by Tom Kirdahy
Tom Kirdahy has dedicated his professional career and personal life working for LGBT causes. Tom spent nearly two decades as an attorney providing free legal services to people with HIV/AIDS, helping to create projects at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Bronx AIDS Services and on Long Island. Tom currently serves on the board of the LGBT Center. Separately, Tom has raised the curtain on the second act of his career as a theater producer, receiving a Tony nomination as one of the lead producers of RAGTIME.
In 1986 I was completing my first year at NYU law school, drinking 3 for 1 vodka tonics while watching DYNASTY at Uncle Charlie’s and falling in love for the first time. The days of walking past gay bars afraid to enter had ended. The days of living out and proud for me were just beginning.
For better or worse, those nights at Uncle Charlie’s and the masculine scented taste of my first amorous kisses came right around the time when nonstop funerals were becoming routine in our community. It was a titillating, confusing, exhilarating time. In the face of so much loss I was experiencing the giddy joys of sexuality and freedom.
25 years ago we were making headlines by getting condom machines in dormitories at NYU, meeting at the NYC LGBT Center during the creation of ACT UP and taking to the streets to demand that the Reagan administration do something—ANYTHING—about AIDS. Family planning meant wills, health care proxies and powers of attorney; in other words, family planning meant giving our families legal definitions in the wake of death. Gaining successorship rights in our apartments, ensuring that our loved ones be protected legally in our bequests and honoring our wishes during the last days of our lives through the creation of health care proxies were the means by which we ensured the law acknowledged our families.
Today, family planning means adoption, surrogacy and marriage. It means planning for a bright and glorious future. I serve on the Board of the NYC LGBT Center. Every day our family services programs grow. The demands LGBT people make on the Center will no longer come from a place of victimization or second class citizenship–the desperate cries of a community in crisis. The floodgates of freedom have opened. Apologists no more, LGBT people today are demanding our place at the table; our wants are no longer the torturous pleas of a community living in survival mode. Twenty-five years ago community luminaries were most likely to be found in the obituaries. Today, we go straight to the Styles Section to find out who got hitched.
Uncle Charlie’s is now a hamburger joint. I no longer drink. And we no longer have to search for gay characters on television. Ellen has her own show, every show on Bravo seems gay to me and the gay couple on Modern Family is raising a daughter.
Today I am married to the man I love. My parents love my husband. My nieces and nephews call him Uncle Terrence and can’t even fathom a world where he is not a family member. I’m still an activist but the era of daily funerals has turned into a period of incessant wedding announcements and baby showers.
There is a shining example of our community’s resilience on 14th Street. The Chelsea Pines Inn serves as both metaphor and living testament to the power of our community. Created by someone lost to the plague (RIP Sheldon), Sheldon’s partner Jay Lesiger has survived the tumultuous 90s, found love and marriage with Tom Klebba and together they have nurtured the Chelsea Pines Inn as a place that has survived and thrived. Still catering to the gay community, visitors of all stripes stay at Chelsea Pines. Condoms are available, of course, but they’re best put to use when staying in a honeymoon suite!