Opinion | Out alumnus discusses ‘Queer Spawn’ of Miami
Published: Monday, February 18, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 18, 2013 23:02
On the premise that one in 10 people is gay, I began telling my classmates at Miami University, one by one, that I was a “homosexual” — I could not yet bring myself to use the word “gay.”
This was 30 years ago — February of 1983, to be precise. I was a sophomore at Miami. I didn’t know any gay people. There were no gay organizations at the university. None. This was 20 years before the Supreme Court would de-criminalize sodomy. This was a decade before the term LGBT came into vogue. Homosexuality was bad, very, very bad.
I squirmed through several uncomfortable coming out conversations. In one of the most chilling exchanges, my best friend, a very good Catholic boy, stared at me for what seemed an eternity before saying, “Now I understand why generations have to die in order for society to change. I don’t think I can change my belief that it’s wrong.”
I think my friend Christine was no. 7 on the list. Over ice cream, she confided that she had a girlfriend back home in Ashtabula. Christine took me to my first gay bar. And the rest is, well — it got better for me.
Even as it got better, Miami back then was not a particularly safe place to be openly gay. Gay activist groups had come and gone at Miami since the 1970s, but none of them lasted long. In fact, the following year, 1984, a new gay/lesbian group sprang up on campus. All I recall about it was that most of the members wore black, and they paraded around campus yelling. People yelled back. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t my style. Christine and I never bothered to connect with any of them. The group fizzled out. Christine and I felt alone. On a campus of 15,000 people, surely there were more gay people than the two of us.
So she and I decided to try something different. Rather than organizing an activist or political gay/lesbian rights group, we decided to create a secretive club. We coordinated with some wonderful and helpful Miami administrators who arranged for us to meet in a room in the basement of the counseling center. They gave us space, time and resources, and they never interfered with our activities. Students could only find out about our group if they mentioned something about being gay or homosexual to a counselor or an R.A. or to another student services representative. Only then would the student be provided with the meeting time and location. It was all very clandestine. We called ourselves “Chameleon” because, like a chameleon, we felt we had to change our appearances to fit into our surroundings.
Only three of us gathered at our first meeting. By the end of the year, there were a handful. We shared stories, supported each other, organized road trips to gay clubs in Dayton and Cincinnati, and slowly built a healthy, queer family at Miami. Miami has never lacked for an GLBTQ student organization since. Now, I count eight on the university’s website. Wow!
Over the past three decades, I have been a participant in and witness to some of the great queer moments in our nation’s history, including reporting on our country’s first civil marriages for same-sex couples in Massachusetts. I demonstrated in New York City in the wake of Matthew Shepard’s death. I spearheaded gay corporate affinity group actions as a vice president at Bear Stearns and Citibank on Wall Street and at internet startup Razorfish. I confronted Iranian clerics about their views on homosexuality and lived to write about it.
I have been struck over and over again by how the quiet, persistent, and loving approach of Miami University staff, faculty, administrators and several fellow students shaped my ability to contribute powerfully and positively to the queer transformation happening in the world today.
I will be back at Miami Thursday, Feb. 28, to share more about what Miami has meant to me as a queer activist and journalist. I will also be listening to what new forces for transformation may be percolating at my beloved alma mater. The session’s title pretty much speaks for itself: “Queer Spawn of Mother Miami: Why the World Needs More of Them.”
Most importantly, I look forward to being what I could never be on Miami’s campus 30 years ago — out, really out!
Queer Spawn of Mother Miami: Why the World Needs More of Them. Talk and discussion. February 28, 4 p.m. Upham Hall, room 163, Miami University, Oxford, OH.