07.11.19 Central Florida Bureau Chief’s Desk

By : Jeremy Williams
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Anyone who is involved in the LGBTQ community can tell you June is a busy month, especially this past June. Not only was it LGBTQ Pride month, which ushered in a month full of Pride festivals, parades and parties; but it also began with the inaugural Red Shirt Pride Days which gave way to the three-year mark of the Pulse tragedy and concluded with the 50th anniversary of The Stonewall Inn riots and WorldPride in New York.

I didn’t make it to WorldPride, but many LGBTQ Central Floridians did and, from what I saw on social media, they represented us all proudly. While watching parts of the all-day parade online I couldn’t help but wonder what life was like 50 years ago. With the cheers of millions of people in the streets of New York in the background, I pulled out my phone and Googled “1969.”

1969 was quite a year. There were several huge events that I think most people know about: The Apollo 11 landing on the moon, Woodstock hosting what would become the most iconic music festival ever and the Manson Family walking into the house of actress Sharon Tate and killing her and four of her friends.

I also noticed some things 50 years ago that look pretty similar to what we are dealing with today. America had a morally corrupt president (Richard Nixon), Russia was all up in our business and old, white men were doing everything they could to suppress people of color, women and members of the LGBTQ community. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

However, in my journey down the rabbit hole that is the internet I learned a few things I didn’t know about the historical, and comically inappropriate, year known as ’69. For example, the very internet I searched was invented in 1969.

Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, or ARPANET, was the early groundwork for what would become the every-day-use internet we have today. ARPANET is the first network to use internet protocol (IP) and was founded by the Department of Defense, not Al Gore.

Something else that just passed the 50-year mark involves a 16-year-old teenager by the name of Robert Rayford of St. Louis, Missouri. Robert is alleged to be the first known AIDS death in the U.S.

While many believed the virus to have infected travelers from Central Africa in the 1970s, doctors in 1969 were treating Robert who had come to them at the age of 15 with an inert immune system, many infections and rare cancerous lesions called Kaposi’s sarcoma.

Robert died on May 15, 1969, three months after turning 16, of pneumonia. Two doctors at the time had tissue samples from Robert gathered and preserved in hopes that one day they could discover what this strange disease that killed a 16-year-old kid was.

In the 1980s, as AIDS started to become a pandemic, Robert’s doctors saw similarities in the symptoms. In 1985, once a test was developed that could detect HIV in the body, they sent samples of Robert’s tissue to be tested. The samples were tested for nine distinct HIV proteins, and the samples tested positive for all nine.

While there is still much work to be done it amazes me all that has happened and how far we’ve come in this world over the last 50 years. So as we celebrate the heroes of Stonewall, the icons who played at Woodstock and the legends who went to the moon five decades ago; take a moment to remember Robert, who 50 years ago was the first of far too many beautiful people taken way too soon.

In this issue, we look at the growing popularity of Drag Queen Story Hour, highlighting popular queens reading tales of acceptance and diversity to children across Central Florida and Tampa Bay.

In Arts & Entertainment, we chat with the Chris McCarrell, star of the national tour of “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical,” as the show makes its way to the Straz Center in Tampa. We also talk with Orlando performer Anthony Callender, who is making his Central Florida stage debut as the star of “Newsies” at Osceola Arts in Kissimmee.

In news, we check in with an Orlando couple and their openly gay adopted son and see how same-sex couples looking to adopt or foster kids can get started. In Tampa Bay, it’s that time of year again for the EPIC (Empath Partners In Care) masquerade party. In south Florida, the executive director of the LGBTQ advocacy group SAVE is terminated.

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