The first thing that came to mind with this week’s prompt of Bring Together was our LBGTQ community center and it’s wonderful though at times tumultuous history dating back to the mid-1970s. We are gathered here today on Zoom sharing life stories as part of the vibrant and persistent effort that is the creation of queer space. I wonder how the “zoom” period will be remembered, as a passing footnote and just a part of a short bad dream, I hope.
In 2020 I at times wonder why I still participate in and support various Center activities after nearly 45 years? In part, I am sure it is because I am single and live alone. My friendship network is largely gay but not totally so. That AIDS devastated my large circle of friends and several lovers and long-term partners have in some ways helped me to have maintained my love for and ties to The Center. The destruction caused by that virus is something my life has never totally recovered from. A bit ironically the personal health consequences from HIV are now largely in the rearview mirror, just taking several life-long medications.
At the age of 71, I must say the future even without HIV and COVID looks daunting much of the time. The real bugaboo here for me personally is being alone.
The biggest fear with COVID as with many of life’s aging health issues is not death but rather being left disabled to the point that solo independent living becomes impossible and a nursing home a reality. Oh, sure I often think of having a graceful self-induced exit planned but you know the best-laid plans frequently don’t work out.
Well, this seems to be devolving into a bit of a pity party on my part when the reality of the phenomenal bringing together that has resulted from the existence of The Center over these decades is truly a cause for celebration. What we have really only needed ever was not the ability to get married or to serve in the military but rather to be able to carve out enough space to be together and community centers have been one way that has happened.
Once we have the ability to be together without fear of being beaten to death, we create all sorts of things that foster community growth. Social, political, economic, and supportive endeavors often spin-out from The Center after the seeds were allowed to germinate. This germination often takes form in a manner that is subtle and not easily noticed. As an example, one of the most frequent referrals we would make on The Center’s phones in the 1970s, other than to bars and bathes, of course, was to the local Men’s Coming Out Group. At least many hundreds if not more of gay men just coming out were then able to connect with this group and reinforce and solidify their own gay identities. Many lifelong connections and friendships occurred and continue to flourish today.
This same sort of loving connection continues at The Center these days with the Story Telling Group being a prime example as are many other Center-sponsored and supported activities. The most revolutionary act we participate in is the creation of space allowing us to be together.