Gov. David Patterson of New York (Associated Press)
Dear Governor Patterson:
I write as a former New Yorker to thank you for your sponsorship of the Gay marriage bill.
You are absolutely right, the Legislature should vote it up or down.
The state has suffered for too many years from the pernicious practice of a tiny group of Albany politicians, meeting behind closed doors, deciding the fate of tens of millions of citizens.
I am particularly proud that you have put forward your Uncle Stanley and Uncle Ronald as role models and reasons to pass this bill. They must have loved you pretty seriously, back when they only had each other and a few friends for support.
Now you are returning their esteem. What a beautiful thing.
In 1984-85, as a graduate student in social work at Columbia University, I was a counseling intern at Gay Men’s Health Crisis in Chelsea. This was shortly after Dr. Joseph Sonnabend’s condo-mates trashed his office and put him out on the street for treating people with AIDS. The actor Rock Hudson was jetting off to Paris in search of a miracle cure, and I had to caution my clients, who didn’t have Hudson’s money, against following him until they knew what results he got. Others took off for Mexico to buy “laetrile,” a worthless almond extract said to boost the immune system. President Reagan couldn’t even pronounce the word AIDS.
Those days are burned into my memory. A very handsome fellow named André St. Jean was a former stripper at the Jewel Box Theater in Times Square; a few years earlier he was a Midwestern schoolboy, the national baton-twirling champion and butch to boot; he looked like the Marlboro Man. Another client was a millionaire on the Upper East Side, desperately lonely after all his friends abandoned him; he lived in a penthouse but no one ever came to call. Another guy in my therapy group was hospitalized for weeks with pneumocystis carinii pneumonia; his fundamentalist parents finally drove up to the city from North Carolina to supervise his care (once he was clearly dying; they’d shunned him before that) and to cut off all contact with Gay people, who “gave him God’s curse.” He wasn’t Gay, they said, it was those terrible homosexuals he fell in with. He loved his parents and was totally intimidated, until he finally demanded that they let me in. His parents refused to look at me or speak to me, the first time I was ever shunned. When I got inside his little room I tried to say the right things, but the point was to listen to him; he was Gay, he said, and he forgave his parents, and shortly afterward he died.
He affirmed his Gayness in that gasping chat, and I was the one privileged to hear him.
I spent that Christmas Eve 1984 going from hospital to hospital on the Upper East Side, just visiting, trying to spread a little cheer, instead of going to midnight mass at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. It was a dreary, rainy night, and even though the cathedral was just a few blocks away from my nasty SRO Columbia dormitory, I couldn’t bring myself to go. I felt like I’d already visited the Christ child, and his mother didn’t want him. On Christmas Day I ate pork fried rice at the dirtiest Chinese restaurant you’ve ever seen.
Now you come with a blessing for Uncle Ronald and Uncle Stanley. Thank you, Governor, they deserve your honor—and you deserve mine. Thank you for this historic initiative, no matter what.