Longform

Nobody Gets Out of Here Alive

Page 15 of 27

The pamphlet also promoted another new booklet available at the center on "Guidelines and Recommendations for Healthful Gay Sexual Activity." On the front was "Le Hunk Safe," a drawing of a good-looking man sure to catch attention.

It described what symptoms to look for: swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpits and groin; pink and purple blotches or bumps; weight loss greater than ten pounds in two months; fever for more than a week; night sweats over a period of several weeks; a persistent, often dry cough not attributable to smoking or the flu; and persistent, unexplained diarrhea.

The cases began to trickle in. The worst for Gourley were those with Kaposi's. The horrifying lesions on the faces of these men could make them appear monstrous. They reminded him of the demons he'd hallucinated at the bathhouse in 1979.

Gourley talked about the vision and what he felt it meant with Gorman. His friend also sensed that something was terribly wrong and dealt with it by leaving for India. He believed that if he dedicated himself to spiritual awakening, he might strengthen himself for the coming battle.


By May 1983, hundreds of gay men were getting sick and dying, and more and more cases were coming into Denver hospitals, yet Newsweek magazine had only just run its first story about the disease. It made Gourley angry. "Gay men have been contracting a deadly disease called AIDS for four years," he wrote in Out Front, "with the death toll now over 500 and climbing fast -- and Newsweek just noticed!" At the same time, New York City, with a gay and lesbian population estimated at one million, once again defeated a gay-rights ordinance.

And he had to admit that it wasn't just the straight community that raised his ire. The homosexual community in Denver seemed to be coming apart at the seams. A lot of the money coming into CAP was being raised by the bathhouses and bars, some of which made it clear that they didn't want the money going to the community center's overhead. They weren't going to send the money if it went to pay for a lesbian's salary instead of "for the boys." Sexism was alive and well in the gay community.

A decision was made to split CAP off from the center, and Gourley went with the new organization. He served on CAP's first board of directors, though he regretted the hard feelings caused by the split -- and the unfairness to Carol Lease, who'd done as much as anyone for Denver's gay community.

The center had always been hurting for funding, but CAP was a money magnet. There were other tensions, too, including racism and class distinctions. "What passes for gay and lesbian 'community' here in Denver seems more fragmented than ever as we see individuals and organizations going for each other's throats at the slightest provocation," Gourley wrote. He pleaded with readers to see that they were stronger than ever, if they would just come together.

It was one of his last purely political writings. The gay liberation movement was losing energy, and AIDS was his cause now.

After the trip to Wolf Creek, he'd become disillusioned with the factionalization among some of the key leaders of the movement, including his own mentor, Harry Hay. The old man had tried to revitalize him by asking Gourley and Woodyard, along with Roscoe and Rose, to join him and Burnside at the San Juan Pueblo. He wanted to show them his old stamping grounds, let them make a pilgrimage to the place and time when it seemed like the movement was really starting to fire up.

It was a good trip. Hay was again the teacher more than the politician. They posed in the sun outside the inn, and the old man said he hoped Gourley would get back into the politics of the movement. But Gourley knew his battle was back in Denver -- against a disease that was becoming increasingly personal to him.

That fact hit home when Woodyard's former lover died. David learned of it through mutual friends. It had apparently been a very sad and lonely death, as the man was estranged from his family and had no lover to look out for him.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Steve Jackson