Never Told Anyone

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 (Richard Swerdlow)

It may not seem that way if you’re a resident of San Francisco and the Bay Area, but for many, coming out remains out of the question. Richard Swerdlow has this Perspective.

It was Gay Pride Parade day, and Civic Center was packed with revelers. My husband and I lined up for a slice of pizza, enjoying the celebration -- Mardi Gras and Valentine's Day, with a touch of Halloween -- all rolled into one.

Slices in hand, we found the only empty table. A young woman shyly asked if she could share the table. She smiled hesitantly, and took a seat. We sat chewing and I looked her over. She was about 25, very pretty, wearing a Sunday best dress too formal for this sometimes clothing-optional event, with an uncertain demeanor. I asked if she was enjoying Gay Pride.

“Oh,” she said, “it's my first time.”

She lived in rural California, she explained. Her family had a farm, and were very religious. “If they knew where I was...” she said.


“And what brought you here...?” I asked, not understanding. Floodgates opened.

“I'm gay...” she stammered. “I've always known it. My family doesn't know. They wouldn't let me back in the house if they knew... I've never met anyone before who's gay. I've never told anybody... I drove all the way to San Francisco, by myself, for Gay Pride.” She stopped talking and began to weep.

I sat stunned, unsure how to react. I told her my partner and I had been together for 30 years, it was possible to have a happy life as a gay person, her family would just have to get used to it. She listened intently, and I felt a sudden responsibility -- this day was the beginning of her new life.

But I also felt a weary sense of sadness. For so many, times have not changed, so many lives still destroyed, not in some far-off country, but here in California -- children disowned, even suicides.

Pizza finished, we hugged goodbye. And though June, Gay Pride month, is over, I’m still thinking about her.

In San Francisco, it's easy to forget gay people still live in shame and isolation, far from hip urban centers. Forty years after the assassination of Harvey Milk, many gay men and women continue lives of secrecy and fear - decades after Harvey Milk received desperate calls from gay people in every part of this country.

Gay pride is so much more than a parade -- amid the rainbows, floats and marching bands, I had forgotten why gay pride still matters for so many who just need to know they're not alone. Meeting her made me remember.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow is a teacher in the San Francisco Unified School District.