Today I visited my 86 year old uncle in the hospital. He is at the end of his life and it made me think about the life he’s had.
I always knew he was gay. My mother had two brothers who were gay – 2 out of 5 children gay, born in the 20’s. It was not a good time to be gay, not a safe time to be gay. I don’t remember when I knew, but I knew and my parents knew. I always thought he left Chicago and moved away from his family because he was gay. No one ever really talked about it. For 18 years he lived with Scott and took care of him through his worst days of alcoholism until he died.
When I moved to the bay area, I began a relationship with my uncle. As his only relative close by, when he became unable to take care of his finances, I became his power of attorney and took over his finances. He always made a point of denying he was gay. He went so far as to tell me, “People think I was gay because I lived with Scott and took care of him but we were just friends.” I always wondered why he was so secretive when he knew I had a gay son I loved and supported and he knew I would never judge him or reject him.
About 3 years ago, for the first time, he admitted to me that he was gay. I think it was a relief. He shared some of his experiences as a young gay man and I understood why he felt he needed to stay in the closet, even at age 83. The one story that sticks out for me is his being in the army, fellow soldiers tying him to a tree and beating him. He shared the story with little emotion but it broke my heart.
It brings me back to today. So much has changed. So many LGBT people are out and proud and it has changed the way the world sees the LGBT community. And so little has changed. LGBT people are still the victims of hate crimes and it is still illegal to be gay in too many countries.
My mission is to help young people and their parents build a bridge to acceptance and understanding. Perhaps there are still bridges needing to be built for some of our older LGBT people as well.
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