Longform

Nobody Gets Out of Here Alive

Page 27 of 27

Sometimes he wonders where the movement would be now if AIDS hadn't drained its energy and killed many of its leaders. Heck, the Stonewall Inn is being added to the U.S. Register of Historic Places. He's shy about trumpeting his own role in the movement or battle against AIDS (it took several requests over a period of years and Cohn's assistance to get him to agree to an interview for this story). Two years ago he declined to attend a dinner put on by CAP to honor him and Cohn for their work. He appreciated the thought, but he believed there were others more deserving. But history should be important to the next generation of gays, he says.

Just as young gay men already seem to be forgetting the terror of AIDS, most seem to know little about the movement, the Mattachine Society, Stonewall or Harry Hay. At the same time, he's been hearing from Hay, who's telling him it's time for him to get up off his ass and get active again. He opens a copy of Hay's book, Radically Gay. The old man signed it when he was visiting last fall on a book tour: "To Patrick, whose seminal contributions to Denver's Gay Liberation achievements in the 1970s sparked many ideas developed in this book.

"My love and gratitude, Harry Hay."

Gourley notes that conservatives in the state legislature last week won their battle to ban gay marriages in Colorado, an issue on which Gourley isn't sure where he stands. In some respects, he worries that anything so hetero-imitative may cause gays to lose their edge. On the other hand, anything that upsets the Christian right so terribly can't be all bad. And the mere fact that the Republicans had to struggle to ban gay marriages would have never occurred thirty years ago.

Still, there is much work to be done. That was clear to Gourley on New Year's Eve, when he and his lover were leaving a party downtown and encountered six obviously intoxicated young men. "Hey, faggots," one of them yelled, his friends laughing. The comment caught Gourley off guard. He and his lover weren't holding hands or swishing down the sidewalk. After all he had seen -- all the death and suffering faced with courage by "faggots" -- it seemed unfair for the term to be used in so derogatory a fashion. Gourley's boyfriend, who is ten years younger, was upset and wanted to confront them. Even Gourley, for just a moment before prudence overcame the better part of valor, thought about yelling back, "That's Mister Faggot to you!"

Looking at the photograph of the smiling men in front of the San Juan Pueblo bed-and-breakfast, Gourley notes that AIDS taught a lot of valuable lessons. Most important, it answered the question about how they would prove to the world that being gay was more than a sexual act. How many hundreds of times had he seen a man stick by his lover, clean up vomit and diarrhea, spoon-feed an invalid for months, even years, long after there was any sort of sexual relationship?

He had been there himself. It wasn't about sex. It was about love. Maybe at last the world had seen the meaning of true gay love. All it took was a few hundred thousand lives.

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Steve Jackson