Activist sees hope in gays' plight


April 20, 1993|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,Staff Writer

To Cameron Wolf, co-chair of the Maryland Organizing Committee for Sunday's gay rights march in Washington, these are days of frustration and hope.

His frustration grows out of what he sees as continuing threats to gays, evidenced by incidents of gay bashing, reports of job discrimination, and the controversy over permitting gays in the military.

His hope is based on the Clinton administration, recent attention to gay rights by the media, and organizers' projections that 1 million people will attend the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation.

A soft-spoken sociology major at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, Mr. Wolf became an activist a few years ago when people he knew began to die of AIDS. The 28-year-old, who wears a March On Washington T-shirt he designed, is a photographer whose work is shown at local galleries.

QUESTION: President Clinton met Saturday with organizers of the march in the Oval Office. Some gay leaders called the meeting historic while others were critical of the president, pointing out that he had not promised to attend the march. How do you feel about it?

ANSWER: The very fact that he met with them is historic. The fact that he is meeting and addressing these issues is very hopeful. It means that -- unlike other administrations -- this one is not ignoring the issue, our issue. We need to build on this meeting, we need to continue to press for our demands to be met.

Q: How does the movement to lift the ban on gays in the military differ from the effort to integrate the military racially?

A: It doesn't differ at all as far as civil rights are concerned. Trying to justify discrimination against any citizen for any reason, be it race, religion, sex or sexual preference, is intolerable.

It is different in that being gay can be invisible. Being invisible can be a strength because it proves we do look like anyone else. We are just like everyone else, we come from all walks of life. But being invisible is a weakness because our issues are underreported because we can be unseen and ignored.

Q: Do you think that the White House -- one administration -- can change public opinion?

A: Public opinion changes over time and it changes slowly. But the fact that we have a liberal, Democrat president in the White House shows that public opinion has changed since the long years of Republican administrations. It shows people are beginning to open their hearts and minds toward greater acceptance and tolerance.

For the people in this country who care about civil rights, I think awareness is growing. We can't allow the right wing to dictate what our lives should be with their sexist and racist ways. What we are asking for in this march is not special privileges, it is basic human rights -- to be treated as human beings, to be allowed to develop to our full potential.

Q: Gays and lesbians supported the Clinton campaign. How do you think gays and lesbians feel toward the president now?

A: There's a lot of hope, a lot of expectation. Frustration is there. Anger is there, too. All of these feelings are present, but I think that time will tell and we need to give the president our support -- and our voice -- so there's no question that we're heard.

Q: If AIDS hadn't occurred, do you think the march would be receiving as much attention nationally from the media, politicians and from gays and lesbians?

A: The gay rights movement really began in the '70s in places like San Francisco and New York City, but the AIDS epidemic really brought the attention of the public to our issues. . . . Without AIDS, there probably wouldn't be as strong a response [to the march] throughout the whole country but some would argue the gays-in-the-military issue is every bit as important and has mobilized many people.

Q: How do political issues differ for gays and lesbians?

A: One particular concern that lesbians have is women's health care. They have taken many steps in activism for better health care and research on issues like breast cancer. They are active in fighting for freedom of choice and control over their own bodies -- this is one of the planks in the platform we have for the march.

Q: When you think of yourself, when you think of what defines you as a person, where does being gay fit in?

A: Not that big an issue for me. If not for the fact that you get bombarded everywhere you go with subtle and not-subtle anti-gay messages that say, "You don't fit in," it wouldn't be an everyday issue.

But it has become more and more an everyday consideration as anti-gay initiatives creep closer and closer to my personal life.

Q: What discrimination have you encountered personally?

A: When I was younger I got beaten up for being gay before I even knew I was gay.

Q: How did the antagonists know you were gay, if you didn't

know you were gay?

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