My Uncle JimBob was the first gay person I ever knew. I am the second. JimBob was 80’s gay and fabulous. He and his partner Vance would show up to family holidays in fantastic floor length minks one year and mini-tees with “Luv Ya Blue” and “I’m A Pepper” the next. My large family was blue collar and full of men (five brothers and my mom). JimBob and Vance wore these outlandish costumes to be ironic. Perhaps to get to the punchline before my uncles could or perhaps because they were simply hilarious. While my straight uncles had a penchant for racism they were oddly gay friendly. It was pointed out to me later that JimBob was not my uncle but really a second cousin. Either way he and I were “family.”
JimBob contracted HIV in the 80’s. He died in the early 90’s. He was an oil and gas executive that broke glass ceilings at a company where no gay person was an executive. He was also the most successful person in our family professionally. JimBob, by today’s standards, was nothing spectacular. But for the 80’s he was a regular Susan B. Anthony. It’s through him that I am able to see how far our community has come. I felt in a way like the torch was passed to me when he died and when I came out. I am now a general counsel for a school district. I am heavily involved in politics. I am pretty successful and openly gay. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel for our movement on a good day.
My uncle, when he was on his deathbed in the hospital, used to have his meal set on the floor outside of the door of his hospital room because the nurses were afraid of AIDS (GRID at the time). My mother took me to visit him. She came to his door, saw the food on the tray on the floor and then had a Shirley MacLaine a la “Terms of Endearment” moment at the nurses station until a new tray had been made and served to him like a human being.
Ironically, it was also my mother who told her children to avoid hugging JimBob at holidays. She was scared too on some level. We never listened. We always hugged JimBob.
I am sad that I was so young when he died. I feel like we would have had so much in common and I feel like I really could have used his wisdom as I was growing up a gay teen and now adult. I turned out okay. But JimBob’s memory inspires me to fundraise, to fight, to one day become one of the first openly gay State Representatives in Texas.
I have an obligation to continue breaking ceilings and barriers for the GLBT people coming behind me. That’s how a revolution is won. We keep passing the torch. I think JimBob passed it to me. I plan on setting the world ablaze with it.