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Tucson Senior Pride: Tucson's LGBTQ history of activism

Tucson Senior Pride: Tucson's LGBTQ history of activism

Learn more about Southern Arizona Senior Pride

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer.

‘If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door,” Harvey Milk said on a tape he made to be heard only “in the event of my death by assassination.”

Harvey Milk inspired countless LGBTQ individuals to indeed “come out.” Their doing so has changed our society.

This month — Pride Month nationally — we cheer the historic ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that existing federal law forbids job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status.

As an old lesbian, I am so happy that younger LGBTQ people will no longer be afraid to “come out” for fear of losing their jobs.

I am proud, too, that in 1977 Tucson passed one of the first anti-discrimination ordinances in the country that included sexual orientation and was later amended to include transgender people.

That measure was, in large part, a response to public outrage over a killing in 1976 of a young gay man, a visitor from Nebraska, who was brutally beaten by a group of 13 teenagers intent on “hassling” gays.

At the trial of four of the teens this crime was ruled by the judge as “involuntary manslaughter” (equivalent to the charge for killing someone in a vehicle accident). The teens received probation rather than jail time, the judge sealed their records as juveniles, and sent them home.

The death of Richard Heakin Jr., 21, and the light punishment dealt to his attackers, sparked anger and action by Tucson’s LGBTQ community and is a major part of the story of our local history.

Now, almost 50 years later, we can look back at a record of steady and persistent activism in Tucson toward protecting LGBTQ rights.

For many years, I have volunteered with Southern Arizona Senior Pride, a legacy of Tucson’s LGBTQ community center, Wingspan. As elders, we honor those who came bravely forward to make changes happen.

At Senior Pride we support and connect older LGBTQ adults, many of whom still suffer the results of lifetimes of discrimination, rejection by families, isolation, loss of loved ones and medical issues.

To honor our past during this Pride Month, Southern Arizona Senior Pride has compiled a 50-year timeline of landmarks in our history.

To assemble this record, we interviewed participants, reviewed many interviews and documents at the Arizona Queer Archives, and searched online for news and other accounts.

As Southern Arizona Senior Pride, we continue to advocate for the LGBTQ community, for there is still much that needs to change. We invite you to go to our website to learn about us.

Coming out has changed the world, as Harvey Milk knew it would.

Once we might have been closeted and somewhat invisible. But, as we are seen increasingly as the faces of neighbors, family, friends and co-workers, it is harder than ever to deny our rights.

Joyce Bolinger is a volunteer with Southern Arizona Senior Pride and a former volunteer with Wingspan, Tucson’s LGBTQ community center, which closed in 2014 after 25 years.

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