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Remembering Famous People Who Changed Our Lives

09/12/2013 08:54 am ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

I remember LILY TOMLIN. She's one of the world's and the nation's best loved actrresses, She and I shared early adulthood (without knowing it)during energetic, creative days in Detroit. Seeking early employment in the theatre, she waited on tables in motor city restaurants to earn a living. I labored in the same geographical area as a newly ordained Episcopal priest working as a communty organizer. Both of us appeared at different times on the stage of a black coffeehouse theatre called the Unstabled. Now we can remember affectionately shared memories of people who helped us, got us started, listened to us and took us seriously.

I remember JAMES BALDWIN. Friends called him Jimmy. Often he traveled with an entourage. He became internationally famous. Always I cherished his candor, fierce courage as an outspoken man who refused to let the world define him, and fathomless vulnerability. Partygoing with him one night in Madrid held as much intensty as a bullfight. My favorite books of his are "Notes of a Native Son" and "Nobody Knows My Name."

I remember MOLLY HASKELL. When she was at the helm of Mademoiselle magazine (and one of the most inflluential women in the U.S.) Molly inviited me to become the first male to write a cover story for her publication. It was entitled "Who's Afraid of Women Priests -- And Why Are They Afraid." The assignment made me dig deep into my thought processes and feelings. For one thing, I woke up. Our culture had been living a corporate lie seemingly forever.

I remember LANGSTON HUGHES. As guests of the Karamu Playhouse, in interracial cultural center, we were invited to give a public reading of our work ogether. A global icon the great black writer was relaxed and extraordinarily kind. Probably I took myself entirely too seriously. When he glanced into my soul, the great writer was generous to a fault. In fact, he was kind enough to take me seriously. What a gift this was.

I remember HARRY HAY. He seems as close to being a gay George Washington as we're likely to get. He was a principal founder of the Mattachine Society -- the first ongoing gay organization in the nation -- and decades later was identified with the Radical Faerie movement, a visionary approach to gay cobnsciousness. He could be rough, tender, controversial. I remember a big birthday party was thrown for Harry and his partner John Burnside at the Silver Lake home I've long shared with Mark Thompson. Harry died on October 24, 2002, He raised three major questions concernikng gay people: (1)who are we? (2) where have we come from? (3) what are we for?

I remember SHEILA KUEHL. A delightfully natural woman without pretense, she is an ace politician. We met when she invited me to be a guest on her TV show entitled "Get Used To It.": Her meaning was clear. In its entirety the title rang out: " Get Used to It, We're Here, We're Queer." Sheila wasn't in any sense your run of the mill TV personality. For one thing, her charm was absolutely natural. She wasn't grinning at you out of a toothpaste ad. Her questions weren't absurdly simplistic, leading nowhere. Indeed, here was a valid human being. Nor was Sheila just doing a TV show. Next she was elected to the California State Senate. A favorite memory I have of her is during the annual big gay parade in West Hollywood. I was riding on a float. The parade moved slowly through a huge number of people who were happy and clapping. Then, suddenly, I saw Sheila seated on a curb. Not riding in the parade this year.Just takng itall in, laughing, celebrating in the midst of her people, Now Sheila is in action once again. She is running for election to the all-powerful Los Angeles Board of Supervisors.

Memories. So many memories. Let's start an altogether fresh list of new people in our lives, shall we? Before long, perhaps we can turn them into an altogether new list of memories too.