June was busting out all over in 1969. It was a magical time for me because I graduated in June on Friday the 13th. I never took that date to be inauspicious. Rather, I felt that it was a day for new beginnings.
My high school days had never been particularly kind to me, as I suspect they weren’t for most gay people. This was especially true in the 60s, when nonconformity would get you taunted by your peers and suspended by the authorities. We had dress standards and hair standards and jockstrap inspections.
Ah, graduation! I would rather not have gone to my graduation, but my middle class family would have none of that. The grandparents, the aunts and uncles, were all there to see me, the first boy in the family to ever graduate from high school. They were so proud.
It was a long ceremony outside in the warmth of the June sun, and since my last name starts with a W, my family and I had a long wait before my diploma was conferred. While jostling around in our green and gold caps and gowns before the ceremony, we seniors had to write our names on slips of papers to be handed to the principal when it was our turn. He would then solemnly pronounce our names and smile and shake our hands as the vice principal and counselors sorted through the diplomas. The jocks and the jokers of my school all goofed around of course, saying how cool it would be if they wrote Mickey Mouse or Ima Fink, or something just as inane on their slips.
I guess it was just getting my last lick in at the establishment, but I was the only student out of 300 who didn’t write my correct name. Instead I wrote “Edgar Beauregard Williams,” which is what the Principal read to the bewilderment of my relatives. Grandma scolded me later. But at the time I didn’t care. Principal Strong didn’t know me from Adam and I knew it. But I was now free, and in a small way this was my rebellion against the restraints of societal expectations. I was done with being the world’s best little boy.
Our Senior Graduation Party was held at Disneyland. I didn’t want to go. I had no real connection with my classmates. John Cunningham didn’t want to be locked up all night either, so we made our own plans for Grad Night. I didn’t care that John did not feel about me the way I felt about him; it just felt great that he wanted to spend Graduation Night with me. To outsiders it might have appeared that we were on a date, but I tried to maintain the illusion that we were just buddies out for pizza and a movie. The two of us went to Me and Ed Pizza, then to the movies to see Goodbye Columbus, and then to the old Huntington Beach Pier, which at that time extended a quarter of a mile out in to the ocean.
We walked slowly, stopping at points to see the stars and the lights reflected on the waves. The moon was a sliver and the stars glittered. It was one of the most romantic nights of my life. I was never sure what John felt about me leaning into him as close as I dared. I let John talk and I listened. He never spoke about us because there wasn’t any “us” for him. But I was bound and determined that there would be an us while John and I were together staring at the waning crescent moon.
In 1969 as an 18-year-old, I had no vocabulary for how I felt about John. I knew I loved John, but men did not love other men in the intimate romantic way I did. Homosexuals and queers were loathsome things, and I knew above all else that my love for John was not loathsome. Yet I felt that it was shameful. A secret. A secret love.
But times were a-changing even if I was not aware that they were. In the June 1969 issue of the Advocate, editor Dick Michaels prophesied: “L.A.’s homosexuals could be a very potent economic and political force IF UNITED. The time has come for a new leadership to rise from the wreckage of the past.”
In that same issue future gay historian Jim Kepner wrote: “A new kind of homosexual movement is shaping up bypassing the corpses … Homosexuals are beginning to move freely and surely in their own milieu — and accept their sexuality.”
On the East Coast, however, things seemed to be the same. On June 3, about 15 paddy wagons pulled up to a homosexual rendezvous near the docks on the East River in New York City. Cops emerged and beat people to the ground. About a week later the homophile organization Mattachine Society of New York dispersed leaflets denouncing the harassment of homosexuals by New York City police. The Mattachine Society predicted retribution by the homosexual community if the police continued the brutality against them.
Back in Utah, a Brigham Young University student who had been suspended on the mere suspicion of homosexuality was arrested on June 18 when he was spotted on campus after his suspension. He was taken to court by BYU for trespassing.
A few days later on the summer solstice, the film The Killing of Sister George was reviewed by the Salt Lake Tribune. Accompanying the article was a still from the film that showed two lesbian couples dancing. To my knowledge, this was the first time the newspaper used the word lesbian. The film is a drama about an aging British soap opera star. She is also a lesbian struggling with keeping the affection of a younger woman while trying to keep her television character from being axed.
On the first full day of summer, June 22, 1969, gay icon Judy Garland died at the age of 47 in the Chelsea section of London. Immediately much of the older gay generation went into mourning. Flags were lowered to half mast on Fire Island in New York City. Every gay person alive at that time knew where they were when they heard the news. Today there’s no one personality that so united gay men as did Judy Garland.
The Salt Lake Tribune acidly commented on her death writing, “Although she had tried suicide countless times, Scotland Yard said her death was due to natural causes. She suffered from hepatitis, exhaustion, kidney ailments, nervous break downs, near fatal drug reactions, over weight, under weight, and injuries suffered in falls. She was Hollywood’s queen of the comebacks.” Bitch.
What the Salt Lake Tribune did not mention was that little Dorothy Gale had come to symbolize to the gays of her generation all the suffering heaped upon those who simply wanted to be like her “over the rainbow.” “If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow, why, oh, why can’t I?”
A week later a revolution would begin in New York City, one spurred on by the ghost of Judy Garland — or so says the lore.