In high school I heard some classmates laughing and recounting how they had lured a gay man outside of a bar called “JRs” and beat him up. At the time I was uncertain what to think. On one level it was clearly wrong. But, in 1970s Dallas the terms “fag”, “faggot”, and a lot worse were common. It was only a decade since the 1968 Civil Rights Act. Opposition to public school prayer was in its infancy. Rights for LGBTs were nowhere on the agenda.
Although I went East to college, to Europe on an exchange program, then West to law school, attitudes were the same. At best views softened to pity in some places. I really did not encounter much change until the early 1990s. That is when in one of the luckiest breaks of my life, I took a job at Quark.
After a few days on the job I was shocked to learn that a huge percentage of the work force, if not a majority, was LGBT. And the folks who were not were openly supportive of LGBT culture. I learned more about LGBTs in the first month than I had in the prior thirty years. In a conference room in front of ten people I used the term “sexual preference” and wanted to hide as one of the engineers methodically explained the difference between sexual preference (implying a choice) and sexual orientation (implying an inherent characteristic).
It was a lot to absorb, while all the while I tried to keep up with explosive growth, overseas expansion, and a mercurial boss in Fred Ebrahimi. It was four years where I learned about technology, international business, mergers and acquisitions, working with engineers, leading a group of lawyers and paraprofessionals, and generally riding a tiger. But we did have the best corporate parties of my career complete with men in tutus on roller blades and every imaginable costume.
I watched LGBTs struggling with relationships, with the pressure of work, with bad diets, not enough exercise, jet lag, unruly children, and all the pressures of modern life. But I also watched them struggle with the added burdens that society imposed on them. It was the era of AIDS equaling death. It was the era of preachers saying AIDS was God’s retribution. I watched several people struggling to work with severe thrush, the absence of treatment, families and friends who abandoned them, the certainty of the ending, then death.
The greatest benefit among many from my time at Quark was the realization that LGBTs were just people, not some alien from outer space. In high school if someone had bragged about beating up one of my friends or a stranger regardless of race, creed, or color, I would have condemned it. I knew that all it took for evil to succeed was for good men to stand aside. I had to confront my past and what I came to acknowledge as prejudice.
The founder of Quark, Tim Gill, took his fortune and put it to work in large measure for the struggle for equal rights for LGBTs via the Gill Foundation. I was never close to Tim even though I worked with him routinely. He was your classic engineer focused on his two causes – revolutionizing desktop publishing and accelerating the movement for equal rights for the LGBT community. But it was impossible not to admire Tim for the revolution his software genius generated and because he never whined about anything. He simply set out to change the straight world’s attitude as he changed mine.
Even after Quark I was uncertain about gay marriage. I had gotten over gay adoption when I saw a gay couple adopt seven children suffering since birth with AIDS knowing they would watch them die. They had given a home to these terminal babies when no one else would take them. But marriage was between a man and a woman. It was merely a definitional issue.
But over the next few years I found myself in every institution from work to church with couples for whom gay marriage was definitional. It represented the final act of acceptance. And so I made the final step in the long journey that began in the 1970s to accepting LGBTs as full citizens.
Given my past I can never judge others with differing views. I can only admit how ashamed I am that I stood aside in the 1970s. And to say I never will again.