’s ban on same-sex marriage (a decision that Bruce Haines has filed an argument against). As a result, my partner and I, along with 173 other same-sex couples who were issued licenses in Pennsylvania, are not sure if we are still legally married.

It’s a similar situation to the 900 gay and lesbian couples who were legally married in Utah.

If I were a quarter of a century younger, I might be outraged.

But I’m fortifying myself for the long fight — we still have work to do.

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from The Huffington Post

Now that Harvey Milk is on a stamp, I’ll be able to ask for him by name whenever I go to the post office.

05_10_Milk_Stamp_52_LRGThe announcement was made close to the 35th anniversary of the assassination of Harvey Milk, who became the first openly gay official to hold public office when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.

The news was broken on Twitter by Stuart Milk, the nephew of Harvey Milk.

The Harvey Milk stamp is being heralded as perhaps depicting the first openly gay LGBT figure.

However, Harvey Milk is not the first openly-gay LGBT figure to be on a stamp.  One notable exception is James Baldwin. 

Baldwin was perhaps ambiguously out but he was the author of Giovanni’s Room, one of the first gay novels. He is known for his identity as an African American writer, as a gay writer and as a great literary figure in general. When his stamp was issued in 2004, my partner, now a retired postal worker, came home with stories about a co-worker who asked her if Baldwin was indeed “that way,” a customer who said he would take any other stamp other than the one with Baldwin’s face on it and another customer who said,  “He was a great man. I had the honor of meeting him once.”

My partner’s response to hearing that Harvey Milk was going to be on stamp was one of wonder.
“Wow.  That’s deep… I wonder what people will have to say about that.”

Undoubtedly some will be thrilled, others repulsed and, unfortunately, a great many will be indifferent.

The fact that the issuance of the stamp will offend the religious right is a cause for celebration in itself. But Harvey Milk is a great American hero.  And although we were on opposite coasts and I was in high school when he was elected to city supervisor, he is someone who influenced my life greatly. The fact that Anita Bryant, the former Miss Oklahoma who was best known perhaps as an outspoken opponent of homosexuality, was on the national news denouncing Harvey Milk meant that there were others like me out there.

Before the movie Milk, the box office hit starring Sean Penn, in 2008, there was a documentary called The Times of Harvey Milk that I saw when it first came out in 1984.

I had a ticket for the premier showing at the Roxy movie theater on Sansom Street in Philadelphia. I was 25 and had come out a few years before. Inside the small but cozy theater, the audience was comprised mainly of gay men, with a few pockets of lesbians here and there.

The Times of Harvey Milk opened with Diane Fienstein, as the first female President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, announcing that San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone had been assassinated. As the documentary progressed, with the narration of Harvey Fierstein, the delightfully husky voiced gay icon (and one of the few openly gay actors at the time), I became aware of an unusual sound coming from all around me.

I realized then, that it was the sound of men, sitting in the dark, softly crying.

In those days my activist life was divided into two camps, women’s liberation — which is where most of the lesbians were — and the gay movement, at that time still predominantly men.  Often, I was the person who brought the two groups together in my activist community in Philadelphia.

Today gay men and lesbians are working together — and we are a force to be reckoned with.

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