Los Angeles Queer Nationals stood in line for the taping of the “Arsenio Hall Show” with hidden T-shirts, some with pink triangles and pockets full of Queer Nation stickers. Inside, we waited for Andrew Dice Clay to hit the stage. The supposed comedian was nasty to women and gays and we wanted it to stop.
Arsenio heard we were there and asked the audience if anyone wanted to talk about it. So I stood up. He asked me why I was there and I said, “I’m gay” and we didn’t like the way Hollywood treated women and the LGBT community and we were going to start holding Hollywood accountable. Arsenio was surprised. I had just “come out” on national television. We wanted to show that gay men and lesbians were a lot more than the serial killers Hollywood depicted us to be in films.
The closet was an institution we were going to smash. And when he 1990/91 films “Paris is Burning” and “My Own Private Idaho” were overlooked at the Academy Awards, we shut down the red carpet with a queer kiss-in. Many of us were whisked off to jail. Sadly, not one celebrity came forward. One day at a party for “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” I personally asked Sean Hayes if he was gay while I sat next to Ian McKellan. Sean’s snarky response was, “It’s none of your business!” I hope he would come out and show courage in the midst of the AIDS crisis, when we needed it most.
LGBT activists of the 1990s did not play games. We were experiencing what we considered a Reagan Holocaust of our people for his slow and late anorexic response to the AIDS epidemic. Our friends and lovers were dying every day. In New York City, we staged a die-in at St. Patrick’s Cathedral protesting Cardinal O’Connor who preached that homosexuality was a sin and blocked distribution of condoms to fight AIDS. In Los Angeles, I disrupted President Bush’s campaign at the Museum of Tolerance by yelling, “What about gay people?”
Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda wasn’t much different. I jumped on the field at a Dodger game to ask Lasorda why he didn’t, in the good name of his dead gay son, come to support all those still dying from AIDS. All he could say to me was, “Why don’t you shut your mouth before I knock your god damn teeth down your throat?” Every day it confirmed to me why militancy was necessary to break down the silence and bigotry of a culture created by selfish conservative Christianity.
Republican Gov. Pete Wilson and Traditional Values Coalition head Rev. Lou Sheldon also attacked the LGBT community. We were hopeful that Wilson would sign AB 101, our gay civil rights bill, as he had promised. Sheldon was beating the Anita Bryant drum to oppose any advancements for the LGBT community. We started showing up wherever they were to condemn religious homophobia and both political and legislative discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Wilson vetoed AB 101. From San Francisco to Los Angeles, we felt the state of LGBT civil rights went up in flames—and so did the state flag, literally on the street of LA. We were militant, we were angry and we had nothing to apologize for.
In the 1990s, we were outraged and for weeks, we got arrested at demonstrations. From the Ronald Reagan State Office Building in downtown Los Angeles to the Westwood Federal Building, we screamed and we marched. In the evening, we shut down the streets of Hollywood and West Hollywood. We marched to wherever Wilson was staying and went to battle with the cops, eventually dispersing or sitting in a full bus, handcuffed. Officers walked through the bus trying to identify people. A few of us were let go with notices to appear before a judge. I ended up paying a $500 fee.
Thinking of my greatest fears and deepest sadness, I considered the language of Hitler in his speeches as he built national pride using the idea of God, the Father, looking over Germany. I saw a lot of parallels between Hitler’s Germany and the Republican Party so I built a symbolic concentration camp in West Hollywood and refused to eat for 7 days. One day, a Jewish man came and sat down with me and told me stories of the camps and then showed me the number he has branded on his arm. I will never forget how he touched me that day. One night, all alone, a lesbian couple walked over to me behind the barbed wired and emptied all their money in wads of bills and put it in my hands, telling me it was for whatever I needed.
That was 27 years ago. I now see gay men thrown to their death by ISIS from rooftops and gay propaganda laws in Russia. Donald Trump swore on the campaign trail to protect us better than President Obama did. Instead, he’s rolled back LGBT rights and protections and Republicans are as hurtful as they have always been.
I hope those who voted for Trump are wiser now. Nov. 6 will tell. Please vote. Or maybe we need to bring back Queer Nation.