It was 1974, and I had never been to a gay bar. Neither had my friends George and Ricky. But we had managed to get the name of the hottest club in Dallas—the Bayou Landing—and we knew that it was on Pearl. Where that was, we had no clue.
Back then, the Dallas skyline looked nothing like it does today. But when we could read “Southland Life” on the top of the skyscraper facing us, we knew it was time to figure out how to get to where we were going. We had no Dallas map, but we knew the bar was close to downtown.
And then, like a sign from gay heaven, a klieg light could be seen sweeping the sky. I don’t remember whether any of us said, “Aim for that light.” But that’s exactly what we did. And sure enough, that light was emanating from the parking lot beside the Bayou Landing.
So at the beginning of pride month last week, I was reminded of that single klieg light from over 40 years ago that was a beacon to a trio of baby gay boys from East Texas. With the Dallas skyline awash in rainbow colors, I thought to myself, “We have come a long way, baby.”
The road wasn’t easy or straight, if you’ll pardon the pun. There was AIDS, a subject so painful to contemplate, even now, that my hands seem paralyzed on this keyboard just referencing it. There was Bowers v. Hardwick in 1986, which upheld a Georgia sodomy law, thereby allowing continued criminalization of certain sexual behavior between consenting LGBTQ adults. It took seventeen years for that to be overturned with Lawrence v. Texas.
And there was “Don’t ask, don’t tell” in 1994, and the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. It took seventeen years for those to come down, too, plus another couple of years after that between United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges for (full?) marriage equality to come into being.
So with virtually every major American city turning on the colored lights to make the landscape look like Oz on acid (in a good way), we get the Supreme Court decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. I’m neither trained nor inclined to weigh in on that, but I will say that thoughtful strategy is more effective as a response than pulling one’s hair out. Or setting it on fire, for that matter.
And really, is it better for these bakers (or sandwich shop owners or whatever) to tell us who they are so we can avoid doing business with them altogether? Or should they be required to provide their services despite their “sincerely” held religious views? I’m not sure—I just know I don’t want to eat anything prepared by someone who thinks I’m a hip swinging disciple of Satan.
But you know, I do wish George and Ricky were still here. They, like so many others, didn’t get to stay long enough to see those lights. Or LGBTQ people openly serving in the military. Or marriage equality. Or even one of those wedding cakes.
Perhaps that’s why those of us who are here need to make sure the lights stay on. Today’s baby gay boys and girls should use GPS to get to where they’re going and never have to depend on a single klieg light again.
Even though it was lovely to see.