You know as a ah, a white man, a product of the middle or upper middle class, uh. I’ve always been aware of the nature of racial prejudice. Intellectually. And deplored it. And hoped I wasn’t contributing to it or was maybe making this a little better. Yknow. (brief pause) But, hhh, when you experience it, when it slaps you in the face that’s when you begin to understand what other people go through. (beat) Um. (ehem cough) You know that my partner before I met Mike ah was named Norman. An Norman, uh died of AIDS in 95. Um, the last two years of his life he had a, a beautiful apartment in Brooklyn but, when he began to get sick we needed to move em to Manhattan. So that he’d be close to Cabrini Hospital and, uh, uh to his doctor and Gay Men’s Health Crisis, n yknow all those resources. (“tmt”) Ah-Of course finding an apartment in Manhattan is never easy. Ah it took us about six months to get situated. We finally found a really good place on east 11th Street. The building belonged to a gay landlord, and ah most of the tenants were gay. An the super was a Stonewall vet whom I know. Ivan Bell who was ah, a fabulous person. Ah, a drag queen. Ah, Ivan ws was great. Ah, but the process of finding that apartment was very difficult. Now Norman was raised in New Hamburg which is a little village on the Hudson, near Poughkeepsie. N he was the only black family in town. An, Norman most of the time talked like a valley boy. N we had the same experience over and over again. He would call up about an advertisement, n they would say,
Oh yes, uh the apartment’s available. Do come and see it.
N when he would show up it would be,
Oh, oh your Mr. Williams. Oh, I’m so sorry. W-we just rented the apartment an hour ago. I’m, I’m terribly sorry.
Well, after that happens a couple times you begin to wonder what’s goin on here yknow? Iscome to this one occasion when Norman wasn’t feeling well n the apartment was all the way up in, uh, near Fort Tryon Park. And ah, I don’t mean Fort Tryon-I mean, uh yeah it is Fort Tryon Park up in up in upper Manhattan. Yeah, where The Cloisters is. So I went up to see it by myself. And uh it wasn’t much of an apartment. We really weren’t that interested in it, but uh, you know I discussed it with the landlord. And uh I said, you know the, the rent will be subsidized by division of AIDS services. Uh and your tenant will be Mr. Williams and this is his ID n stuff. And the landlord looks it over n he says, bl-boldly, right to my face,
I’m not having no AIDS carryin nigger in my apartment building. The other tenants won’t stand for it.
N yknow, I was raised a WASP. WASPS don’t make scenes. I completely lost it. I I jus completely lost it. I was screaming at the guy yknow tht I couldn’t believe what he had just said to me. Tht I would sue him, n yknow n all this stuff right. And ah, he said,
Yeah go ahead and sue. By the time it gets to court your friend’ll be dead.
En-I I was just floored by th-the yknow the bigotry. The, the hard heartedness, the meanness. I-i jus absolutely floored me. I really don’t think I’d ever experienced anything quite like, that before. It, at that point I began ta have some inkling, of what it was like to be a black man in America. Yknow, ah, n I’m not gonna say I understood it because I’m not a black man. N you have to live that whole life to understand it. But I began to get an inkling to that point yknow. And ah, I-yknow I went home. I was terribly upset. I went back to the apartment. Ah, n I told Norm about it. An I thought he, yknow would get upset too but he didn’t. Ah, Norman was, was. Norman was a shaman. He was part Wicken. Ah, part Native American shaman. He was part Native American. N he just got very sad an he said,
I feel bad for that man because, he doesn’t have a heart he just has a little stone.
An Norman went off and in spite of the fact he wasn’t feeling well, he did a magical working to send the guy love. Which, I think demonstrates clearly that Norman was a better man than I am. (“tmt”) Cause that’s not what I woulda sent him. I woulda sent him a plate of scorpions. (beat) But, the interesting thing is, an ah-I’ll just tell you this as it happened and you can take it for what’s it worth. Ah, three days later the landlord called up and he said he was sorry he’d said that we could have the apartment if we wanted it. Ah, but at which point we’d found the place on e 11th Street so we said no. But thank you but. (“tmt”) That was a transformational experience. It certainly was. (pause) There were so many-experiences like that. I know in the-in the first ah, the very first ah first, gay rights marches after Stonewall. Ah. Well, going back to Stonewall. I wasn’t at the Stonewall Riots ah, I was as I, think I mentioned I was in Boston that week. N I was making an elderly banker a very happy man. But when I heard on the news what was going I-I came right back, ah on the train. An the train got to Penn Station, very early in the morning, uh the day after it was all over. N yknow I, Christopher Street was where I hung out. I knew the people who were involved in this, n, or some of them anyway, n so I, I went right down there to see if I could find somebody that could tell me what, ah, yknow, what had really happened. (beat) And, and I got down there. Iwas around seven in the morning I think, when I got there. (“tmt”) And there was nobody on the street. Ah, but you could still smell the smoke like from a burning cop car. And ah, there was, yknow debris n so on n so forth. It was, quite evident there’d been a major dust up. (“tmt”) But, about half way down Christopher Street, ah there was a, a young boy tht was sweeping up glass, on the sidewalk. N he was singing to himself that song from West Side Story. Ah, “There is a place for us. Somewhere a place for us.” Ah, “Take my hand and I’ll, lead you there. Someplace, sometime, somewhere.” And that was probably the most important transformational moment of my life. It jus- it just overwhelmed me. Ah, I was absolutely frozen in place. By the realization tht – that um, (“tmt”) there had to be a place for us n a time for us. And it was here, and it was now. That had to be.