When Sir Ian McKellen — co-founder of the UK charity, Stonewall — took to the stage on Trafalgar Square, introducing the headline act, Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst, as part of the Pride in London 2014 celebrations, he spoke about a 91 year old man in wheelchair who insisted on being at the parade… despite the rain. Sir Ian also mentioned a 78 year old man who specially came from Iceland to celebrate Pride with the rest of the 300,000+ supporters that showed up in London.
These are the pioneers of LGBT rights and there are plenty of them who are often forgotten — believers who never gave up in their fight for equality. These men and women have fantastic stories that serve as an inspiration and a source of wisdom for the younger LGBT generation enjoying so much more freedom, safety and acceptance than ever before in the history of the global LGBT community.
As part of the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots — the pivotal moment when the Gay Rights Movement was born , in 1969, when gay protesters clashed with police in New York — StoryCorps has launched an initiative, called OutLoud, to preserve the stories of LGBT people.
In the spirit of Pride and in the spirit of remembering the stories of the men and women who came before us, I want to share one of the stories StoryCorps recently archived:
During the 1950s Patrick Haggerty, now 70, lived as a teenager in rural Washington. Patrick decided to perform in a school play. On the day of the performance, Patrick’s brother took him to school. On their way there, he started covering his face with glitter — to his brother’s horror. Patrick’s brother dropped him off at school and then immediately called their father.
“Dad, I think you better get up there,” his brother said. “This is not going to look good.“
Charles Edward Haggerty, their father, who was a dairy farmer, showed up at the school in dirty farming jeans and boots. When Patrick saw his dad in the halls, he ran away to hide from him.
“It wasn’t because of what I was wearing,” Patrick says. “It was because of what he was wearing.“
After the play, in the car on their way home, Patrick’s father called him out on his attempt to hide: “I was walking down the hall this morning, and I saw a kid that looked a lot like you ducking around the hall to avoid his dad. But I know it wasn’t you, ’cause you would never do that to your dad.“
Patrick wanted to melt way into the car seat out of embarrassment, but finally exclaimed: “Well, Dad, did you have to wear your cow-crap jeans to my assembly?“
His father replied: “Look, everybody knows I’m a dairy farmer. This is who I am. Now, how ’bout you? When you’re an adult, who are you gonna go out with at night?“
“Now, I’m gonna tell you something today,” his father continued “and you might not know what to think of it now, but you’re gonna remember when you’re a full-grown man: Don’t sneak. Because if you sneak, like you did today, it means you think you’re doing the wrong thing. And if you run around spending your whole life thinking that you’re doing the wrong thing, then you’ll ruin your immortal soul.”
Recalling his father’s words, Patrick says that out of all the things a father in 1959 could have told his gay son, his father told him to be proud of who he was and not to sneak.
Patrick added: “He knew where I was headed. And he knew that making me feel bad about it in any way was the wrong thing to do. I had the patron saint of dads for sissies, and no, I didn’t know at the time, but I know it now.“