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The New 60: I Am Who I Am

The New 60: I Am Who I Am


I am a privileged man: I have not suffered for being completely out about my sexuality or my HIV status. Sometimes I forget how rare that makes me.

Something is missing from the picture: my full civil rights. I was not initially a big proponent of gay marriage. I was content with the idea of civil union status. My generation had been brainwashed that we were less than, so I was willing to accept less in order to keep the peace. My heart changed when my nephew, David Levithan, the Lambda award-winning author of Boy Meets Boy, wrote that he wouldn't accept civil unions or a lesser status than marriage because he would not accept it if they said Jews could only have civil unions.

Right: I do not accept second-tier status for people of color, or women, so why would I accept it for myself. I want every right that comes with being an American citizen.

A dear friend read my last column online in Malawi, where she is working on a microeconomics project for local women, the very day I read that Malawi had arrested and convicted a gay male couple for "gross indecency" for celebrating their engagement. I asked my friend if she was aware of this. Her prompt reply: "It's despicable." Of course, any friend of mine would condemn discrimination against homosexuals. And I am relieved that after the international outcry, the president of Malawi pardoned the young men. And yet my heart is not easy. This is outrageous.

Where does my outrage live?

I am amazed that I can sleep at night. And I do. Compartmentalization may be necessary to function in this world. However, we must stay awake, we must take action, we must recognize that silence equals complicity.

In private practice and at Friends in Deed, I encourage a focus on living in the present, on taking actions which support our health, well-being, and integrity. I am not in favor of martyrdom, as it is not functional. I do, therefore, believe in service, in taking care of yourself so that you can take care of others. Our human rights and the rights of our sisters and brothers are an integral part of our lives. This is not a luxury issue. It is part of self-care.

Last night I saw the brilliant revival of La Cage aux Folles on Broadway. What was cutting-edge 25 years ago is still powerful and, sadly, timely. When Albin sang "I Am What I Am," my tears were both historic and current.

I often write about internalized prejudice. I want young gay men and women to grow up expecting their civil rights. I look forward to it being taken for granted by younger generations, the way that young people of color know that it is illegal to discriminate against them. I want to be happily stunned like the older black people I know who never thought they'd see a black president in their lifetime -- by seeing a gay president in mine!

How is it that I am living in the 21st century in what was once the most progressive nation on earth, and I do not have my full civil rights? This is as outrageous as what is happening in Malawi and elsewhere because of the context. My grandparents were all born in Europe and chose to come to the USA in order to escape oppression. As their heir, I choose not to be complacent.

I am committed to having full legal rights before I leave this body. I am about to be 60 and therefore could have a decade or two to enjoy them as well.

I am what I am, and I deserve to live and die a free man.
Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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Robert Levithan