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Editor's Letter: Out, Proud, and Very, Very Loud


Social media has amplified and illuminated the breadth and diversity of the LGBTQ community.


We talk a lot in this age of mass distraction and shrinking attention spans of a growing disconnect with the past--of the histories and legacies that are lost in the hum and thrum of the now. With so much information, and misinformation, coming at us, who is able to remember what happened last year, let alone in the last century? And yet, how extraordinary it is to look through this issue and see how the very media that appears to be compressing everything into a mush has been co-opted by our diverse community to amplify and illuminate our lives. So many of those celebrated in this year's OUT100 are people who have taken it upon themselves to build a platform to share our stories, whether it's the creators of the @lgbt_history Instagram account, legends like Billie Jean King and Bill T. Jones, or an organization like Define American, which promotes the narratives of undocumented immigrants. And look no further than our cover stars--Lena Waithe, Chelsea Manning, Jonathan Groff, and Shayne Oliver--to see how a new generation of LGBTQ artists and activists is at the vanguard of shaping the larger story of who we are. While our dishonest president fulminates against "fake news," it's increasingly, beautifully, clear that media is proliferating in myriad ways that help us see and hear each other more clearly, while creating a rich archive of our social and political history.

Related | OUT100 2017

I am still often astonished and humbled by stumbling for the first time on a story that might have been lost if not for another person's diligence and passion in keeping memory alive. Take Oliver Sipple. Maybe you know who he is, or maybe--like me--you were unaware of this American hero who deflected a gun aimed at President Gerald Ford in 1975. In San Francisco, September 22 is named in his honor. That was the date when Sipple, a former Marine, found himself behind Sara Jane Moore when she fired a gun at the president. She missed. Sipple stepped in to stop her from firing a second time, and was briefly a national hero. Briefly, because his friend Harvey Milk alerted famed San Francisco columnist Herb Caen that Sipple was gay, at a time when many in the queer community led double lives. Milk had his own agenda, and can be forgiven for wanting the world to know that gay men could also be heroes, and not just punchlines. But the rest of the story is painfully sad--Sipple's family disowned him, and he died in 1989, alone, with an empty bottle of Jack Daniel's by his side. His body lay undiscovered for 10 days. He was 47. A handful of people attended his funeral.

I've been thinking about Sipple's story ever since hearing it on the WNYC radio show and podcast Radiolab, which played audio of Sipple being interviewed by Caen about his sexual orientation. To hear Sipple's voice, crackling down the ages, is an electrifying experience that places the audience in a time and place when the LGBTQ community was just beginning to mobilize. But it also serves to remind us that coming out is always deeply personal, and it challenges the press--us--to consider our responsibilities to the people we write about. In the Gerald Ford library is a letter dated September 30, 1975, in which Sipple begs the president to call his family to help mend the breach. The call was never made.

Sipple's story tells us so much about the world as it was, but it also reminds us that progress is so often built on sacrifice. By coincidence, the same month that Sipple made headlines, Sergeant Leonard Matlovich appeared on the cover of Time above the headline I AM A HOMOSEXUAL, a breakthrough in the nascent queer rights movement. The recipient of a Purple Heart, Matlovich was discharged after refusing to sign a pledge promising to "never practice homosexuality again." He died in 1988 due to complications from AIDS, a year before Sipple, so neither lived to see the remarkable progress we have since made. One wishes they could meet the transgender vets who are fighting to be treated with the respect and dignity that both men, in their different ways, dedicated their lives to achieving.

We still have people in high places who think that homosexuality or gender identity is something that can be turned off, or, somehow, "cured," but raging against them is an extraordinary coalition that is out, proud, and very, very loud. One would like to think that Sipple would not die alone, and forgotten, today.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

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