Sunday, August 29, 2010

A comfort zone for gays, lesbians – August 28, 2010,

…MERT PRESTON, 84, has naught but positive to say about his three decades as a gay man in Santa Rosa.

Despite his age, the former auto parts dealer’s experience is comparatively recent. He didn't come out, he told me, until he was 55 years old, after a long marriage and four children. Photo

“I was a good heterosexual. My first contact with a man came when I was 48. By the time I came out, I had done a lot of therapy, read a lot of books, was sure of what I was doing.”

…Since 1980, when he first became involved in the issues, things have changed.
“As weird as this may seen, a big shift came with the AIDS pandemic. People realized that gay men were hurting, that they were human.”

The gay jokes diminished, the caricature gay man faded. “I saw our town change,” Mert said. “Every town changed. People changed.”

…Numbers are also important, he said. “Another big factor in why we’re looked at differently is that more of us are out and willing to come out. People are used to us.”

He credits the religious community with effecting change. “A lot of churches have changed dramatically. Even in the Catholic Church, which doesn’t support us, there are priests — not gay priests, just priests — who do.”

Many Protestant churches have programs that bring gays and straights together, he said citing the Congregationalists’ “Open and Affirming” program as well as the group called “Positive Images” that sends speakers to schools and clubs, educating people to think in new ways...

…He talked about how it was growing up and growing older as a homosexual man in Santa Rosa, back when the words “fairy” and “fag” were tossed around indiscriminately.

“Everything was sub rosa,” he said. “The most important thing was being discreet. One didn’t come out, even to one’s own family in those days. Our parents weren’t stupid. They knew. It just wasn’t discussed.”

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