Joe Sigman, a singer in our bass section, shares his story of growing up gay and participating in activism.
And the story goes... I, Joseph Sigman, was born in Chicago in 1959; turning ten years old the year of the Stonewall uprising. I have spent my adult years walking and marching for human rights.
I knew I was gay at age three (didn’t know the term then) but as I grew I eagerly watched the movement of brave souls in the late 60s take to the streets and fight oppression. We were tired of being closeted and treated with disregard.
I watched the movement, silently, with anger and joy in my heart all at the same time. Anger at those around me vocalizing the same sentiments of oppression, and elated that we were moving out of the darkness and into the light, in spite of age old norms. I wanted freedom from the religious establishments and non-faith bigots that tried to instill self-hate teachings in our world.
During 1969 and moving forward, I read all the news articles and watched all the television reports to see how my tribe was fairing amidst this new renaissance. I was amazed to see brave drag queens like Marsha P. Johnson, transgender Latinas like Sylvia Rivera, and Stormé DeLarverie, a Lesbian tip the balance on June 28th 1969 to start the beginning of the contemporary LGBTQ++ rights movement.
As I grew up and reached my early twenties, I came to realize how important those early activists were in standing up for what was right and just. Of course, I guess you could say that I had some skin in the game, since my first boyfriend and I met in fifth grade at age 10, and we spent one and one-half years in love until we moved from our neighborhood.
I, too, learned to fight and walk for our community when the tide turned in my early twenties as many of my friends and acquaintances started dying from AIDS. Some gay, some lesbian, some bisexual, some transgender, and yes, some straight. I joined ActUp and spent time marching and laying in the streets in downtown Chicago in protest for government recognition of the virus as well as funding for research and diagnostic initiatives. I moved to New York City in the later mid-80s and continued to stand for our tribe. We marched on Washington and demonstrated in many cities around the world.
Twenty years after Stonewall, on December 10, 1989, I marched to St Patrick's Cathedral with approximately 4500 protesters. We were very angry with John Cardinal O’Connor’s admonishment of safer sex education and condom use during desperate times. We were trying to save people's lives. We rose, we protested, we offended, but we were brave enough to educate our children to save their lives. In every protest, some people or organizations may be offended, but that should not stand in the way of saving people's lives. We fought against bias from religious organizations, government establishments, and corporations, specifically big Pharma and Biotech companies.
Part of the energy to stand up was about grief and loss, but I also believe it came from the brave souls that rose up at Stonewall twenty years earlier and taught my generation how to challenge the norm. I was afraid. We were all afraid, but finding strength through our voices somehow allowed us to cope during dire times. And things did eventually shift in the right direction.
That first rebellion at Stonewall changed the tide. Those individuals made it a bit easier for our generation to rally from a place of strength and light in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, when darkness shadowed the lives of many across the globe. Our lesbian sisters were on the forefront of that fight and I am forever thankful.
We created “Walks” to raise money to provide research and treatments, we were instrumental in developing new Biotech companies to move diagnosis and treatment to a new level in a fast track way, and we still walk today to support our survivors and provide treatment to keep our youth and HIV negative populations from becoming infected. From a place of humbleness and thanks, I want to acknowledge the supportive families, our peers, our companies, and our allies all over the world who stepped up to make sure we could thrive once again. I am thankful to know young people today have preventative methods and treatment options to address HIV infection.
We have been able to see all the advances of our human rights efforts, but beware my friends, keeping vigilant and staying steadfast are key to our survival. We see that the tide can shift quickly. We need to continue to be on the forefront of change today in support of gender non-conforming individuals, LGBTQ++ senior care, and housing for our homeless LGBTQ++ youth. We have to stay vigilant so our community can thrive well into the future. I sense that we have to form coalitions and organizations to ensure we do not lose our communities.
Glorious Beauties UNITE, and keep walking!
LGCSF will be performing "Quiet No More", a brand new choral suite celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, at our OUT in the Streets concert on May 31. Get tickets at https://stonewall50.brownpapertickets.com/.