The Pleasures of Aging

As one of the few older men writing regular commentary for the gay press, I feel almost uniquely positioned to discuss the problems and pleasures of aging. My comments are based on my own experience and that of other men 60 and older I have discussed this with. But other older readers are welcome to write and tell me how their experience does or does not accord with mine.

There is no doubt that the gay community, like our whole American culture, is youth-oriented. Accordingly, too many young people view the prospects of aging with aversion. But I think they are wrong to think that way. So let me list a few of what seem to me are the advantages of growing older. Here are five. There are others.

You accumulate more experience. With any luck this coagulates into better judgment and greater wisdom. I have talked to several men who said they wished they were younger but on cross-examination none ever said they would be willing to give up the knowledge and judgment they had gained in the intervening years. "On no!" was the usual reaction. There is little use in trying to explain this to younger gays. They will just have to find it out for themselves.

Closely related to this is seldom being surprised by the phenomena of the social world. Older people have, well, not "seen it all before" but often seen similar events and responses in the past. It is not that nothing surprises you: stupidity, rudeness, mendacity and irrationality will continue to do that. But you develop coping mechanisms that make it easier to dismiss such things as part of the background noise of living in multicultural urban environment.

You get more respect from people-young and old both. When I was a gawky youth, I don't recall being treated with any particular respect. But nowadays not only do people call you "Sir"-and not just at leather bars-but they are more likely to hold doors open for you. This is not universally true, but happens frequently enough to be a noticeable change. Your opinions are taken more seriously because they are presumably based on greater experience. As one of my friends put it, "Older people have more gravitas."

The intensity of your sexual desire somewhat diminishes. Cephalus in Plato's Republic remarks that he is finally free of "the tyranny of Venus." I understand what he means. This does not mean that sexual desire completely vanishes but that its claims seem less urgent and more under control. Most older men will understand this intuitively. Younger people who may evaluate themselves by the strength of their libido will just have to learn it-and they will come to realize it is a blessing.

If you take care of yourself, with age you can get better looking, losing that patina of twinkiness that some young gays seem to have. You may remember that 1970s football star Joe Namath commented "I can't wait for tomorrow 'cause I get better looking every day." It was a bit of self-promotional hype, of course, but there is often something to it. This fact was made clear to me not long ago when I saw a recent picture of 1970s porn actor Bruno (real name: Hermes Forteza) in Bear magazine. He is still visibly the same good-looking man, but he has a kind of relaxed maturity about him now 30 years later that is more attractive than his earlier self. I can even share a personal anecdote. I have never been a wildly handsome man, but age has probably improved me. Just a few years ago a young man approached me in a bar and asked, "Can I be your little boy?" Well, maybe.

Marriage Isn’t for Everyone

Given the prominence of the ongoing campaign for same-sex marriage, I feel obligated to remind people that you do not have to find a partner and, as they say, "settle down" in order to have a full and satisfying life. You can have a full and satisfying life as a single male-that is, as a bachelor.

Not so long ago, men worked 48 to 60 hours a week and needed a partner to do the laundry, cook meals, and in general run the household. But toward the end of the 19th century, institutions developed that allowed single men to live easier lives. Rooming houses and YMCAs offered housing, boarding houses, cafeterias and automats offered inexpensive food. This whole phenomenon is recaptured in a fascinating book, The Age of the Bachelor, by Howard P. Chudacoff. At the same time, many men moved to cities to find companionship, safety and independence; many of these men were doubtless gay.

Nowadays, modern analogues of those institutions continue to exist. Many apartment buildings provide laundry facilities, nearby restaurants offer inexpensive meals, grocery stores sell a wide variety of "heat and serve" frozen foods and their deli counters offer a variety of already prepared foods. And there are cleaning services to freshen a dusty or dirty house or apartment. It no longer takes two people to run a household.

Just as "men's clubs" used to provide a place for companionship a hundred years ago, we might say that taverns and bars serve the same function today-most obviously in the case of gay bars. And there are numerous clubs, organizations, and interest groups of various sorts that can provide an outlet for social expression.

None of this is to ignore the satisfactions of having a partner to share experiences with, of having a warm body next to you in bed, and the reassuring feeling of loving and being loved. It is just that those arrangements are not for everyone, do not happen without effort and do take a certain amount of luck to work out well over the long term. And let us not forget that some men are simply not cut out for long-term relationships; they neither need nor want them. As a bachelor, you can come and go as you want, do what you want, and not have to check with anyone else if it is convenient.

Bachelors, instead of concentrating all their emotional energy on a single relationship, usually develop a network of friends they can rely on for affection and emotional support. The friends offer various types of friendship, some based on mutual interest, others based on simple amiability, and yet others on physical appeal. The comparison might be of one single ray of bright, white light versus that light refracted through a prism, emitting a variety of different colors.

Some people seem to feel a need for a partner in order to complete themselves. Others don't seem to feel that need but are happy to have close friends as "add-ons." Whether friends or partners, think of another person as another way to experience the world, an add-on to the self, not a completion of oneself.

At least some of this should be good news to young gays who feel a pressure to find a partner and are failing to do so. It should also be reassuring to older gays who are just coming out or whose partner recently died and who are trying to develop a new life. Equally, I would remind younger gays that no one needs to stick with a relationship that is unsatisfactory, unrewarding, and sometimes even abusive.

All these are reasons not to hasten into marriage or other legally binding relationships that can be difficult and painful to undo. Dating was a good idea heterosexuals had. Get to know the other person well, not just feel attracted to them.

It Could Have Been Worse

For many gay people, this year began with high hopes following the election and inauguration of President Barack Obama who had promised "change we can believe in." But the enthusiasm and hope seemed gradually to deflate with the passage of weeks and months in which Obama concerned himself with the economic crisis, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the continuing debate over health care. There seemed no movement on any gay-related issues.

But then toward the end of the year there were signs that gays had not been entirely forgotten. The ban on HIV-infected visitors and immigrants was lifted. Health benefits for domestic partners of gay federal employees was proposed in Congress and is given a "chance" of passage. The Justice Department announced that it would not prosecute people for possession of medical marijuana in states that permitted it. And a gay-inclusive hate crimes provision was slipped into a defense authorization bill.

Except for the first there is little evidence pointing to Obama as the person prompting any of these changes, but most of them certainly would not have happened under President George Bush, or under John McCain had he been elected president in 2008.

Although gay organizations have been pushing for hate crimes legislation for several years, from what I have seen the issue never seemed to catch fire with the gay population at large. The chief issues for gays have become the irrational and insulting gay exclusion policy of the military and repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act barring federal recognition and benefits for legally married same-sex partners. Obama says he opposes both policies, but so far there has been no evidence of movement on either issue.

The narrow loss of marriage rights in Maine felt like a kick in the stomach. But the narrow victory of a measure in Washington state to expand domestic partner rights was a comparative bright spot. In that connection, let us not forget that the nation's largest Lutheran body, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, last summer voted to approve the ordination of people in same-sex relationships. This is good news even for nonbelievers because America is still a largely religious country and the culture often takes its tone from what its churches say and do. So this is an important move toward the legitimacy of gay relationships.

What now? You would think that 31 straight losses in votes on gay marriage would be a clue to gay activists; and the victory for domestic partnerships would suggest a path to follow. But now activists in New York state are still trying to persuade the legislature to approve gay marriage there. A final positive vote looks increasingly doubtful. I'd like gay marriage as much as the next gay person, but it doesn't look like it is going to happen anywhere for a few years. Americans seem a less opposed to civil unions. So maybe we should take what we can get right now while we continue to work for our ultimate goal.

Americans' attitudes toward gays have moved slowly in a positive direction by about one half to one percent a year for the last several years. In a few years in most states we should have public support for most of our goals. Much of this is the result of the slow replacement of older anti-gay voters by younger, more gay-positive voters.

Unfortunately, there is not much we can do to influence the military's anti-gay policy. The initiative to end "Don't Ask, Don't tell" will probably have to come from within the military itself in signals to Congress. But the military is not immune to the trends in the civilian world, so every gain we make in the civilian sphere ultimately shows up the military sphere. And the military in turn is not immune to pressure from Congress. So pressuring Congress is one indirect route to follow.

Things have suddenly become interesting again.

Self-Help Helps Most

Q. Should I go to this upcoming gay March on Washington?

A. It depends. It seems to me that if you think it will help the cause of gay marriage, or whatever else it is to be about, you might want to go. But if not, why bother. These gay marches on Washington have been steadily losing significance; the last one was a financial fiasco. If you know of any other way to promote marriage equality, it might be better to do that instead of taking the time and money to go to Washington. Of course, it is always fun to see many thousands of gays and lesbians gathered in one place. So if you lived in Baltimore or, say, Philadelphia, go ahead and go. But if you live in Chicago or St. Louis....

Q. Do you support this idea of a gay school being proposed in Chicago?

A. First of all, it isn't to be an all gay or even primarily gay school. Fewer than half of the students are projected to be gay. But the point is that it is an explicitly gay-friendly and supportive environment for gay students, many of whom have been harassed or bullied at their own local school. I cannot see any advantage in keeping them in those schools. Let them go to a place where they can do what students are supposed to do in school-learn. The argument that students should learn to cope with harassment and bullying is a nonstarter. Most of the "real world" of adults is not so hostile or threatening. And the argument that rejecting a gay school will somehow magically force schools to improve on their own is sheer fantasy. It will do nothing of the sort. The absence of a gay-supportive school has had no such effect up to now. What the gay-supportive school might do is be a role model for schools that want to do a little better. No gay school, no role models, no incentive to improve.

Q. You keep going on about how we should try to improve our community. OK, how?

A. Maybe I should do a whole column just on this. But here are a few ideas for a start. There are three aspects to this: self-improvement, public participation, and neighborhood/community improvement. In no particular order. Patronize a gay business. Thank them for being there. Remember the gay community center in your will. Plant flowers in your front yard or in a window box. If you are a male over 50, attend the Prime Timers' book discussion group.

Got the idea? Here's more. Join a sports team. Stop littering-and this includes cigarette butts. Attend the opening of an art show or a local theater performance. Limit the amount you drink at bars-no one likes a drunk-even at bars. Even if you are not religious, go to church. Churches are natural communities and a potential source of friends. Smile. Say "hello" or "morning" or even "How ya doin'" to your neighbors whether they respond or not. Get an HIV test. Floss. Prevent crimes: Stay alert when walking alone at night. Join a neighborhood group. No one is expected to do all of these, but everyone can do some of them.

Q. The recent death of "neo-conservative" Irving Kristol brings to mind the question of why so many conservatives and "neo-conservatives" are anti-gay. Got any thoughts?

A. As Samuel Johnson replied when a woman asked him why he incorrectly defined a word in his great "Dictionary," "Ignorance, Madame, sheer ignorance." I suspect that is the case here. Most conservatives, especially older ones, don't know many or any gay people, or don't know they are gay, and are wholly incurious about our lives and our struggles: They know nothing about us and want to know nothing. Perhaps they fear contamination. They may think it is an unaccountable choice, a fact they would unlearn if they asked just a few questions, of course. Some are following religious proscriptions of early biblical writers-who were just as ignorant about homosexuality as some are today. Yet others may see us as a threat to the family and society-as if more men would be gay if homosexuality wasn't suppressed. Maybe they think everyone is potentially homosexual! But mostly it is unreasoning, just an embedded cultural prejudice.

Lutherans Accept Gays

On August 21, the national assembly of the 4.6 million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted to allow the ordination of non-celibate gay and lesbian clergy. The resolution was passed by a 55 percent majority.

Earlier in the week the membrs had prepared for this vote by approving a measure that reduced the requirements for changing church policy from a two-thirds vote to a simple majority. Without that change, the resolution would have failed as before.

Gay-supportive Lutherans had long worked toward this end. For more than a decade and a half, the Lutheran Church has distributed materials on human sexuality and varieties of Bible interpretation, urging congregations to study the materials carefully. They were probably the first accurate discussion of sexuality and Bible interpretation that many church members had encountered and they clearly had at least some impact on members' attitudes.

We do, after all, know more about sexuality than people did two thousand years ago, and in the last two hundred years have learned a great deal about how to interpret the original significance of various biblical texts.

The assembly memberx also approved a social statement that called on Lutheran congregations to "welcome, care for, and support" gay and lesbian couples. That in itself is a strong indication of church attitudes, especially by its inclusion of the word "support."

The new church policy does not apply to all gay clergy, only those in "lifelong, monogamous relationships." In practice this will mean it will prohibit all publicly noticeable sexual behavior outside of the relationship, although there may be a certain amount of winking at occasional straying so long as it does not become open and notorious.

The Lutherans thus follow the lead of other Protestant churches such as the Unitarians, the United Church of Christ, and the Episcopal Church in allowing gay clergy. But the Lutherans differ from those other denominations in that they are generally regarded as less liberal than the others, and therefore the policy change has broad significance.

It is also important to note that Lutherans are strongest in the Midwest, the "heartland of America," whereas the Unitarians and United Church of Christ (once the Congregational Church) are particularly strong in New England-where most states have recently approved gay civil marriage. Is it significant that the Iowa Supreme Court recently voted unanimously to approve gay marriage? Probably.

Despite the fact that dissenting congregations are free not to accept openly gay clergy, there were vigorous dissents from conservatives. One man told The New York Times the new policy made him sick at his stomach, suggesting an almost phobic reaction to homosexuality itself rather than a mere religious difference. And one female pastor criticized the statement as contrary to the "Word of God," which seems ironic given that the Apostle Paul in "the same Word of God" said that women should be silent in church. Obviously there is some picking and choosing by Bible literalists of which verses one wishes to honor-as there always is.

As in the Episcopal Church, some Lutherans may choose to leave the ELCA, either to affiliate with the more conservative 2.6 million-member Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod or to join some other conservative denomination. Their departure will make the existing ELCA even more gay-friendly.

The policy shift also makes the ELCA more attractive to gays and lesbians (and their supporters), so some people may join or rejoin the church, making up some of the loss from the departure of any conservatives.

The ELCA shift leaves the United Methodists and Presbyterians USA as the major moderate denominations that do not afford gays and lesbians equality. As America slowly moves in a more gay-accepting direction and with continuing efforts by gays and their supporters in those churches, that will change in time.

2010 or 2012: A False Choice

Most states have their own struggles for gay marriage, whether in the long term like Illinois or near term like Maine, where a referendum is coming up almost immediately. But it is California that seems to have seized an outsized portion of the attention.

For one thing, California is by far the largest state. For another both the legislature and the state Supreme Court have voted in favor of gay marriage. But last year voters rejected gay marriage by a vote of 52 to 48 percent.

Now the question roiling California activists is whether to return to the voters to try to have the ban reversed in 2010 or in 2012. Equality California, the group that managed the 2008 effort to preserve gay marriage argues for 2012. But an apparently large group of "grass-roots and net-roots" activists calling themselves the Courage Campaign are pushing for a revote right away-in 2010.

It is difficult to take Equality California very seriously these days. They ran an exclusionary, top-down campaign, hired high-paid consultants, made several strategic misjudgments, spent $40 million dollars-and lost. Not an impressive showing. So why should we believe them now?

On the other hand, what is the Courage Campaign offering? Enthusiasm, to be sure, and a good portion of righteous indignation. But not much else. Consider what they don't offer.

Money. Will the well-off donors who made large contributions to the 2008 struggle want to repeat the process just two years later? Are they not likely to be suffering from "donor fatigue"? Rick Jacobs, Courage Campaign founder, bragged to The New York Times that they had raised $75,000 in just one day.

Fine. Do that for 460 days and you have the amount of money that Equality California spent to lose. If donors can say to Equality California, "No more money for losers," they could say to the Courage Campaign, "No money for people with no track record at all."

A Strategic Plan. If the strategy of Equality California was flawed, where is an alternative strategy by the Courage Campaign? Where is their plan to persuade cultural conservatives, religious voters and ethnic minorities to support gay marriage, to clear up the (alleged) doubts and uncertainties many mddle-of-the-road voters felt about gay marriage, to somehow lure more pro-gay voters to the polls?

Polling Data. The advocates for a 2010 vote have no polling data to suggest that the outcome would be any different from 2008. They should want polling data showing substantial gains in public support for gay marriage among likely voters before they advocate another referendum. Given the tendency of some people to lie to pollsters and purport to have a more gay-supportive or laissez-faire attitude toward gay marriage than they actually do, advocates should want to see polling data showing at least 56 or 57 percent support.

The conclusion forces itself forward that neither 2010 nor 2012 is a really good bet. What California gay marriage advocates should give us is a number-a level of support for gay marriage that would let us know that a referendum finally has an excellent chance of passage. Up to now, support for gay marriage has been growing at a rate of roughly one-half to one percent a year.

In the meantime, to hasten that result, they could work in various ways on changing people's minds about gay marriage. But no one has shown us any plans to do that. Until either side offers that, it is hard to take them seriously.

The Gay Agenda after Marriage

Some of my friends have been discussing what should be the "gay agenda"-or even if there needs to be such a thing-after we obtain marriage and military access. Well, yes, there are a number of concerns that will still need to be addressed, but I think the whole discussion is a little premature.

Nationwide marriage will be a long time coming. It is still not permitted in 45 states, and expressly forbidden in a majority. So obtaining marriage will be a long, hard slog through the courts and legislatures, and probably several public referendums. States with sizable evangelical populations, especially in the South, will be resistant. And the U. S. Supreme Court is not likely to rule on the issue until a substantial majority of states have already approved gay marriage-just as it ruled against sodomy laws only after most states had already struck down their own sodomy laws.

And while I hope I am wrong, I fear that any change from Don't Ask, Don't Tell will not be a clean rejection of the anti-gay policy but some sort of compromise measure that doesn't allow complete freedom for gays. Even if there is a clean rejection of the policy, there are plenty of pockets of anti-gay sentiment in the military that will need to be addressed. The evangelical dominance at the U.S. Air Force Academy is only one example.

But putting those issues aside, are there other issues of concern to gays that our community should address? One obvious one is second-parent adoption for gay couples. It is absurd and simply discriminatory to say that one parent can adopt a child but not the other if the adopting couple are gay or lesbian. The main person who would benefit from such a policy change would be the child who would be guaranteed a loving parent with legal rights to the child if the adopting parent dies.

Another issue is the decent treatment of aging gays in nursing homes and elder care facilities. All of us, if we are lucky, will live into ripe old age and want to be treated with dignity and respect. But not everyone will share my own positive experience in a nursing home. The elderly are the least gay-accepting demographic in the country, and while that may slowly change, it is not changing very fast. Aging gays will need patient advocates to make sure they are getting treated as they deserve, and visitors to keep up their sprits and do occasional small favors. In addition, many aging gays have a need to feel useful and relevant in some way, not just feel that they are being put out to pasture. We as a community need to find ways to make use of that desire.

A third candidate issue is the treatment of gay and lesbian youth in and around schools. We all know plenty of stories of young gays and lesbians who are bullied and harassed in schools but whose schools do little or nothing to correct the situation. The youths need mentors, and people willing to take their concerns to school administrators and counselors. We also need to press for the inclusion of gay materials in school curriculums-history, literature, social studies, etc., to help inhibit the development of anti-gay attitudes.

Even assuming that every gay person who is in prison or jail is there for a good reason, no prison sentence should carry the additional penalty of sexual assault. Several studies have attested to the presence of sexual assault of gays and other vulnerable prisoners-assault by other prisoners and sometimes even by guards and prison staff. This is a situation that needs to be monitored and addressed.

And finally, we need to find ways to address the homophobia in evangelical and Pentecostal churches in the black and Latino communities. This is not something white gays can do. It is something that African American and Latino gays themselves can do most effectively. But we can help (when asked) with financial contributions, advice, etc.

Preventing Anti-Gay Bullying

The Chicago school system now has an openly gay head. Earlier this year, Mayor Richard M. Daley appointed former Chicago Transit Authority head (and before that mayoral Chief of Staff) Ron Huberman to head the school system with an obvious mandate to improve what are often called "the failing Chicago schools."

The situation may be unique. I know of no other school system with an openly gay head, certainly not one of any major city. Huberman's homosexuality was well known within the gay community, and certainly to Mayor Daley, but how widely it was known among the general public is doubtful. In any case, shortly after he was appointed, Huberman "came out" publicly during an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, a disclosure that had all the earmarks of a preemptive strike. Oddly there has been little noticeable objection, not even from the generally homophobic black religious establishment.

No doubt Huberman will be focusing on improving standard measures of school effectiveness such as improving test scores, reducing dropout rates, and reducing teacher turnover. But from our point of view one major problem which may not get addressed unless we push it as a priority is bullying-specifically anti-gay bullying. This is hardly irrelevant to the other concerns: Bullying of students who are or are perceived as gay or "different" can make young people afraid to go to school, resulting in poor attendance, higher dropout rates, and even occasional suicide-as was the case recently with a 15-year-old boy in Western Springs.

Even for those young people who manage to stick it out, bullying creates a poor learning environment and can cause considerable residual emotional damage. A robust-looking man, Huberman probably did not face bullying in school, but he surely knows that many young gays do, and I hope that reducing bullying would be a priority for him. Numerous studies by GLSEN-the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network-have documented its pervasiveness.

The issue can be confronted on two major fronts. In briefest outline here they are.

The schools need to get serious about all bullying, making it an expellable offense-a mandatory ten-day suspension with mandatory counseling for a first offense, and expulsion after a second offense. That may not do much for bullies, some of whom probably do not want to be in school anyway, but it will do much to improve the lives and learning of vulnerable youths.

Huberman also needs to appoint a Special Assistant for Anti-Bullying Initiatives or "Anti-Bullying Czar" to survey programs in other school systems that have helped reduce bullying and institute them in the Chicago schools systemwide.

But reducing anti-gay pressures in the schools is not enough. Positive support mechanisms must be set up. First, the city must encourage the creation of Gay/Straight Alliances at all middle and high schools. It should seek out gay and gay-friendly teachers to act as advisors and provide them (and all administrators) with copies of the "Equal Access" law which mandates the acceptance of a wide variety of student clubs, including, courts have decided, gay student groups.

Second, Chicago must create not just one school but an archipelago of explicitly gay-inclusive and gay-supportive schools across the city for students to escape to if they do not feel safe at their current school.

Third, the city must promote regular schoolwide assemblies on the issue of tolerance and acceptance of all ethnicities and orientations, featuring appropriate speakers, including known athletes where possible to serve as exemplars.

Fourth, the city should facilitate an annual day-long conference of members of existing Gay/Straight Alliances and potential G/SA members at other schools to get to know one another, provide mutual encouragement, and network on ways to address common concerns.

If the schools cannot do at least these things, they cannot be said to be serious about bullying and anti-gay harassment. We as a community will be watching.

Self-Made Schism

Recently, delegates to the Episcopal church's triennial general conference voted to allow the ordination of gay bishops, a vote that overturned a de facto moratorium on ordaining gay bishops that was approved three years ago.

I agree almost entirely with the analysis offered by my fellow Chicago Free Press columnist Jennifer Vanasco. But there are a couple of additional points worth adding.

The vote was "overwhelming" (according to The New York Times)-more than two-thirds of both houses of the convention voting in favor of the new policy. Since most of those votes were probably not new converts to the gay side, that means that those votes have always been there but just not cast on our side.

Instead, they were temporarily persuaded by the appeals of Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury, not to do anything that would rupture the Anglican Communion, many parts of which, particularly in Africa, are fiercely anti-gay

Williams made the same appeal this time too, telling the convention, "I hope and pray that there won't be decisions in the coming days that will push us further apart."

But the appeal did not work this time. Instead the convention voted to stand up for its principles of inclusion and acceptance of gays and, implicitly, for the acceptance of homosexuality as a legitimate mode of sexual expression. As one church leader put it, "real relationships are built on authenticity."

It is amazing how frequently calls for "unity"-religious, political, organizational-amount to one side urging the other side to abandon its principles and support a policy or view it does not believe in.

No doubt there will be angry denunciations from anti-gay provinces of the Anglican Communion and threats to withdraw or else expel the Episcopal Church. They have already sought to form alliances with anti-gay dioceses in the U.S., although with limited success.

But the Episcopalians have more or less brought this on themselves. For decades, wealthy American churches have sent millions of dollars to Africa to support proselytizing and missionary work to convert Africans to Christianity.

The result was to provide a homophobic rule book-as both the Old and New Testaments certainly seem to be-without any decent training in the historical and critical analysis of the bible that is commonplace in American seminaries. As one Episcopalian cleric told a startled friend of mine, "Some African bishops have little more than an eighth-grade education." So the message the Africans and others learned was a Bible-based homophobia.

Those Episcopal churches might be well-advised to start sending their millions of dollars to support gay rights and gay equality efforts both within and outside of the African churches to try to undo some of the damage they have done.

The main reason Williams' appeal did not work this time was that it seemed clear that another delay would have had no effect and that the appeal would be repeated again in another three years. It had been hoped that a few years' breathing room on the issue would allow some progress by the Africans (and other homophobic dioceses) in learning more about homosexuality and the historical and critical analysis of the Bible.

But the Africans showed no movement in that direction and instead dug in their heels on the issue. That means that the same urging would be given every time the issue came up, ad infinitum, and Episcopalians would never be able to institute their gay-supportive beliefs. This they were finally unwilling to do.

As if to indicate "Now we're serious about this," the convention also voted to develop formal rites for gay and lesbian unions. But that is a separate issue and deserves separate treatment another time.

Adventures in a Nursing Home

After I fell, fracturing my pelvis, I spent a couple of days in the hospital, then was packed off to a nursing home for three months while the body repaired the fractures.

I had heard stories about homophobic reactions in senior living centers, so I decided to see if this applied to nursing homes too, many of whose patients are older men and women.

Things did not begin well: My first roommate was a religious nut and something of a self-righteous bully. Within 15 minutes of my arrival, he asked me rather aggressively if I were a Christian. I did not want that conversation at that point, so I hedged: "Sort of." "Well," he persisted, "do you believe the bible is God's written word?" This has to stop right here, I thought.

"No, I don't believe that. The bible has a lot of old myths and folktales and imaginary history." I said. At that point he handed me a religious pamphlet that emphasized the pains of Hell for disbelievers. When he heard me later asking a nurse for my HIV medicine, he decided that I was a reprobate sinner as well as a Hell-bound disbeliever. We both began lobbying for me to be moved to another room and within a week that was accomplished.

From then on things improved markedly. I experienced no more troubles anywhere along the line. No one, staff or patients, expressed hostility to gays. And several indicated they were quite gay accepting.

My next two roommates were extremely quiet and I had little interaction with them, but my last roommate was occasionally visited by Roger Margason, a gay man who writes gay murder mysteries under the pen name Dorien Grey. Roger and I exchanged information and although I am not a big reader of fiction, I resolved to try one of them.

One elderly woman I met in physical therapy told me of her gay son and how proud she was of his accomplishments, which did seem considerable. It also turned out he was a reader of the Free Press and he and I agreed to get coffee some time soon.

Then there was the (male) nurse who dropped by to see how things were going. "I'm sorry but the dancing girls called and canceled," he said. "Well, I think in my case I'd prefer dancing boys, anyway," I said. "Oh," he said without missing a beat, "they called and canceled too." Thereafter he was very friendly, always addressing me by name.

The various therapists, with whom I spent more time, seemed to have no trouble with my being gay. When I mentioned that I wrote for the gay newspaper, one remarked, "Oh, yeah, my picture has been in that paper a couple of times." Then by way of explanation he added, "I have some pretty flamboyant friends." Another remarked almost casually that his best friend was gay.

Yet another therapist mentioned that he had a busy weekend coming up, that he had two or three weddings to attend. I commented that as a gay man I would not go to weddings until gays could marry in the U.S. "It'll happen," he said confidently.

Toward the end of my time in the nursing home, an openly gay therapist came in to help with the work load. It turned out that his area of research and interest was gay and lesbian elders. I hope Howard Brown or the Center on Halsted snaps up this man as a consultant. He and I agreed to get together again after I was released.

Every couple of weeks, usually on Saturday, a priest and a young woman from the local Catholic church came by to offer communion to Catholics. "That's very nice of you," I said, "but no thank you; I am an atheist." Two weeks later the same couple came by again and I declined again, restating that I was an atheist. "Oh, yes, I remember you," the young woman said, not unkindly.

Then there was the Salvation Army lassie, an attractive young woman, passing out small gifts to nursing home residents. When she placed one on my bedside table I said, "I don't know if I can accept this. I'm gay and the Salvation Army is anti-gay." She said she did not know that. I told her about the gay motorcycle clubs that used to collect "Toys for Tots" just prior to Christmas each year. One year in the early 1980s they decided to donate them through the Salvation Army. But when they took the bags of toys to Salvation Army headquarters, the official in charge refused to accept them because they were from a gay organization. The gay men were crushed. "So thank you very much but I don't think I can accept this gift," I said and handed her back the small wrapped gift.

I concluded from all this that in general homophobia is rapidly declining at every age level and that much of the reaction to a gay person self-disclosure depends on the context in which s/he discloses being gay.