I made the egregious error of watching “Philadelphia” tonight because apparently I wasn’t sad enough after the Oklahoma City Thunder’s loss in the NBA Finals to the malodorous Miami Heat.
I made this error, also, with a pain in my heart because my Big Man Cat, Percy, has gone missing. It’s my fault, I guess, for letting him be an outside cat. But he had the spirit of a wildcat, one that just couldn’t thrive inside. He became a happier, nicer cat after being allowed outside. Now I can’t find him – it’s been two days. I hope he comes home, but I am not optimistic.
But my woebegone state isn’t the reason for this blog. No, it’s the subject matter of the movie “Philadelphia,” a movie that contains not only my favorite actor (Tom Hanks) but some of my other favorites, too – Denzel, Mary Steenburgen, Jason Robards… it’s a fantastic film. And it’s kind of old, I guess, though I don’t see it that way. It came out in 1993 and is one of the first mainstream movies to deal with AIDS.
I remember the day I went to see the movie — it was in a crowded theater, I think in Texas, and when I left the theater, I went to the bathroom, and huddled around the sinks were women leaning on each other, crying uncontrollably. I was angry. I was angry at how Hanks’ character was treated — I was angry at how Denzel Washington’s character treated that gay man who approached him in the drugstore. I was touched by how Denzel came around, however, and saw the movie for its powerful points more than the horrific death scene. The other times I’ve watched it, I’ve cried about the obvious. But the first time, I was just sad about the whole sorry state of affairs.
It seems so archaic now, fewer than 20 years later. In the last month, someone living with HIV has recovered and says he feels great. I share a business umbrella with the most famous HIV-inflicted person, Magic Johnson (it’s still weird to think Magic and I are co-workers. He has just a tad more cache.) It’s 19 years since “Philadelphia” came out. The first known AIDS death in the United States was 1981.
When Magic was diagnosed, I didn’t know any gay people, let alone anyone with AIDS.
And I still don’t know anyone with HIV, or not anyone who’s public about it. That’s because that great fear, that rampant bias and “gay plague” that was stoked in the 80s and 90s has fizzled — thanks mostly go to safe sex missions, clean needle missions and changes to the rules of blood donation and transfusion. One of the characters in “Philadelphia” is a woman who got AIDS from a blood transfusion. There’s an nonverbal exchange between that character and Tom Hanks’ Andy while she’s on the stand. She says she feels no different than anyone else who has AIDS. It’s tender, it’s merciful, compassionate and soul-crushing.
It’s been 20 years-plus since Magic made his announcement. He’s doing great – and that announcement’s china anniversary was made into a documentary by the company that employs both Magic and I. It touched on the phobias, the fear, and how grown men much like Denzel’s character in “Philadelphia” put it all aside and played with or fought for their friend.
My, my my – I love this progress. I do wonder, however, if Magic hadn’t come along and made his announcement, would it still be called the gay plague? Would the uneducated masses be circling hospitals with “GAY: GOT AIDS YET” signs jutting into the air?
I like to think not. I like the direction our world is going in, this embracing of compassion and love. Now that I’m away from a state that’s doing its best to keep its large gay population unhappy, I see that it’s kind of a select deal. I honestly believe the next generation won’t see any difference. The learned behavior of gay bashing and racism isn’t being taught by as many teachers anymore.
I thank God for that. I also thank God for people within my home state of Oklahoma who fight for what is right, be them gay or straight. Two dear friends of mine who happen to be a married couple, Sharon Baldwin and Mary Bishop, have fought for marriage equality for as long as I’ve known them. I worked with them for more than nine years. They worked in separate departments at my newspaper, but across a small divide from each other. They lived, worked and fought marriage inequality together. I never once doubted their commitment to each other or their mission. I just wished they didn’t have to fight it. They walked into the offices of our newspaper and told the Powers That Be that they were going to do this – and the newspaper kept them employed. They keep fighting and refuse to move out of Oklahoma just because the number of people pushing Bibles down their throats has increased.
Do those pushing the Bibles really know what they’re talking about? Of course not. The basic tenets of Jesus’ teachings is love for all. Therefore, preaching any type of hate or participating in any kind of racism, exclusion or hate is against Jesus’ teaching.
It’s that simple. And what I said about the next generation being pro-gay marriage? All it takes is a look at another Oklahoma, Carrie Underwood. She’s a country girl, born and raised in Checotah, Oklahoma, and a proud alumna of Northeastern State University, the school from which I graduated. She came out (haha) recently as an advocate of same-sex marriage. A country singer from Oklahoma – so very proud of her. Also proud of our president, who many think may have hurt his campaign by coming out as pro-gay marriage. How could he not? Gay bashing, racism and gender bias go hand-in-hand. As a woman, I’m a member of the most-discriminated against sect of the population. How women can be racist, anti-gay or anything else is beyond me.
See, I’ve been this way for my whole life and my mind will never change. I didn’t know any gay people when “Philadelphia” was released– or at least none who had come out. Now I know hundreds of gay people. I don’t care – I don’t even think about it. Just like I know hundreds of black, Asian, American Indian, Hispanic and otherwise “brown” people and don’t care.
I’m not trying to toot my own horn here – but I am so lucky not to have absorbed any of that learned behavior. My mother certainly didn’t teach it to me, but I was faced with it. I did grow up in Oklahoma, which has its share of haters. But it also has its share of freedom fighters – and they go beyond the three I mentioned. It’s refreshing, and it gives me hope for the future. Kind of like “Glee” does. Imagine if something like “Glee” had come out before AIDS – would there have been less hatred? Would “Philadelphia” never have existed?
I don’t think so. We had to learn to be tolerant, sad to say. We had to learn to appreciate everyone for their uniqueness. Even if we don’t really feel that way deep down. We had to learn to tamp down that hatred. And that’s what progress has taught us since the days of “Philadelphia.”
Also, since I’m a 14-year-old girl at heart, I am watching the show “Pretty Little Liars” lately. It features a young, gorgeous lesbian who’s coming out. Can you imagine that, even in 1993? It was such a big deal. Heck, it was “Star Trek” days when people were freaked out that a white man kissed a black woman. It’s just mind-blowing.
I was blessed to have been born with bedrock in my spirit that doesn’t seek to hate. It could’ve gone the other way, but it didn’t, and I’m thankful for that – to God, to my many gay friends, to my parents for letting me be me. And I’m not alone at all — thank God there are millions of people who think with less hate in their hearts these days. If you call that a sign of the end of days, maybe it’s time for a reckoning. It’s nice to know we’ve got a little more peace and a little less hostility in our future.
And while the idea of “Philadelphia” might be outdated, it’s what it took to wake us up from the sleep of hatred and ignorance. It took that movie, and the lyrics to the song the movie inspired, “Streets of Philadelphia” sung in Bruce Springsteen’s blue-collar, anguish-filled brogue, that had to get us there.
Here they are, in case you forgot them. The line that gets me to this day is “and my clothes don’t fit no more.”
I was bruised and battered and I couldn’t tell
What I felt
I was unrecognizable to myself
I saw my reflection in a window I didn’t know
My own face
Oh brother are you gonna leave me
On the streets of Philadelphia
I walked the avenue till my legs felt like stone
I heard the voices of friends vanished and gone
At night I could hear the blood in my veins
Black and whispering as the rain
On the streets of Philadelphia
Ain’t no angel gonna greet me
It’s just you and I my friend
My clothes don’t fit me no more
I walked a thousand miles
Just to slip the skin
The night has fallen, I’m lying awake
I can feel myself fading away
So receive me brother with your faithless kiss
Or will we leave each other alone like this
On the streets of Philadelphia
And while we’re at it, here’s the video