06 October 2012

Coming Out Day Speech (Text)

Opening thank you and acknowledgement of the crowd and notable faces in attendance.

Thank you Travis Love, Kamal Johnson and 2nd Level Productions and the South Jersey A.I.D.S. Alliance for asking me to speak at this event. 

I was asked to come here today and speak to you about acceptance. About living openly. About living in love and not fear.

I have always known that I was gay. As a small child, I knew that I liked boys, although at that age it wasn't in a sexual manner, I mean, boys were icky. Girls were physically different from me, but I liked playing with them and all the accoutrements that come along with being feminine.
Yes, I loved to dress up, even at an early age, my sister has a photo of me at 3 years old wearing a long red wig and working it! .... and I also enjoyed playing house with my girl friends and playing Barbies with my sister. But on the other hand, I was a boy, and I did enjoy doing what my male friends liked to do as well - rough-housing, football, mud fights. BUT I didn't really THINK like the boys.
Growing up, my friends and I never really questioned that I was so different. I had always been different, and when you're exposed to different things, it is considered normal and not out of the ordinary. During our childhood, we all used the derogatory terms kids have always used - YOU'RE SO GAY, YOU'RE SUCH A FAG, YOU QUEER and so forth. We knew that they weren't nice, but we had no clue what they really meant. It wasn't until much later, when we started to mature, that the slow realization hit us.

I was gay, 
I was a fag.
I was queer.
I was this horrible thing that we had so innocently said to each other all these years.
And yet, I was their friend and I wasn't horrible. I was just me, and it was the way I had always been. It was a confusing period for all of us. But before we could work it out, my parents divorced and I moved, radically changing my neighbourhood and school.
Being thrown into a group of people who never grew up with me, and with them being faced with someone like me who was, by then, unabashedly open about being gay, I suffered a lot of hate and anger and bullying by kids who, in retrospect, did not know any better. They were just unaccustomed to being around someone like me.
As I got older and started at Atlantic City high school, it only got worse. I began to get threatened on my way to classes, and a few of the teachers used me as an example behind my back, denigrating me to my fellow classmates just on the basis of my being gay. The harassment was almost unendurable. I must admit, I contemplated revenge. I wanted them to die. I wanted to get them back and make them stop. I was desperate and hurt and confused, and my life was bleak and lonely and cold. I wanted it to stop. I did nothing to these people. I couldn't help who I was. Why were they doing this to me? Why? 

It was a dark tunnel of despair and I couldn't see the end.

Then one day during Mr. Murphy's English class, I overheard some of the students warning not to get off the Jitney at New York Ave. That's where the fags are, you'll get molested. 

I got off the jitney at New York Ave. that very day!

It was a revelation. Back then, New York Ave and the surrounding blocks were a gay Mecca, rivalling the gaybourhood in Phila or the West Village in NYC. Just wandering a few yards down the street and I saw more gay people than I had my entire life up to that point. By the time I got halfway down the block, I saw drag queens in bikinis, blonde surfer boys in tight short-shorts, a lot of men in thong Speedos, it blew my mind! There were bars and restaurants and little coffee shops, rooming houses teeming with gay people, I couldn't believe my eyes. 

And everyone was living openly. It was amazing. Truly amazing to see.

Once I got my bearings of the neighbourhood, learning where everything was, I decided I was going to go out. Make my formal début, so to speak. So one night I walked into the Studio Six and never looked back. 

I was maybe 16, scared out of my wits and completely out of my element. I was a nerdy gay kid at Atlantic High, I had no clue what to do here in a gay nightclub. But I was lucky. After getting a drink (I think it was nickel night, actually) I braved the dance floor, dancing by myself because I was too scared to ask someone. And then, I turned around and saw some kids from school. Girls dancing with girls, boys dancing with boys. Oh my God! I was not alone! I was NOT the only one at school! My whole life changed in that instant, and I no longer cared what those brutes at school thought of me. I was not this monster they made me feel like I was. I was simply gay, and that meant nothing. Not. One. God. Damn. Thing.
The taunts and harassment never really stopped, but I now had the skills and self esteem to shrug it off and live my life to the fullest. I have never looked back.

Once I started working in the casinos, I began to meet all sorts of different people. And, after work we'd all go out to whatever local bar was in the neighbourhood, bonding over the job and the cocktails. Slowly but surely I'd develop strong friendships with people completely out of my usual circles of friends, who, invariably, would not realize I was gay. Now that always made me laugh, how the hell could you NOT know?
But they always would say the same thing, you don't act like those other gay people. 
Okay, they would say fags or something equally bigoted but I know what they meant. 
It took them some time to come to the realization that they had an openly gay friend. And I was always their first. For them, they had to shed a lifetime, up to that moment, of bigotry, of fear, of misinformation, of prejudice, it was like coming out of the closet, in a way. They would realize that gay people are cool, too. It was a great time, gay culture was being accepted, the film "Making Love" was a minor hit, the television show "Soap" had a gay character. Things were changing. 

And then, A.I.D.S. hit. And it hit the Atlantic City community hard. For a time we seemed to be a little oasis, the disease was only killing people in San Francisco, or New York, or Miami, not here. But we were not immune. And it was devastating. 

And that's when things changed. 

Suddenly it was not cool to be gay. All the progress we had made was lost. Now we were considered immoral, diseased, icky. 

But we survived by fighting back. Act Up began it's protests, we all wore Silence=Death T-shirts. We faced the fear with knowledge. And we did NOT go back into the closet.  

Much like those drag queens at the Stonewall who fought back against bigotry, we began the offensive here in Atlantic City. Starting the S.J.A.A. Starting the fund raisers and awareness seminars. Bingo. Everything we could to save ourselves, and save others. To educate the community of gay men and women, and the larger community of our straight brothers and sisters. We've lost some battles along the way, and the war is not over but we won some of the the toughest battles of our lifetimes but we will win this war. We WILL WIN!

By now, the fabric of our gay community had changed considerably. We had lost so many, the businesses changed, more casinos came to town, changing social mores. By then one of the biggest clubs in town was the Studio Six, and it was no longer the little gay disco of the 80's, it was a giant mega-club with a hotel attached and buses coming down from NYC on the weekends to bring people to Club Tru. It was a complete mesh of gay and straight, simply everyone was there. 

I've learned so much working there, alongside so many wonderful people, with such a great and diverse clientèle of rowdy straight and gay nightlife people. I have always advocated celebrating the differences within our community, and watching drag queens dancing on the blocks and big straight muscle boys dancing with them all under the same roof, gay couples and straight ravers all sitting together and having fun is proof that familiarity breaks down all prejudices and brings us together.

Which is my point. Living your life out and proud does far more than you realize. By living my life openly AND PROUDLY, I have changed minds of people who I now claim as some of my best friends, people who would have NEVER thought they would have a gay friend but who now are the first to jump to my defence if needed. Living my life openly and proudly has helped to educate people that we are not the stereotypes, the fags, the queers, the gays that people think we are. Then they go to educate other people, stopping the cycle of bigotry and prejudice. Living my life openly and proudly gives hope to young gay kids who see someone like me, confidently living my life with purpose and without fear. It shows them that you are NOT alone in this world. That you can be gay and it's NOT WRONG. Living my life openly and proudly has opened doors that would I never knew existed! I have met so many wonderful people, been on the stage, travelled the country, shook the hands of governors and mayors and celebrities it has truly been a wonderful life. Living my life openly and proudly has made this world a better place for everyone. Because each of us must make the decision to NEVER deny who we are. Because WHO we are is what makes this world a better place. 

Many years ago, during the height of the A.I.D.S. crisis, the media in New York did a "Day Without Art", attempting to show the world what life would be like without the creative arts, an area of life that is predominately gay . Magazines published nearly blank issues, newspapers ran articles without photos or artwork, museums shut or covered their paintings, the world, for a day, became a bleak and dark place. 

We can never go back to that.

We must always live openly and proudly. We must always live without fear and IN love. Love of life. Love of friendships. Love of community. Love of self. 

Thanks to talkshow host Ellen DeGeneris, singer Lance Bass, CNN's Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon, weatherman Sam Champion, Governor Jim McGreevy and recently boxer Orlando Cruz, among a growing legion of gay men and women who are coming out and are very public and very diverse. They stand as a testament to all young gay kids out there who are walking to class and hearing the taunts and insults who can now stand tall and say they are gay. 

And they are proud.

Thank you very much for your time. 

Thanks again to Travis and all of you for giving me this opportunity to speak. 


  1. Thank you for sharing. the tears are streaming down my face, eyes burning. I am so proud to know you and call you friend.

  2. This was such a wonderfully written speech, Mort. I am so proud of you, and I'm so proud to know you. And I'll be even more excited if we ever actually get to meet in person some day!!! :)