Monty Diamond was born in 1946, but he didn’t come out of the closet until 1980.
He warns me his experience of being gay might not be typical — he considers himself an odd duck and thinks the interview might not produce what I expect.
People’s stories are never typical.
Monty attended The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as the hippie movement reared its technicolored head, but the sea change didn’t reach the traditional Carolina college.
He had suspicious all along about his sexuality, Monty said, but never acted on them, even when he dove into the sixties counter-culture after leaving Chapel Hill. If anything, the culture stopped him from coming out of the closet.
“I would say the sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies delayed my coming out by ten years because women were available, and I liked women,” he said.
Monty dated women and had girlfriends as he began his career in film, but a family tragedy made him reconsider his life and make a decision.
“In ’79, my sister died, and that just made me just wonder who I was living for, and I decided to act on something I’d been thinking about for a while,” he said.
Monty dated women and men for the next decade, “because I thought I wanted to have children, and I thought this was the only way.”
“I finally fell in love with a girl, and I stopped dating her because I knew that she had two children, and I didn’t want to disappoint her and her family, because I know I could meet some guy and be gone,” he said.
“Really what I’m expressing here is a kind of confusion,” Monty continued, “but I didn’t want to bring her in to be part of it, because I really liked her.”
Even though Monty was not openly gay until the eighties, he happened to live in one of the epicenters of gay culture — Greenwich Village in Manhattan. His apartment was just a couple blocks from Christopher Street, the location of the Stonewall Bar, where a police raid in 1969 meant to arrest cross-dressers turned into a melee as drag queens and gay youth fought cops through the streets of Lower Manhattan.
I asked if the Stonewall Bar advertised as being gay.
“No, my God, no,” Monty responded.
The NYPD persecuted the LGBTQ community whenever it stuck its head above ground, so the community had to exist under the earth. The subterranean nature of gay communities was a necessity everywhere — even in Monty’s counter-culture circles, which were “tolerant as hell,” homosexuality was underground.
Monty’s coming out in 1980 was contemporaneous with the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic in the U.S.
Identified by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in 1981, AIDS first struck gay communities in San Francisco and New York City, then spread. Between 1987 and 1998, AIDS killed 324,000 people in the U.S., according to the CDC.
At first, there were only rumors, Monty said.
“Someone I dated a little bit was starting to tell me that friends of his…were getting this kind of rash or disease, or something was going around, and he was freaked out about it because he was having to take care of them, and they were getting quite sick,” he said.
Monty would leave the city in long stretches for film shoots, and each time he came back, things were worse.
He had befriended a group of wealthy gay Manhattanites, lawyers and artists, a group he went to bars and dinner parties with while in New York, successful young men who took part in the “libertine” culture of Studio 54.
“They were going to be the guys that I would still have in my life today, my dear old friends, except I watched, from 1980 to about 1985, as one by one they got AIDS and died,” he said.
AIDS killed the gay movement’s first generation; it’s pioneers, Monty said, men who could have gone on to be the leaders and mentors of the community for decades “and would have made the community a lot less narcissistic.”
I asked if the lack of leaders delayed the gay rights movement, but Monty said AIDS actually propelled the community to organize and take action.
Activists and journalists worked to get the health emergency into the public eye, and to force the conservative presidential administration of Ronald Reagan to address the crisis.
“[The movement] got a big kick in the ass because of the impact of AIDS…and the idea of facing death,” he said, a motivator more insidious than individual attacks on the gay community, such as bullying, which still exist.
Rob Bujan, the managing partner of an insurance agency and a City of Hudson alderman, has some criticism of some contemporary Gay Pride celebrations in large cities.
The event has almost become too normalized, too corporate, Rob said.
“Everybody wants to be in the front of the parade, and everybody throws rainbows on their logo for a month,” he said, “but there was a lot of death and killing and people dying in order to get to where we are, and I think that gets lost a lot of the time.”
Rob came out of the closet in his early twenties, years after he figured out he was gay.
“Back then, everybody was ‘a faggot,’ he related. “There was no coming out in high school.”
There were no openly gay men to serve as mentors, Rob said, a contrast to the modern day, where there is a support system if a young man wants to come out. There are also models in the media, where gay teen characters appear in shows like Glee, and films portray gays in non-serial killer roles.
Though Rob believes the LGBTQ community’s progress is only accelerating, he fears the community has become complacent. He believes the Trump administration has enabled latent homophobia to rise to the surface, and notes the recent Supreme Court ruling in favor of a baker who refused to create confections to celebrate a gay wedding because of his Christian beliefs.
“You can’t give an inch in this world,” Rob said. “You can’t give anything back you fought for.”
The fault of this partially lies with the elders of the gay community, who have not done a good job of passing the history of the movement along, he said, but it is their duty to remind everyone of the struggles that brought the movement here.
Modern Pride month is “about rainbows, it’s about family inclusion — and it is all about that stuff — but people still need to remember, it’s about beatings and us getting hunted down and killed like common animals,” Rob said.
Rob mentioned the 1991 attack on Paul Broussard, which happened in Houston while he was living there.
Broussard was beaten and stabbed by a carload of ten attackers after they confirmed he was gay by asking for directions to a gay bar. It took hours for the 27-year-old banker to be seen by a doctor, and gay advocates said homophobia and the assumption Broussard had AIDS led paramedics, police and hospital personnel to drag their feet, causing him to die of internal injuries, according to the Houston Press.
To combat forgetting these incidents, Rob is releasing a similar story every week on social media during Pride month, “so people really remember what this was about, because it’s not about cake, it’s not about all this shit, it’s about hate,” Rob said. “It’s about hate and that’s it. And until you get rid of the hate, you can’t have love, you can’t have all this other stuff — it’s about hate.”
I ask Rob how much hate still existed for the LGBTQ community, and he responded it depended where in the country you were referring to — he would not hold his husband’s hand in public in Birmingham, Alabama, for instance.
Marriage equality has greatly helped the LGBTQ movement, Rob said, but he mentions Gus Kenworthy and Adam Rippon, the first openly gay American Olympians, as a big step.
“Kids are looking at [them] — these are huge role models,” he said. “This is something this generation has never seen before.”
Jon Cowan started realizing he liked guys when he was 13.
He described it as an inkling at first, and dated girls as the idea developed, but realized he was “a fully fledged homosexual” when he was 16.
Coming out was “a little bit of a ‘my decision-not my decision thing,’” Jon said — he told a few people and the information got out.
“I just, at one point, was not bothered by it and owned it,” he said.
Jon was attending Onteora High School at the time, which educates students from a wide geographical area stretching from the edges of urban Kingston, though the chic, neo-hippie town of Woodstock, to the hamlets of the Catskill Mountains.
Jon knew of one student who was openly gay in the school before him — Liam Kahn, who ended up suing the school district for not protecting him from homophobic bullying, causing him to drop out his senior year, according to the Woodstock Times.
Liam wore pieces of women’s clothing and was flamboyant, Jon said, and “was really targeted and persecuted by the more redneck, backwoods community that went to that school during that period,” he said.
However, Jon felt the drama surrounding the bullying and the lawsuit defused much of the anti-gay sentiment by the time he came out, he said.
Jon’s mother was “ridiculously accepting” when he told her — Jon said he got very nervous beforehand, and his mom feared something horrible had happened, so when he finally spat it out, “She was like, ‘Oh my God, you’re just gay? Ok, great.’”
His friends were also generally excited and supportive of him coming out, Jon said, with the exception of his former girlfriend, “but I think that was more of a I-turned-you-gay thing for her.”
There was “absolutely” backlash from people in the school Jon did not know as well, however.
“They had no context,” he said. “Not to make it excusable, but they had absolutely no context of who I was, and it can be really hard…[to] adapt to changes in the world if you grew up in a town with less than 300 people, and most are closed-minded.”
There was one other openly gay student in his class of 102, Jon said. The student was “so flamboyantly extra” other students got the message without the student having to officially come out of the closet and therefore “nobody ever addressed it or was bothered by it.”
After leaving high school, Jon still had to deal with anti-gay slurs, though they were generally not directed at things having anything to do with homosexuality.
The youth these days, in turns out, still use the word “faggot” as an insult and “gay” to refer to undesirable things — such as a glass of lemonade with too much sugar in it — regardless of the lemonade’s sexual orientation.
Homophobia is so linguistically entrenched the slurs are disassociated from their origins, just as someone who calls a party “lame” isn’t trying to insult people with canes. Jon said he didn’t personally take offense to the words being used this way, but instead used it as an opportunity to educate people.
People who aren’t homophobic and do not intend to offend with the words need to realize “everything is half what you say and half how somebody takes it,” Jon said. He also doesn’t agree with gay men using the word “faggot” in comradery.
“I get trying to devalue the negative aspect (of the word) by putting a positive spin on it, but…to me, it’s something that’s just negative all around,” he said.
Jon is friends with older gay men, and he said he values their perspective, though some people of this cohort speak down to him because he has less life experience and didn’t live through times of greater prejudice.
Older gay men should realize times have changed, however, and younger gay men are freer to be exactly who they want to be, Jon said.
An example of the generational split is over the issue of the gay meet-up app Grindr and its variations, which are massively popular among younger gay men. The older gay man’s perspective, Jon said, is that “they’re purely for hook-ups,” but he has made a cornucopia of connections through Grindr, and argues the app, and the information revolution in general, are great for the gay community.
If people are raised in a community unaccepting of homosexuality, they are able to gain insight through the web, Jon said, and this availability of information is helping people accept the LGBTQ community, a process that Jon has seen accelerate even in his lifetime.
For the apps themselves, Jon believes they can create communities, especially in areas with little gay culture. Using the apps growing up in a town where the nearest gay people were 20 miles away was certainly beneficial for him.
“Otherwise, I would’ve been stuck as the only gay in the village,” he said.