JOHN DURAN 🏳️‍🌈 Our fight isn’t over yet

ADVERTISEMENT

The first pride celebration I attended was in 1979. I have been on Santa Monica Blvd at every parade and festival since then. So, I may have missed the first nine from 1970-1978, but I have caught the last 44 parades and festivals. I address this letter to “newer” members of the LGBT community and not “younger.” Some individuals are just coming out now to themselves and others – even though well over the age of 50, or over the age of 80! It is possible that they have only been out for five years or less despite the fact that a young millennial may have been out for 15 years or more. So, it’s not a question of age that I write about – it’s a question of time OUT and PROUD, whether one is 25 or 85 years of age.

I came out to myself and others in 1979. I was working at Disneyland back then as a nineteen-year-old Jungle Cruise ride operator. Here is what my teenage eyes witnessed. Homosexuality was decriminalized in California just three years earlier in 1976. Harvey Milk was assassinated just a few months before then in 1978. There were only a handful of gay organizations back then: MECLA – the first LGBT political action committee in the Nation created here in Los Angeles by many including the late David Mixner and my beloved pal Diane Abbitt. The MCC Churches headed up by my friend the Rev. Troy Perry were here. And the “Gay Center” was also present, which was one big room with a few phones to staff the hotlines about STDs like syphilis. There was no AIDS. No meth epidemic. No united gay men and lesbians working together. No mention of bisexuals or transgender. All of these LGBT people existed, of course. But to the newer members – please remember – there were no cell phones, no internet, no social media. All communication consisted of picking up a copy of “Frontiers” or “Lesbian News” when you left the clubs. Or subscribing to the Advocate (also started here in Los Angeles). Or joining a club/group with LGBT affiliation where you would receive a monthly newsletter (maybe – if they got it together to do a mailing). The bars were our sanctuaries. The bathhouses our hidden oasis spots. Our dinner parties moving from home to home were our communities. That was how we found one another and organized. So, as you can see – communication was limited. Relationships depended upon geography. And we rarely crossed the line into people who were of different gender/race/ideology from our own.

Sure there were gay men and lesbians working on anti-discrimination legislation in the 1970s. And they were working on the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment then. And attacking sodomy laws that existed in almost all of the United States. But most of us lived in solitude or small circles of trusted friends. Until it happened…

AIDS hit in 1981. I won’t go into the graphic detail about life between 1981 and 1995 when protease inhibitors became available to stop the dying. I have written and continue to write about the stories from the ’80s and ’90s. But here are some highlights:

From 1985-1994, I lost 104 beloved friends. Names I still remember and call upon for strength. If you were there, you know the pain I cannot adequately explain. We fought statewide initiatives that tried to take away our teaching jobs (Prop 6 in 1978), put us in concentration camps (Prop 64 in 1986 and Props 69 and 102 in 1988), mandatory testing of our bodies (Prop 96 in 1988). That’s five times with the massive CA electorate long before Prop 8 on marriage equality in 2008. Politically – we were baptized by fire, rage, and epidemic. We have battled against Presidents, Politicians, Prime Ministers, Popes, Military Generals, Corporations, Supreme Court Justices, Parents, Siblings, political parties, religions, alcoholism and addiction, depression, suicide attempts, and our own despair and hopelessness – yet – we are still standing and here. Harvey Milk is an important part of our history – but he wasn’t here for AIDS, gays in the military or marriage equality. Others were here for all those battles. The drag queens at Stonewall played a pivotal role in our history, but they were not here for the cultural creations and advancements of the past 25 years of the new millennium. But others were here. Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein were early pioneers of our lesbian herstory. But they could only dream about marriage, lesbian mothers, women on the Supreme Court, and US Senate. Now, Senator Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin and Senator LaPhonza Butler from California are there serving with honor. This is a MOVEMENT of people over decades of time that has relied upon

ADVERTISEMENT

the contributions of thousands and not any single person. The point is not to diminish any historical individual but to express and embolden each and every one of us that the ball is still “in play” and you have a part to play on this historical timeline.

Assume nothing this Pride month. If you see gray hair and wrinkled skin – do not assume that she is an elder. She may have only been out for 5 years or less. If you see a young person under 30 – do not assume that he knows nothing about LGBT history. He may have contributed more content on Instagram or TikTok than a baby boomer from the ’70s who did little to nothing. This chapter in US history over the last 75 years does not rely upon a biological age – it depends upon a demonstrable expression that “I AM WHO I AM” and will not hide any longer. And each of us has a point of origin when that happened.

But here is another truth. In that sea of people you will experience at Pride this month, there are individuals who have been out for decades. Ask what happened in the ’80s with AIDS – and you will notice their eyes well up with the tears of anguish and loss. Ask what happened in the ’90s with Colonel Greta Cammermeyer and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and you will see the tears shift into the glow of patriotic pride over OUR United States servicemembers. Ask what happened before marriage equality in 2008, and you will hear about the tragic tale of Sharon Kowalski and Karen Thompson or gay men separated from lovers in AIDS wards which taught us about the fragility of our relationships without the legal protection of domestic partnership and ultimately marriage. Ask about the early days of gay politics when our organizations like MECLA (Municipal Elections Committee Los Angeles), ECCO (Elections Committee County of Orange), and USDEC (United San Diegans Elections Committee) all hid the letter LGBT since NO politician would even accept our money. Yes. That was a time long before we had openly gay/lesbian Speakers of the California Assembly like John Perez and Tony Atkins – not to mention members of Congress, US Senators, and Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

You see newer members – the stories are still being created and will later be told. It’s not just about Stonewall, the Mattachine Society, or Daughters of Bilitis. It’s about the year 2024 and the battles we face today. Now. We are still under attack. And there is a critical election in five months that will decide whether we continue to trudge forward or get pushed back. And you are a player on the chessboard. You are not an observer. If you end up in bed with someone of the same sex – you are POLITICAL. Not by your choice or desire per se. But because others will loathe and despise who you are and attempt harm to you and those you love. The only question is “will you fight back?”

So. March this weekend. Dance. Celebrate. And then – register to vote if you haven’t already. Vote in elections. Write checks to LGBT organizations. Fight! The battle is not yet won. And we need you…….

With greatest respect and love,

John Duran
Homo since 1979 and Proud

5 1 vote
Article Rating
ADVERTISEMENT
About John Duran
John Duran, a criminal defense lawyer, served on the West Hollywood City Council for 20 years, 2001-2020.

View All Articles

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

7 Comments
Newest
Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Alan Strasburg
Alan Strasburg
1 month ago

John Duran’s eloquence and ferocity of cause are unmatched and must be celebrated. This story addresses history with great respect while simultaneously looking forward. Few can articulate such balance respectfully. I applaud John for staying in the fight.

Carleton cro9nin
1 month ago

A most important personaL and historical narrative. John Duran has more than paid his dues to the city. Controversial? Yes, but a good mind needs stimulation! This piece should be available to every resident and worker in West Hollywood. My singular memory of John was when he MC’d the Pride parade (year?), sipping from a can of Red Bull and greeting me as I made my only ever appearance in the parade. Hola,John!

WeHo Mary!
WeHo Mary!
1 month ago

While it’s nice that this person has been so involved in the Community, I think there’s a lot of gatekeeping here. If you don’t want to be political, you don’t have to. I also believe that newly out and younger folks don’t need to have every detail of the AIDS crisis and the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights shoved down their throats constantly. I’m looking forward to seeing the healthy lives that people build, without all of the trauma that us older folks endured. Isn’t that the ultimate goal? I appreciate the activism of years past but, how much praise and… Read more »

CarlosMNelson
CarlosMNelson
1 month ago

thanks for sharing this story

BloodshotEyedGuy
BloodshotEyedGuy
1 month ago

Ugh. Make it stop.

WehoQueen
WehoQueen
1 month ago

It troubles me when I see so many young LGBT people who are clueless about our history, and clueless how we got some rights we have now. I get that part of being LGBT is having a good time at our clubs, but so many young people take it for granted, being able to walk freely on our streets. Our City is guilty of not having a single significant monument/memorial to the past battles, and the past heroes. That doesn’t help. There is a good chance we will get a Fascist President elected in November, who is already responsible for… Read more »

WeHo Mary!
WeHo Mary!
1 month ago
Reply to  WehoQueen

I hate to break it to you, but a lot of younger folks won’t be voting, or will vote for West/Abdullah or some other candidate. The activists and tbe gatekeepers who control our Community are telling them to do this.

7
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x