Just as they have done for decades, the aging soldiers of the LGBT community wait with open arms and hearts, ready to cradle and nurse those who are dying a slow death. However, the killer today is not AIDS -- well, not as much as it once was -- but the crushing weight of cruelty.
On a lonely selection far out in the West
An old woman works all the day without rest,
And she croons, as she toils ’neath the sky’s glassy dome,
‘Sure I’ll keep the ould place till the childer come home.’
- "When the Children Come Home", Henry Lawson
At StarbaseQ in Louisville, Kentuck on 3 October 2010, the music is pumping, the bartenders are churning out drinks as quickly as they can, and the crowd is loud and boisterous. In the back room, a magnificent buffet is spread out. Two strippers, looking bored, half-heartedly work the throng of people. The crowd cheers as old pictures flash across the TV screens, and every other minute, a couple of people run up and hug like old friends who haven't seen each other in years, maybe decades. They haven't, actually. It's not a typical bar scene for a Sunday afternoon.
It's a gathering of men and women who loved, lived, and played together "back in the day", more specifically, during the '60s, '70s, and '80s. Despite the large turn-out and the fact that a considerable amount of money was raised to benefit the Louisville AIDS Walk, you probably won't be reading about this get-together in the society pages of your fave queer magazine. Hell, even the local paper, the Louisville Courier-Journal, didn't cover the event, but that's not surprising, considering that their coverage of gay pride festivities consists of a few paragraphs buried in the Metro section.
Make no mistake, though, this was a momentous event, one deserving of recognition. It all started on Facebook. A few guys from the old days found each other on the popular networking site, then checked out each other's Friends' list and wound up connecting with more old friends. Soon, there were hundreds of them, reconnecting after all these years, recalling (endlessly, I must add) all the old times and playing the "remember when?" game.
Within no time, someone suggested that they all get together, a reunion of the soldiers of the old guard. At first, it was going to be at someone's house, then the club space was rented. Tony Alllison took charge and made arrangements. Then, someone had a Mickey Rooney - Judy Garland moment and said, "Hey, let's put on a show!" Thus, the idea to reunite all the old drag queens from yesterday developed, and Tony started make arrangements for a drag show.
What's more, the drag queens showed up, some obvious patrons of the plastic surgeon's talents. Old and young, StarbaseQ was dripping in female impersonators, with gay men stopping them repeatedly to comment, "Miss Thing, you look fabulous!" Reva Devareaux, Robbi Lynn and CeCe Davenport were a few of those there, all of them dolled up old school, with hair and make-up that would make Linda Evans and Joan Collins proud. Many of them, like many in the audience, traveled from states far away to be here.
Sounds, so far, like a bunch of older queens and dykes getting together to kvetch and reminisce, but it was more than that. I wasn't a part of this family, but I was fortunate enough to attend on the arm of my partner Jim. I must admit that my initial reaction was, "Oh, yea! This is going to be like going to someone else's family reunion." Still, I put on my happy face and went; within seconds of walking in the door, Jim grabbed someone and they hugged, then another someone and another. It's wasn't just the old gang, it was history makers reliving the days they taught the nation what it means to be gay.
In the '60s and '70s, when Americans were looking at out and proud individuals for the first time, it was these men and women they were looking at. During the '80s, when AIDS ravaged our community and robbed us of tens of thousands of our brothers and sisters, it was these individuals who fed, bathed, and cradled the sick, then held them as they died. That a gay community exists at all today is largely due to these very men and women: the warriors. Their hair is shorter and gray, their facial lines deeper, and the waistlines broader, but their spirit hasn't diminished one bit.
However, this wasn't the only group of LGBT men and women and their supporters who gathered on this Sunday. Seven hundred and fifty miles away, another such group was huddled together, in the cool night air, bonded for a much more somber reason. Only days before, 18-year-old Tyler Clementi had jumped off a bridge to his death, and this candlelight vigil sought to make sense of that which is senseless. Tyler is one of several gay youths who has committed suicide recently, and one of tens of thousands who, over the years, have chosen death over the fear and persecution they experience as LGBT individuals in their societies -- wherever that may be. As gratifying as it is to have the sudden media attention focused on the issue, it's tragic that Tyler, Seth Walsh, Asher Walker, Billy Lucas and Justin Aaberg, to name just a few, had to reach the point of ultimate despair and kill themselves, especially since gay advocates have been screaming about the tragedy of teen suicide for years.
The details of Tyler's last few days have been played out extensively in the media, adding to the public knowledge of his personal sex life that drove him to jump. Most people don't know that 13-year-old Seth Walsh was on life support for nine days before dying, the result of hanging himself from a tree. He had been bullied most of his school life for being gay. Billy Lucas, also 13, and Raymond Chase, a college freshman, also hung themselves; Justin Aaberg was 13 when he came out, but he too hung himself, at the age of 15. Like the others, Asher Walker suffered extensive bullying and taunting; he shot himself.
The majority of us don't know the stories of most LGBT youth who have committed suicide, as it hasn't been an epidemic for the front pages -- until now. Still, countless are the studies done in the past decade that have shown with empirical evidence that LGBT youth are far more likely to commit suicide and that for every one that is successful, there are dozens more who have attempted it.