Marching in Washington prompts bigger steps One way forward is out

April 28, 1993|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,Staff Writer

On the day after the gay rights march in Washington, Paul Adamczak took a political stand during his lunch break.

His action was small, but it was public. And for the state government worker, who generally eschews confrontation, it was something of a moment of truth.

As he stood in the lunchroom of his Belair office building, he overheard three colleagues discussing the march. One referred to the participants as "faggots" and said if he'd had a gun, he'd have blown away a few.

Mr. Adamczak thought about shrugging it off. Thought long and hard, as a matter of fact. Then the quiet 28-year-old remembered how he felt Sunday as he walked side by side with hundreds of thousands of people like him.

"At that point, I made a clear decision that wasn't easy, just like talking about it now, and I turned around," said Mr. Adamczak. He confronted the two women and the man, saying that for him, the weekend's event was a march for civil rights.

"We had a small discussion. It was not very easy and not very positive," he said. One woman walked away, saying she didn't want to talk about homosexuality. The others, Mr. Adamczak felt, didn't listen.

As the debate continues over the number of people who attended last weekend's march, many gays and lesbians are continuing their struggle for acceptance by standing up to be counted in smaller, subtler ways.

Some, like Mr. Adamczak, are taking public stands for their cause. Others are telling their families or co-workers that they're gay. Still others are making private resolutions to work toward greater openness.

But no matter the method, for most gays, coming out is a slow and difficult process, completed in incremental steps.

For Mr. Adamczak, the march, followed by his colleagues' comments, crystallized a feeling that he should take an increasingly public stance on gay issues. "I was involved with the Clinton campaign and I was brought to that part of involvement because of the Republican Convention," he said. "When I attended the march it was another step."

For the majority of gays, says Tim Mason, a member of the Maryland organizing committee, coming out is a series of steps in which people come to terms with themselves and their sexuality, then choose to let others know in widely varying ways and time frames.

"It's not like you call everyone you know and by the end of the day you're out. You might tell your parents one day, your friend another and your aunts a year later," he said. "It's a self-preservation thing because the fear of rejection is overwhelming."

On the drive home from the march, Mr. Mason, who has been open with his parents for some time, found himself resolving to go even more public.

"I've never been an activist. I only started volunteering for the march about eight or nine months ago," he said. "Now I think I'm going to have to be. The march has given me the kick in the pants."

During the week before the march, Daniel Watkins, a project manager for a local construction company, decided it was time his co-workers learned he was gay.

In many ways, he was already "out," the 43-year-old says. He has a lover and was a member of the organizing committee for the march.

But while his mother has known of his sexual orientation for 15 years, her friends, his colleagues, and his sister and aunt do not, he says.

In the last few days before the march, Mr. Watkins agreed to be interviewed by the local media. Then he brought the interviews to his co-workers' attention.

In particular, he told a man with whom he'd worked for years that he was gay, he says.

And it was hard.

"I took a deep breath. My heart was pounding because the fear of rejection is very strong. And you're treading on thin ice when you're dealing with an office because there's a lot of people and a lot of talk," he said.

The co-worker's reaction was positive, Mr. Watkins says. And since Sunday, a few colleagues have asked him how things went in Washington.

And although his mother fears her friends will reject her because of her son's sexuality, he has resolved to be even more open. "I'm at the point in my life where I just have to do what I have to do," he said. "But I'm torn between honoring my parents and doing what I need to do. . . .

"I want to tell my sister and aunt. The march sort of served as a catalyst in a personal way and political way. . . .

"It gave me more confidence that I wasn't alone, that it's time that more of us do this."

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