TIMES ARE CHANGING – ON SCENE WITH BILL WILSON

BY BILL WILSON
Sentinel Photojournalist
Bill Wilson © 2010

When she looked me in the eye, I felt as if there was no one else in the room, even though it was filled with people attending the VIP reception GLAAD Media Awards. There was a time when I believed that someone would know I was gay just by looking me in the eye.
I spent a lot of time looking at my feet in fear and shame.

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But times change and I was talking with one of the latest examples of that change, country singer Chely Wright.

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Chely Wright on the GLAAD Media Award red carpet
Photo By Bill Wilson © 2010

I tried to tell her how moved I had been by her appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show”, but I felt it came out sort of gushing and garbled. When I said it was difficult to put into words she reassured me that I was doing a good job. I did my best to keep it short and not abuse her good nature. Soon I was back behind my camera and she was surrounded by other fans.

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Chely Wright singing at the GLAAD Media Awards in SF
Photo By Bill Wilson © 2010

There has been a lot of media coverage this year of the controversies raised by students who want to bring their same sex partners to the high school prom. One such couple honored by GLAAD was Derrick Martin and Richard Goodman. There was no problem with their school district in Georgia, they said, “Welcome! We can do without the lawsuit and bad publicity.” It was Derrick’s parents who kicked him out of the house. There was a visible, supportive, internet connected community to support Derrick, something that wouldn’t have been possible not so long ago. I am in awe of the kids whom have their sexuality figured out and the courage to express it when they are in high school. I wasted so much time and energy trying to deny my own sexuality until I was in my thirties.

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Wilson Cruz, Derrick Martin, Richard Goodman, Chely Wright and Mark Leno
at the GLAAD Media Awards in San Francisco
Photo By Bill Wilson © 2010

It was only possible for me to spend so much time and energy in the closet because there were no role models when I was growing up. There were gay people who were living openly, but if you were in denial it was easy to overlook them because it wasn’t mainstream. There is a slogan “Be the change you want to be” I look at the photo above and see gay actor, gay high school students, gay country singer and gay politician and realize that they are the change I wanted. Examples I could have used to know that I wasn’t alone or the only one with feelings for the same sex.

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Bill Wilson (second from left) is among those arrested
in front of the South African Embassy in Washington, DC
January 1984

The changes aren’t only in the United States. Look at the variety of countries that allow same sex marriages. Have we reached full equality? Of course we have not. There are many parts of the world where it is illegal to be gay and punished by death. But there are still people willing to risk it all by declaring their love. As I listened to the World Cup soccer that billions of people are watching all over the world I get a special warm feeling every time it is mentioned that the World Cup in being played in the rainbow nation of South Africa. We haven’t reached the final destination by any means but we are moving on the right path towards it!

See Related: ON SCENE WITH BILL WILSON

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BILL WILSON
Sentinel Photojournalist
Bill Wilson is a San Francisco-based veteran photojournalist. Bill embraced photojournalism at the age of eight. In recent years, his photos capture historic record of the San Francisco LGBT community in the Bay Area Reporter (BAR), The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The San Francisco Examiner, SFist, SFAppeal. Bill has contributed to the Sentinel for the past six years. Email Bill Wilson at wfwilson@sbcglobal.net.

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