October 30, 2015

Two Recent Events Trigger Memories of My Turnaround Six Months, 1977-78

Event No. One: GLBT Panel at BNA/Bloomberg

OK. I know the company's name is Bloomberg/BNA. But BNA will always be first to me. Thanks to the man shown on the left in this photo who is responsible for the biggest turn around in my life:

His name is John D Stewart. He was executive editor of BNA in 1955 and later became BNA's President. That was the year I was kicked out of Cornell Law School in March of my third year after I was arrested for conduct that I don't remember because I was in an alcoholic blackout. But I was told it involved a men's dorm at Cornell.

I thought at the time that this was the worst thing that could have happened to me. But, thanks to John, it turned out to be the best. During my undergraduate and law school years, I had worked part-time at the library of Cornell's New York State School of Industrial Labor Relations. The head of the library, Gormley Miller, was a friend of John Stewart's. Gormley called John and, without going into specifics (which he didn't know), told him of my expulsion but nevertheless recommended that John interview me. As a result, within a month of my expulsion, I began work at BNA.

I met the woman who was to become my wife at BNA and spent 40 enjoyable and rewarding years working there.

BTW, the other man in the photo is Bill Beltz who was hired a year after I was. He succeeded John as executive editor and then as BNA's president. He also was a treasured friend.

Fast-Forward to Today
A year or so ago, some Bloomberg/BNA employees formed a GLBT group. They decided to hold a forum to discuss BNA's history in dealing with GLBT issues. I was surprised and pleased to be asked to be on the panel that would lead the discussion.

The pre-AIDS GLBT history at BNA, as in most workplaces, was pretty much a blank slate since only a few employees were open about their sexual orientation. But at BNA, there was a GLBT-related event in the late 1970s. I talked about this at the panel forum. Here's the story:

My marriage in 1957 resulted in part from work I had been doing with a therapist who specialized in converting men from gay to straight. But the marriage resulted primarily from the fact that I had fallen in love with my coworker Diana LeBlanc.

Twenty years later, I was working with a therapist who slowly and painfully made me realize that I needed  to stop living a life based on a lie. I came out to my wife and children in late October, 1977.

Since my wife was also working at BNA at the time, it was inevitable that I came out at BNA as well. I tried to meet privately with the coworkers who were close friends of mine so that I could tell them individually rather than have them find out from the BNA grapevine.

When I tell my coming-out story, I still tear up when I get to the part where I met with my drinking buddy Jack Boylan. When I told Jack that I was gay, there was a stunned silence. Then Jack said the words that have always meant so much to me:
As you well know, John, from our drunk talks, I'm prejudiced in this regard. But if you are one, I'll have to rethink my prejudices.
My coming out at BNA was in November, 1978. Each spring in the 60-plus years that BNA was employee owned, a vote was held at the April annual meeting of shareholders to elect 11 employees to the company's board of directors. All employee stockholders were eligible to vote.

I was first elected to the board in 1977 . But I fully expected to be voted off the board in 1978 after my disclosure about my sexual orientation. Instead, I was reelected with more votes than I had received the year before.

At the panel discussion, I cited my experience as evidence of the good that can result when gays and lesbians come out. In our discussion, most of us on the panel agreed that the big reason for the remarkably rapid acceptance of gays and lesbians in recent years was the flood of people coming out of the closet that resulted from the AIDS pandemic. Previously, the general public had thought that gays were the effeminate men depicted in the movies, TV and cartoons. As a result of the AIDS tragedy, people realized that gays included Rock Hudson and that nice young man next door.

The AIDS story was told and retold in plays, movies, books and magazines, often in a way that mixed tragedy heroism and humor. No other illness has had the dramatic and moving impact on the public that resulted from the Quilts Project.

I took this photo in October, 1996. For the third and last time, the entire AIDS Memorial Quilt spread across the vast Washington Mall. The man in the foreground is Frank Kameny, considered one of the most significant figures in the American gay rights movement. He also owned a house in the Palisades, my neighborhood in Washington, DC.

Being involved in the GLBT panel at Bloomberg/BNA was a welcome reminder that our country and our culture have made huge progress in accepting gays and lesbians over the course of my lifetime. I needed this happy story when so much of what is happening today is so depressing.

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This year's Palisades House Tour was a reminder of my other major turnaround  that happened in 1977-8. I'll talk about that next week.

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