The main reason why I support gay rights is because there is no good reason to deny gay people the same rights that the rest of us enjoy. I’ve heard all kinds of arguments against gay rights, but none of them make any sense. That is why I support gay rights. But there’s also a much more personal reason, and that’s what I’d like to share in this post.
My mother grew up in a large family in western Maryland. She had six siblings: five sisters and one brother. They were very poor growing up, and everyone had to wear hand-me-down clothes and shoes, regardless of whether or not they fit. My grandmother was a homemaker and my grandfather never completed elementary school and made a living helping to build houses. According to my mother, they were also sometimes emotionally abusive and inflicted wounds on her that she has only recently been able to deal with.
But her brother rose above all of that and went on to become a very successful doctor. He was also gay. I can only imagine how hard it must have been to hide who he really was for many years. But he was fortunate that when he did come out, his family was still very supportive of him.
He was also one of the kindest men I have ever met. He loved spending time with me and I loved spending time with him. He would show me how to do little art projects and take me camping. I remember one of our camping trips when I was a few years old and I peed in the bed in his RV. I was incredibly embarrassed, but he reacted with nothing but compassion. He also paid for some of us to go on a cruise of Hawaii with him and his spouse. While I was only three or four at the time, I still remember a couple things from that trip. I remember being absolutely disgusted by poi and I remember how one night a volcano erupted and lit up the night sky with an explosion of color.
One time I made a painting for him with watercolors. It wasn’t of anything in particular, just a somewhat random mishmash of various colors. But he had it framed and hung it in his office. He also created funds for each of my cousins to help us pay for college since he realized the value of a good education. He was a good man, and I am honored that my parents chose to name me after my Uncle Michael.
Then in the late 1980’s, he tested positive for AIDS. He was on a lot of medications, but his health continued to deteriorate. Perhaps in an attempt to make sense of what I had no control over, I tried to make a chart of his progress. When my mom told me he was doing well, I’d draw a line going up and when my mom told me he was getting worse, I’d draw a line going down. I think that for the last couple weeks, my mom didn’t have the heart to tell me quite how bad he had gotten. Then late one night we got the phone call. I cried a lot that night.
I was only 7 at the time, but my mom did not try to hide the reality of death from me and let me come along when she went to see him that night. I remember standing there and seeing his stiff lifeless body laying there in his bed. I had no illusions that there would be another life that awaited him. The man I knew and loved was no more. He would never again be able to enjoy the simple pleasures of life, or get to watch his nieces and nephews grow up.
I have lost a few relatives over the years, but he is the one I’ve missed the most. There were nights, even years later, when I cried myself to sleep thinking about him. Even writing this post is bringing me to tears.
At the time, I was unaware of a lot of the controversy over homosexuality. I had never heard the slogan “AIDS Kills Fags Dead” that some religious people used to liken gays to vermin that deserved to be killed. I didn’t realize that some people actually thought that that my uncle was an evil person and deserved the worst punishment imaginable, just because of who he was attracted to. What really pains me is that many of these people opposed the government trying to do what it could to prevent these senseless deaths and didn’t even want gay people to be able to freely visit their partners in the hospital and be with them as they wasted away.
I just hope that one day people will look back on these days with shock and embarrassment over the way that homosexuals have been treated. That day did not come soon enough for my Uncle Michael. But I hope I will live to see that day.