A few years ago, when I first began writing this blog, I wrote about Steven Dansky, a friend, an LGBTQ activist, writer, photographer and now––more than ever––an historian. Steve and his friend, John Knoebel, are working on an oral history project, OUTLoud:Oral History from LGBTQ Pioneers collecting oral histories and photographs of the people who fought the battle for gay rights when it was the most painful, frightening and still––on occasion––the most joyful struggle imaginable. These are people who are in their late sixties, seventies and eighties now. They were young then, many of them just kids, and they lived in a frightening world where they were not only beaten by tough guys and persecuted by the legal system, but despised and ridiculed by the same people who claimed to be defending justice and building a world animated by love.
That’s what many people forget. Our friends didn’t like us—or at least they didn’t if they knew who we were.
I remember reading Dorothy Day’s autobiography years ago. I’m talking about the Dorothy Day who founded the Catholic Worker, whose faith was so profound, she took a vow of poverty and devoted her life to the poor. The woman many people have called a saint. She and a friend were walking to Day’s flat in New York City. I can’t remember anything about the friend now, except that, when they reached Day’s stoop, she kissed Dorothy Day. On the lips. I can imagine doing that. Day was disgusted. Deeply, heartily, morally disgusted. She left abruptly; she never spoke to her friend again.
Still, in the face of all that—despite feminists who were afraid lesbians would despoil their cause and social activists who thought an “out” gay person could undermine their’s, despite the righteous millions who pitied them for their moral sickness and the people who found them repugnant and still do in countries like Uganda and Russia—they fought for their rights. These were some of the bravest freedom fighters the world has known.
I like looking at their faces—the very beautiful faces of elderly people of great character. Steve’s photos are extraordinarily fine.
I like listening to their stories. Their stories are amazing.
I’m grateful, as I’m sure many people are, for Steve’s work. This is a history that must be preserved; these are people who must be remembered. You can find them at www.outloud-lgbtq.org.