For Gay People, Out of Sight, Out of Life

For Gay People, Out of Sight, Out of Life

October 7, 1990

By William L. Marcus

After World War II it was no longer acceptable to be anti-Semitic. There is going to be similar upheaval when AIDS is cured.

But not right now.

Right now lesbian and gay people in Westchester County must hide. And as a result, people die.

According to State Health Department figures Westchester’s AIDS population is double that of New York State excluding New York City. Homosexuals in the county think they are safe from AIDS because they are “invisible.”

The only way to fight AIDS is to tell people who might get it how to protect themselves. In Westchester, because it is common to believe that gay and lesbian people do not exist, the death sentence of this population has been insured by silence.

If you can’t find them, you can’t educate them.

Part of the problem is the way in which lesbians and gays perceive government: willing to submit its own population to indignity and humiliation; hostile to individual rights and individual equality; corrupt and hierarchical.

Victims of gay-bashing know they are not equal before the law.

The naming of a liaison to the county’s lesbian and gay community and passage of the bias-related crime bill would be signals from government that it wishes to improve the political and social atmosphere.

The naming of a liaison, as in a personal promise made by County Executive P. O’Rourke, would be a long overdue signal to Westchester’s lesbians and gays that county politicians keep their promises, and that this county is their county also.

If it passed a bias-related crimes bill, state government would be sending a signal that it will protect this class from the violent abrogation of its civil rights, the loss of its property and security and well-being, and in some cases the loss of lives.

Technically, the bias-related violence bill, were it to become a law, would bump up the minimum penalty for harassment or attack of a person because of their race, creed, color, national origin, sex, disability, age or sexual orientation. It is classic law-and-order legislation. Like most residents of Westchester, lesbians and gays here can usually buy what protection and privacy they need. But one cannot buy social tolerance.

The decentralized nature of the county demands a more socially and politically supportive atmosphere than in the city, where it is more possible for a network of support and community to develop so that homosexuals can help themselves.

They physical isolation of soulless, centerless townships of suburbia reinforces the psychological isolation of the lesbian and gay community. Hence, there is no community Westchester, gay or otherwise.

It may surprise the reader to find that the electoral politics of homosexuals is extremely traditional. Basically, homosexuals seek from their government only fundamental fairness insured by just and equal application of the law. Stable government protects their minority rights and their right to question and dissent.

Socially, homosexuals in the county wish only to have dignity.

It is incumbent upon Westchester’s political leaders to articulate the need for social tolerance of homosexuals and to nurture an atmosphere defused of gay hatred, gay prejudice and gay fear.

A politician who spoke out would be surprised to find hard-working lesbian and gay campaign volunteers from all political parties who would seem to come from out of nowhere. These people would relish the opportunity to work for a man or a woman in whom they could believe and trust.

Virtuous leaders must summon their courage and heed the prophesy of the Conservative British Prime Minister Edmund Burke, who warned that “All that is needed for the forces of evil to succeed in this world is for good men (and women, I might add) to do nothing.”

Fifty years ago, when it was acceptable to h ate the Jews, refugees by the thousands were turned away from American shores by American politicians who chose to do nothing and who allowed evil to succeed. The refugees returned to Europe, where they perished in the gas chambers.

If today it were no longer fashionable to hate the gay, politicians could speak out for lesbian and gay dignity because they would be acting with political impunity. And history would not repeat itself.

William L. Marcus is acting chairman of the Greater Westchester Human Rights Fund, with headquarters in White Plains.

Link to original New York Times article: For Gay People, Out of Sight, Out of Life