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The Seattle Times
Saturday, June 27, 2009

Gay rights mean different things to different generations of community

By Lornet Turnbull
Seattle Times staff reporter

Before there were domestic-partnership registries and commitment ceremonies, before same-sex marriages and civil unions — before the gay-rights movement, even — John McCluskey and Rudy Henry met, fell in love and harbored the notion that they could spend their lives making one another happy.

And for 50 years, the Tacoma men went about doing just that, all the while longing for social acceptance.

Even in gay-friendly San Francisco where they first lived together, they found it necessary to hide their relationship from prospective landlords, and on job applications they would sometimes lie about their marital status to avoid raising suspicion.

Decades later in 2006, at a coffee-shop concert on Seattle's Capitol Hill, Amy Balliett and Jessica Trejo met and they, too, eventually fell in love.

In their 20s, the two had come out as lesbians at a time when young people could find support in groups on high school and college campuses, when they had gay role models in politics and on television, and when their parents probably knew people who were openly gay. By the time the two married in California last October, legal bonds between gays and lesbians were possible in several states.

Balliett and Trejo, Henry and McCluskey are like generational bookends to this modern gay-rights movement, launched 40 years ago this week after a group of activists at a small Manhattan bar called the Stonewall Inn stood up in violent protest to ongoing police harassment.

While older gays and younger ones share much the same agenda of equality, their needs within the movement are also divergent.

Young people, who have at times referred to their own post-gay movement, seek the protections of marriage equality as they form relationships and start families, while gays of their grandparents' generation are more concerned about issues of aging — like survivor benefits and long-term care.

This weekend, across the country and around the world — including here in Seattle on Sunday — they will join together, young and old, lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people to mark the anniversary of Stonewall with the usually festive Pride parades.

And while there's much to celebrate — gays can form legal bonds in at least six states, adopt children and are protected in many states from discrimination — the movement has been dogged by legal and social setbacks.

Even those who have married enjoy none of the benefits and protections the federal government confers on married people. Twenty-nine states have constitutional bans against gay marriage, and 19 states — including Washington — along with the federal government all have laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

And in Washington state, petitions are being circulated to repeal a domestic-partnership bill passed in the Legislature last spring that extends marriagelike benefits to same-sex couples.

"When I was 18 and 19, I didn't think much of having any rights; I assumed I'd go through this life having to look over my shoulders," said the 72-year-old McCluskey, a retired accountant. "So many of us used to think we had no rights, that we didn't deserve to have any."

By contrast, some gays and lesbians in their 20s and 30s are not shy about demanding theirs; they are restless and impatient with the pace of change. They came of age when many of the battles had been fought; their straight peers stand with them in large numbers in support of gay rights.

They have public role models and have witnessed the shift in how they are portrayed in the media — from caricatures to "rich portrayals of gays living with healthy self-esteem," said Josh Friedes, advocacy director of Equal Rights Washington.

"They have a healthy self-esteem, which many in my generation didn't have," said Friedes, in his mid-40s. "They want full equality, and they are furious they don't have it."

Acceptance, protection

That was most evident last November when, using the Internet, young gays took the lead in a national protest over passage of California's Proposition 8, which did away with gay marriage in that state six months after the state's Supreme Court ruled that gays had a fundamental right to marriage.

Balliett, a 26-year-old search-engine marketer, helped launch the national movement with her site, jointheimpact.org. "I continue to assume that everybody thinks the way I do," she said. "And they don't."

She and Trejo said what they want is full equality, and she believes that in the next decade, LGBT people across the country will have a full range of rights and protections under the law.

"There are two parts to this struggle: social acceptance and equal protection, and before we were married, I thought social acceptance was most important," Balliett said. "Now I know better. Words alone won't keep my wife safe."

As the movement pushes forward, some religious conservatives remain steadfast in their opposition to what they see as the movement's ultimate goal: gay marriage.

While not wishing to see a return to the days of Stonewall, when gays were persecuted and harassed just for being gay, many opponents say they also don't want to see marriage redefined.

"My goal is to defend and protect natural marriage," said Gary Randall, president of the Faith and Freedom Network, which is spearheading the effort to repeal recent enhancements to the state's domestic-partnership law.

"I respect the right of homosexuals to live as they choose to live, even if I disagree with their decision to go into that lifestyle," he said. "But I am absolutely committed to not letting them deconstruct marriage."

Concern for elders

Using Stonewall as a point of reference, gays tend to fall into three broad generational categories.

Those who were adults — in or out of the closet — at the time of Stonewall; those of middle age who were children or teens coming to terms with their sexuality; and those in their early 30s and younger, who will tell you that their sexual identity does not define who they are.

McCluskey and Henry said it helps that gays are freer about coming out. Henry's father died before Henry came out even to himself, and he never talked to his mother about his homosexuality — even after he introduced her to McCluskey.

"It's amazing what happens when people realize they know someone who's gay, they have a family member who is gay," McCluskey said. "People realize we won't steal their kids."

Still, among gays themselves there is a sometimes painful generational disconnect when it comes to marriage equality. While older gays would be happy if gays achieved marriage, it may come too late for some of them.

Friedes said not enough is being done to see to the long-term care of gays as they age. There are few nursing homes specifically for gays or that are gay-friendly.

Some, as they grow older, are even forced back into the closet because a home-health-care worker may not be sensitive to their needs, Friedes said, or because other nursing-home residents "are still homophobic. They find themselves in their final years in a community that is not accepting of who you are."

For Henry, 74, who suffered a stroke a few years ago, marriage to the love of his life would be great, but "it's not really a burning desire for me.

"I've lived so long without it," he said. "I understand the benefit of it. But what's far more important is to gain equality for everyone."

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com

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Topic starter Posted : July 5, 2009 8:58 pm
trw
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http://www.hrc.org/alva/

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Topic starter Posted : July 5, 2009 9:02 pm
trw
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http://www.gay-art-history.org/

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Topic starter Posted : July 5, 2009 9:13 pm
trw
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http://www.gayhistory.com/rev2/links/gayhistory.htm

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Topic starter Posted : July 5, 2009 9:14 pm
trw
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http://www.glbthistory.org/

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Topic starter Posted : July 5, 2009 9:14 pm
trw
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and for the involved or the wanna be involve i recommend "act up" "radical faeries" and the aclu,queer nation no longer exists,i'd love to see a "pride" event down here,but no one cares enough or has the guts to do it,LOL i think my "radicalfag" is coming out,i miss big cities at times

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Topic starter Posted : July 5, 2009 9:24 pm
Bombi
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Trw a pride event would be great. I think the culture ( at least the younger people) is slowly becoming more accepting. I was appalled at the actions of the constitutional convention and the marrige statement. Right are rights and everyone including the LBGT community deserves equal treatment.

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Posted : July 5, 2009 10:36 pm
trw
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it is, they had a debate club thing at the complex a few months back about gay marriage and the pro side won,this coming from high school students makes me proud,too many stateside homos down here have no guts,they just want to do their "little" things and live their lives like there's no problem(uh oh have i alienated myself once again)lol who cares but yeah i guess i'd like to do something,the last fagherewithguts was jack barr when he opened "the last hurrah"over in f'sted and the crap that man had to deal with was amazing but he persevered for 5 years and then sold the place to 2 crack queens that ran the place into the ground and left island,you know todd and bam bam

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Topic starter Posted : July 6, 2009 12:02 am
A Davis
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thanks for posting trw.

we concentrate so much on sex, we are obsessed with it. it's all about sex and fear of sex.

for those who see a "threat" to families, i don't see how. people who dismantle their families for a gay lifestyle only do so after suppressing themselves due to fear of exposure to bigotry and hatred. if they had been allowed to be themselves in the first place, they would not have involved other parties. i am not saying it's "right" to live a lie, but we see what happens when one does not conform in this arena. families disown, friendships dissolve, sinister suspicions abound.

i know lesbians and gay men who have been living together as "outlaws" for a long, long time. they show true love and support for one another. they should be permitted to be themselves and benefit socially from their mutual commitment.

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Posted : July 6, 2009 12:24 am
Bombi
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The issue here is everyone is limin, enjoying the vibe and laying low, no boat rockin. An unless the discrimination directly affects the locals then it's a non issue, it's just some crazy anti men tryin to change the culture. the GBLT lifestyle is quietly tolerated and rarely discussed publicly. A few public service announcements on TV or radio could evoke some discussion.

I guess the bottom line is when you ask the question, Do I feel discriminated against?.

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Posted : July 6, 2009 12:29 am
trw
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thanks anita, i really need people like you to disseminate my anger for me,i tend to piss people off and alienate them because i never learned to play nice and the tim just let me go on and on for 17 now 18 years without ever once standing up to me and my rants

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Topic starter Posted : July 6, 2009 12:30 am
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http://gayrights.change.org/

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Topic starter Posted : July 6, 2009 1:05 am
dntw8up
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Black men got the right to vote in 1870.

Women got the right to vote in 1920.

If blacks are second class citizens, women are third class citizens.

The Equal Rights Amendment, intended to guarantee that equal rights under all federal, state, and local laws could not be denied on the basis of sex, failed to be ratified before its deadline, and though it has been reintroduced in every Congress since 1982, it's effectively dead in the water.

If women are third class citizens, homosexuals are fourth class citizens.

If our society won't grant equal rights without regard to gender, I'm pretty sure equal rights without regard to sexual orientation is mere fantasy.

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Posted : July 6, 2009 2:36 am
trw
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i'm not quite sure what you're point is

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Topic starter Posted : July 6, 2009 3:04 am
trw
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and i guess my answer is f you and f fantasy, people like you are the same people that keep people like me down

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Topic starter Posted : July 6, 2009 3:28 am
dntw8up
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My point:

Homosexuals are a very small percentage of the population. Women are a very large percentage of the population. Women will get equal rights before homosexuals get equal rights, because there are more women taking political power than there are homosexuals taking political power. Political power is required to gain equal rights, but it's a slow process. We have our first mixed race president, a male. This is expected as black males could vote fifty years before women of any color. Eventually we will have our first woman president. And there will come a time thereafter when there will be an openly homosexual president. Women come after blacks, but they won't be getting equal rights soon. Homosexuals come after women, and likely won't be getting equal rights in our lifetimes.

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Posted : July 6, 2009 3:39 am
dntw8up
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Troy,

People like me? You don't even know me. I am discussing American society as I see it, not as I want it to be. Your accusations are unfair.

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Posted : July 6, 2009 3:45 am
Ms Information
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Thank you TRW for the reminder and the information. We quietly support our daughter and daughter-in-law who are legally married in California, but still not recognized by the federal government.

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Posted : July 6, 2009 1:59 pm
Ace
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Just wondering, why quietly??

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Posted : July 7, 2009 3:47 am
HBIC
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This is the lady who does not think highly of people with piercings or tattoos..........

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Posted : July 7, 2009 9:53 am
Ms Information
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Just wondering, why quietly??

Simple Words are often misunderstood. When I said "quietly" a meant that I was writing my lawmakers and educating my peers, not marching in the SF Gay rights parade. I'm not an in your face person, I am just working for equality and understanding.

I laughed about the reference to tattoos. My earlier comment was my opinion that many young people would some day regret that they had permanently "branded" themselves. As I grow older I find that we often suffer from the bad decisions we made when we were younger.

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Posted : July 7, 2009 2:54 pm
rkurpiers
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It's the fine line, when crossed, that I have a problem with. I do not condone discrimination against gays. I also support gays their right to stand up against any injustice perpetrated against them simply because of their sexual orientation.

Where I do have a problem is when gays feel a need to make themselves stand out for their sexual orientation. I don't need for you to announce or "come out" to me that you're gay no more than I need for anyone to tell me that they prefer missionary, doggy-style, or partners half their age. If the fact that someone is gay comes to light during the normal course of every day living, I'm fine with it. Otherwise, forcing that information on me through excessive means is simply in poor taste. Then again, boorish behavior can be found among people of all types.

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Posted : July 7, 2009 6:17 pm
bethburnett70
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Ms Information, good for you, that is actually more than I do to support any cause. A lot of people say they believe things, but don't act to change them.

I have a problem with people being in your face about details of their sex lives, too. But being gay isn't about sex, and I have spoken to many, many, many straight people who mention their wife or hubby or boyfriend/etc in the first thirty seconds of conversation. That is no different than me talking about my partner.

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Posted : July 7, 2009 7:47 pm
trw
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once again i apologize for lashing out at anyone

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Topic starter Posted : July 7, 2009 7:49 pm
trw
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dntw8up it goes back about a year ago when i first signed on here and i asked what "frenchies" were and you jumped all over me and called me stupid and offensive and i told you to get off your soap box i was merely asking what the term"you don't mess with frenchies means"because i had heard it when i was on stt for 2 months

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Topic starter Posted : July 7, 2009 8:15 pm
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