Someone asked me recently what led me to become an advocate for equal rights. Good question.
There are some rather obvious answers. I was raised in a civil rights family. Our minister marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and both my mother and father were active in taking on things like racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexism when they crossed their paths.
Also, I’ve been lucky in a very real way. When I was a boy I was a ballet dancer. In that arena I met and knew and was friends with quite a few men who were gay. As a result I discovered there is no difference between straight men and gay men other than their sexual orientation. Then, a series of events landed me in reform school weeks after I turned 16. There were, as I recall, about 350 boys of which less than 10 were white. There I learned what it felt like to be a minority. I also learned that those who are black or Hispanic are no different than anyone else.
After I was released from reform school events propelled me into nearly three years of homelessness. During this experience I learned that if you are poor or homeless you are seen and treated as if you are less than human. But there too, there on the streets (we called it on the streets then, not homeless) I met men and women who were the same as all the other people I’d met in life.
For a time I was in a relationship with a remarkable woman who was Jewish. I was able to take part in Passover with her family and we became close and through them, was given a deeply special close look at what her family, and other Jewish families have been through and endured for centuries.
And then, since the mid-nineties, I’ve worked with people with brain injuries like myself and other disabilities and seen and experienced the kind of brutal heartlessness and bigotry inflicted on this segment of our population.
The point is, we really are the same and we really are equal which means we all deserve equal rights.
But there is something else that must be included in the answer to the question of why I fight for equal rights: I love life. On more than one occasion mine has almost been ended: when I was shot in the head in 1984, when, in 1974, I was held at gunpoint for nearly three hours before escaping, and then again, in 1985, when, just months after being shot, I was held-up at gunpoint. Moreover, when I was homeless I received medical treatment two times when suffering with hunger pains. And then, of course, I’ve lost three family members to suicide.
So, all this adds up to a deep love for and appreciation for life itself. And when I see forces that openly seek to deny people their right to a life of freedom and equality I’ve fought them and will continue to fight them. If I don’t, I am not only betraying my father and mother, I am betraying all those throughout my life who, because of their presence in my life, taught me we are all the same. And then there is this; if I don’t fight back, I betray life itself - and I’ve fought to hard to keep mine to do that.