I was a teenager when Dave Marston[i] killed himself in 1965.
He had been married his entire adult life; he and his wife had two teenagers. He was a court reporter, had a coveted job in state court, made good money, was well-liked and respected by his judge and his colleagues. But there were rumors that he was gay.
A couple of tough-guy bailiffs devised a strategy to find out if it was true and, if so, to expose him. One of them, over a period of weeks, pretended to be interested in a sexual relationship with Dave. Dave responded, claimed the bailiff when he reported Dave as a “deviant” to the court administration. Dave was fired and, in less than a week, everyone in the legal community knew the details of what had happened. His wife divorced him. He was not allowed to have any contact with his children.
A court reporter who owned a deposition agency took Dave on as a freelancer and gave him work reporting civil depositions, mostly small-time cases. Dave was an excellent reporter, conscientious and careful, polite and punctual. Many lawyers were happy to have him assigned to their depositions, but some didn’t want to be in the same room with him and told Dave’s boss never to send “the queer” to their offices. Dave barely made enough money to pay for the court-ordered child support, alimony and the rent on his modest one-bedroom furnished apartment. He worked there for two years.
One Monday morning Dave’s boss got a call from an irate client. Dave was scheduled to have been at his office at 9:00 AM for a deposition and hadn’t shown up by 9:45. Dave’s boss sent another reporter to the deposition, then called a friend.
Dave’s boss and his friend went to Dave’s apartment and had the landlord let them in. They found Dave’s dead body in his bed, covers pulled up over his shoulders, an empty prescription bottle and half a quart of vodka on the nightstand, along with a note.
You might think the bailiffs would be sorry they had hounded a man to his death, but it was said one of them told folks around the courthouse he was happy to have “rid decent people of one of those fags.”
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In 2007 my three-year-old granddaughter was enrolled in a preschool class in San Francisco that had two teachers, one of whom is a lesbian. This woman and her partner have two children; their daughter was a student at the school, though not in her mother’s classroom. That same year, one of my granddaughter’s classmates was a boy whose parents are gay men.
My granddaughter would refer to Justin’s dads and Emily’s moms in the same tone of voice she used when describing what the kids had done that day at playtime in the courtyard. She and her classmates thought it far more mysterious that some kids have curly hair and some have straight. It wouldn’t have ever occurred to her that there was anything at all unusual about Justin’s or Emily’s families.
Because there isn’t.
# # #
I was born in 1950 at the end of the baby boom. I turned 60 last month which (she protests) isn’t old, though I would have believed at 30 that it is. If you’re young, you might struggle with this idea, but 1965 wasn’t that long ago. The men of my generation fought the Vietnam War. Schools were segregated, by neighborhood if not by law, in Southern California when I was a child and a teenager.
Dave Marston was the first gay person I had ever heard of, and I learned about him only because my mother was his typist and Dave’s boss came to our house to tell us how he had died. The subject was simply never discussed in the white bread, middle class world I lived in. Gays and lesbians weren’t just discriminated against and mistreated and humiliated, like people of racial minorities were. They had to hide. They had to be invisible.
The society my granddaughter knows still isn’t one where homosexuals have the same civil rights as every other human being, but it should be.