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Gay History Month: Profiles
2006-10-25

This article shared 3232 times since Wed Oct 25, 2006
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From left: Waddell, Baldwin and Kramer. Below: Rev. Perry.

________

Tom Waddell

A testament to the inclusiveness and diversity of the gay community, Dr. Tom Waddell's vision of a global gay sporting event resulted in the first-ever Gay Games. Held in 1982 in San Francisco, with nearly 1,350 athletes competing from 12 countries, the Gay Games have grown into one of the most popular sporting events in the world. Modeled after the Olympics, the seventh Gay Games, held in the summer of 2006 in Chicago, drew some 12,000 athletes and 140,000 spectators of all races and sexualities.

Athletics played a dominant role in Waddell's life. He used sports to compensate for his growing sexual attraction to men. He excelled as a gymnast and football star at Springfield College, and immediately began training for the decathlon following his graduation in 1959. It was his athletic talent that, despite being drafted into the Army in 1966, allowed him to avoid serving in Vietnam and instead train for the 1968 Olympics, where he placed sixth out of 33 decathlon participants. But following a knee injury in 1972, Waddell decided to shift his focus to medicine, his primary course of study. His medical knowledge led him to work throughout the Middle East, including a role on the Saudi Arabian Olympic team in 1976 as team physician.

After seven years, Waddell returned home to San Francisco and conceptualized a gay sporting event after participating in one of the city's gay bowling leagues. He traveled across the country promoting the idea of the 'Gay Olympics.' Despite a successful injunction by the United States Olympic Committee and a later Supreme Court ruling over the word 'Olympic,' the event was a resounding success even with the last-second name change. After being diagnosed with AIDS in 1985, Waddell continued his love for athletics, competing in and winning the javelin throw at Gay Games II in 1986. His life ended in July 1987 from his illness. Despite his loss, the memory of Waddell will always animate the spirit of inclusiveness and diversity paramount to the Gay Games and to the community.

Troy Perry

Troy Perry founded the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches ( MCC ) as an outlet for gay and lesbian individuals who wanted to maintain and expand their faith. The first congregation of the MCC, comprising 12 members, met in Perry's Los Angeles livingroom in 1968, expanding to more than 300 congregations across the world today with a message of unconditional salvation. The church addresses the needs of LGBT Christians and has served as a beacon for Perry to become one of the world's leading gay activists. A religious individual all his life, Perry felt that despite being excommunicated from the Church of God and other Pentecostal denominations due to his sexuality, God still loved him. He became inspired to start his own sect after a rejuvenation period of his faith, including divorce, estrangement and a failed suicide attempt.

The unique idea of gays and lesbians sharing their religious faith has been covered by a plethora of media outlets across the world, launching Perry as a spiritual leader in the 16 countries with MCC congregations. Along with leading the church, he served as an official delegate to the White House Conference on Hate Crimes and the White House Conference on AIDS during Bill Clinton's administration, and was among the first group of individuals to be invited to the White House to discuss LGBT civil rights in 1977 under Jimmy Carter. He also protested against the Los Angeles Police Department harassment of gays, and helped organize marches on Washington in 1979 and 1987. The 1987 march called upon President Reagan to change his lackluster response to the AIDS epidemic, which had caused the deaths of many church members. Perry retired as moderator of the church in 2005, but continues to speak on the gay-rights movement, HIV/AIDS and equality, all the while maintaining his faith and encouraging others to embrace their own. He has written three books, including his autobiography The Lord Is My Shepherd and He Knows I'm Gay.

Tammy Baldwin

Tammy Baldwin is the only out lesbian in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Democratic congresswoman from Wisconsin's 2nd District since her election in 1998, Baldwin has been a champion of gay rights during her tenure, as well as a host of other issues, including healthcare, the environment and women's rights. Her political career has spanned more than two decades, from her beginnings on the Dane County ( Wis. ) Board of Supervisors to her fourth consecutive term in Congress. Born and raised in her congressional district by her Caucasian mother and African-American stepfather, Baldwin knew from experience at an early age the privilege given to her because of her race, but also the hardships faced as a result of both her gender and her sexuality. She attended Smith College in Massachusetts, majoring in government and mathematics, and immediately after graduation returned home to Wisconsin to begin her political career and attend The University of Wisconsin Law School. In addition to serving as a Dane County supervisor, she was a Wisconsin state representative for five years until her election to national office. Many considered her grassroots campaign in 1998 far too liberal, but Baldwin did not compromise, standing strong in her support of universal healthcare, advanced care for the elderly, public funding for day-care programs and stricter environmental standards. All the issues for which Baldwin stands are the results of her own experiences. Her grandmother had extensive medical expenses which Baldwin helped pay for, shaping her views on healthcare, specifically for the elderly. Growing up within her mother's and stepfather's families helped enlighten her on the importance of family support, an idea she has broached through day-care reform. But perhaps the largest inspiration for Baldwin's political career has been her mother, who turned around an addiction to prescription drugs and became a counselor, working with patients suffering from similar addictions. Baldwin, like her mother, has overcome tremendous challenges and become a positive role model for both her Wisconsin constituents and the entire LGBT community.

Larry Kramer

A talented screenwriter, playwright, and staunch AIDS activist, Larry Kramer has made contributions to battling the epidemic that transcend mere words on paper. Born in 1935, Kramer was already an established writer when the first infections spread throughout America. His screenplay adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's Women in Love received an Academy Award nomination in 1970, and his 1978 novel, Faggots, became a best-seller, trumping heated criticism over its negative portrayals of homosexuals. Just three years after Faggots' release, the first AIDS cases hit New York, and Kramer immediately began urging action to stop the spread of the disease and to help those already devastated. He co-founded the Gay Men's Health Crisis ( GMHC ) , which provided much-needed care and support to gay men with the disease, many of whom had been rejected by hospitals and shunned by others in the community. Beginning as a small gathering in Kramer's apartment, GMHC boasts a huge list of breakthroughs for AIDS support, including the first AIDS hotline, which received 100 calls its first night; the first AIDS Walk, with 4,500 walkers raising $710,000; and the first million-dollar fundraiser, an art auction held at Sotheby's. Despite the group's success, Kramer left his position at GMHC in 1983 due to its perceived lack of political presence. He realized his growing political desires in 1987, co-founding the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power ( ACT UP ) , which continues today in reduced numbers. ACT UP became known for its militant protests and civil disobedience, including famed disruptions on Wall Street, at the New York City General Post Office and at the National Institutes of Health, as well as a brief takeover of the CBS Evening News in 1991.

Though the groups he established are responsible for some of Kramer's fame, he continued his playwriting, touching upon his own experiences as a gay man during the AIDS crisis in 1986's The Normal Heart, one of the most acclaimed works of the AIDS era and of Kramer's career.

Regardless of whether his political or cultural discourse dominates his body of work, Kramer will be remembered as one of the earliest and most influential AIDS activists. He currently lives in New York and Connecticut with his partner.

— Jason Villemez


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