A few posts back, I wrote about attending the Forte fundraiser honoring our fabulous friend, Jim Arter, for his work as an artist and top-notch advocate for the GLBT community. He was kind enough to share his acceptance speech so that I could post it here. His words really resonated with me, and I hope to embody some of the same tireless enthusiasm and creative energy that earned him this distinction:
“It is a great honor to accept the first Forte Award from the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus on the campus of the Ohio State University. Ironically forty two years ago, tonight, I was at Ohio State but instead of celebrating I was confined to the lock-down psychiatric unit of Upham Hall at University Hospital learning to cope with being gay. At that time homosexuality was considered a mental illness. Growing up in Newark, Ohio I didn’t know other GLBT people. There was no Will & Grace or gay bars in 'Nerk' in 1967. I thought there was me and maybe Liberace, but he was probably just artistic. I met my first group of gay brothers & sisters in that psychiatric unit where we were locked away for safe keeping. After years of therapy I grew to accept who I was and realized the importance of coming out, speaking out and reaching out to community. Thus began my lifetime of work in the arts, community and advocating for social justice.
Similar is the story of the Chorus. When a small group of five men singing around a piano in someone’s basement made the decision to expand their numbers, come out of the basement and present concerts to the public, the best P.R. blitz for our Gay community was born. Eventually I invited my family to attend a Christmas Concert by the Chorus and I believe it brought some healing and a better understanding between my father and me.
Each of us in some fashion has suffered, each has known some form of discrimination, and each person has their story to tell. The challenge is not to crumble beneath the weight of our individual struggles but to recognize struggle as a common theme in all our stories. Then with brains, great courage and love reach out to those who appear different from us and embrace them as family. For me the first step was getting honest with myself, then others, about who I really was as a person. So I challenge each of us to NEVER accept or support a doctrine of 'Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell' in any aspect of our lives. Whether it is a straight jacket of guilt and shame, or the injustice of institutions that try to blindfold us from the light of truth, each of us holds the key to our freedom…we must simply speak our truths and live our lives openly with pride. The key to our happiness…is sharing your life and talents in service to others.
In the movie 'The Wizard of Oz' the angelic voices sang to Dorothy and her friends…'Come out of the woods, come out of the dark, step into the light.' Here in Columbus we are privileged to travel our yellow brick roads accompanied by the voices of the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus. For that I am grateful.
Forty two years ago I would never have imagined that a premiere Gay organization would present me with an award for doing what I love to do. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. 'We’ve come a long way baby!' But, we have 'miles to go before we sleep, and miles to go before we sleep.'”