In honor of Pride Month, I've decided it was time to share this very personal story...
When I got my first job as a computer programmer in '92, I shared an office with a couple of other guys. One of those guys was a balding, overweight, heavily-bearded person who just never seemed to be able to get his clothes to match. His name was Gil.
Now, Gil was a very friendly and personable character. He had a wry sense of humor and a boisterous laugh. I immediately felt at ease with him. I found out later that his mismatched sense of fashion came from his colored blindness, which also accounted for the extra tie and pair of socks he kept in his briefcase.
The thing I remember most about Gil was his love of music. He would come in every day with 5 or 6 cassette tapes, which he would play throughout the day for the enjoyment of anyone entering our office. Fortunately, I found that I loved listening to music while writing code, so this worked out well for me. We listened to all kinds of music. He turned me on to some wonderful, eclectic stuff, and occasionally I was able to do the same for him.
It wasn't until some time later that I found out he was gay. This did not present a problem for me, because growing up in and around Atlantic City, I'd been exposed to quite a lot. My mom had gay friends when I was young. I knew a good many gay people. It really was not a problem and didn't effect our relationship at all. At least not at first.
We would hang together at lunch, sometimes breaking off from the other "pod of programmers" as we walked along the boardwalk after eating. We discussed various forms of pop culture, went to see the film adaptation of Burrows' "Naked Lunch" and made plans of getting together to jam sometime (he played keys). I suppose some people might accuse me of having a "boy crush" on him, but I don't think so. I just genuinely liked him.
And then, one day when he was out and I was walking off lunch with one of the other developers, he told me that someone had asked him if I was gay. Now, normally, I don't give two shits what other people think about me. I dress how I like, wear my hair how I like, and just let it go. But I was in an odd place in my life at this time. I had had my heart torn apart a couple of years earlier and had just stayed away from any kind of romantic relationship since then, but I knew it was time for me to get back into the game. And here I was making people question my sexuality.
Eventually I started to put some space between Gil and me. I would let him go off on his own during lunch while I walked with the other group. I still liked him and we still talked, but I just allowed myself some distance. I remember one Friday in particular he invited me to a party at his house--a "Wizard of Oz" party. "Come dressed as your favorite munchkin," he said, "and we'll all watch the movie on TV." I told him I'd be there, got his address and then, come Friday, spent the evening hanging with an old friend while I watched the minutes tick away on the clock.
When I saw him on Monday, I apologized for skipping the party. He assured me it was alright, that I'd missed a good one, and that it would be on TV again. I told him I'd be sure to catch the next one.
Two days later he was dead. He had been in a car accident on the Margate bridge. He hit a patch of black ice, slid into the rail and broke his neck.
People have asked me why I care so much about GLBT issues. After all, I'm not gay...why is it so important to me that they be allowed to marry or adopt children? I usually say something about it not being a "gay" issue so much as a "human being" issue. And that's 100% true, but it runs deeper than that for me. I had considered myself to be an enlightened person, and yet I managed to let my own, deep-seated issues separate me from my friend in what would be the last months of his life.
I've mostly forgiven myself for this, but have never let myself forget it.