Longform

Nobody Gets Out of Here Alive

Page 11 of 27

Gourley was impressed by the dignity of the whole affair. The experience convinced him that a hospital -- with its sterility and efficiency -- was no place to die. No one could know the time or place, but it would be best at home surrounded by friends and family.


In the fall of 1980, Gourley met and fell in love with David Woodyard, a Methodist minister whose parsonage was a well-known stone church outside of Aspen. They were introduced by a mutual friend during one of Woodyard's trips to Denver, which he said he needed to keep from "losing his mind" as a gay man, even in a supposedly hip town like Aspen.

Woodyard had struck his own small blow for the movement when he danced with another man at an Aspen bar until they'd been asked to stop. He'd also been part of the group that started the community center in Denver and was involved in Unity, a national gay Methodist group that was still trying to fit gays into the existing religious structure.

In December, Gourley spent several weeks in Aspen with Woodyard. He was reluctant to part a few weeks later, when he joined Hay, Burnside, Walker, Don Kilhefner, who had been one of the founders of the L.A.community center, and a young gay anthropologist, writer and pupil of Hay's named Will Roscoe and his lover, Brad Rose, on a trip to Wolf Creek, Oregon. It had been a gay hangout for years, and the visionaries were thinking it might be the right place to establish the sanctuary. Gourley was disillusioned when the trip deteriorated into bickering between Hay and Walker and Kilhefner -- not over grand philosophical issues, but over petty ego trips. Gourley wondered if the sanctuary would ever get off the ground. But he had also been feeling poorly most of the trip and wanted only to get back to Colorado and Woodyard.

Soon after he returned, Woodyard left his parsonage and moved to Denver to live with Gourley. He went to work for the Denver Art Museum in fundraising and development, and the two men settled into life as a couple.

Woodyard loved listening to his new boyfriend's diatribes. But like Gorman, he brought balance to Gourley's politics. They were both able to get him to tone it down, to keep him from being so outrageous that no one would listen. Gourley found his own voice by writing for gay publications in the Denver area. Many of these writings expounded on the idea of gays and lesbians as a cultural minority. With Ronald Reagan coming to power, he noted in a piece that appeared in Out Front, the national gay press was alarmed that the political gains made in the later '70s were "seriously imperiled."

"On one level, we need to realize how fragile our 'rights' are when handed to us by society," Gourley wrote. "Can they as easily be taken back?"

On the other hand, he noted, gays and lesbians were part of the problem as long as they accepted society's definition of what it meant to be gay or lesbian. "It is the 'myth of the homosexual,'" he wrote, borrowing from Walker's treatise in Visionary Love. "Simply stated, this myth implies that the essence of gayness/lesbianism is a sexual act. An indication of how we have swallowed this line is the frequency with which you hear gays and lesbians everywhere screech, 'The only difference between us and straight people is what we do in bed!'

"How sad, and threatening to us as a people, that this is actually a fairly apt description of how most of us view ourselves 11 years after the beginning of this wave of gay liberation."

And while the Reagan administration was certainly unfriendly to gay rights, there were other threats to the movement's progress. The diseases that were getting the most attention by 1981 were the so-called gay cancer and gay pneumonia.

The first was a previously rare form of skin cancer known as Kaposi's Sarcoma. Distinguished by what appeared to be large purple bruises beneath the skin that didn't go away, the disease had in the past been diagnosed almost exclusively in older men of Mediterranean descent. These men usually died of old age long before the cancer could be considered dangerous. Now the cancer was killing young gay men -- and it wasn't limiting itself to the skin. It also appeared in the brain, lungs and bones.

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Steve Jackson