Cindy Noble Cole is a Texas spitfire who can cut through overblown rhetoric with precision and who can also capture the flavor of the moment with heartfelt poignancy. As the media is so quick to criticize Michelle Obama's reaction to heckler Ellen Sturtz of GetEqual, I would like for them and Ms Sturtz to ponder Cindy's words:
The heckling of our First Lady brought to mind an incident this morning from years ago.
Back then the place to be seen on Sunday morning was a deli in Richardson, Texas. It was the first "New York" style deli in the DFW area. Bagels were boiled and fresh made every morning. The couple that owned the deli were young and doing all they could to make a go of the place. Typical start-up with the owner working the bakery and his wife waiting tables. They even had a playpen in the backroom where their infant son was kept and "babysat" by all the employees.
This was a long time ago by some standards. Back in the mid '80's. My best friend James was working there. James was, what was then, called a flaming gay. He loved being exactly who he was and he didn't really give a rat's you know what if you liked him or not. David was another employee. David was a quite and unassuming guy who had lived with his male partner for about 5 years at the time. Yolanda was transsexual, funny, warm and ready for her and her partner to raise a family. They were actively looking for a male willing to impregnate them and then fade from the scene. These people, James, David and Yolanda never denied who they were, and in all honesty, are activists that have been forgotten.
They are what I think of as "pavers". They laid the road for the activists who came later to march down.
Right about this time the AIDS scare started. When I say scare I am talking about a complete ignorance of the disease process, transmission and prevention. What was known is that it was a "gay" disease. Gay people begin to be evicted from homes and then were unable to find new homes. David and his partner were evicted from the apartments they lived in as a "health hazard" to the community. Yolanda quit talking about raising a family. The restaurant owners continued to employee these people who had become outcasts in the community. The owners were also pavers. They stood up to pressure from others and refused to fire good people because of fear and misunderstanding.
One of the bravest acts I ever saw was when a long time customer told David that he could not be his server any longer. This customer was a loud person. His voice carried all over the deli every time he spoke. All the employees and other customers in the dining room heard him say he was not going to get that "gay disease" from David. You could have heard a pin drop it got so quite.
Unassuming David looked at the customer and said, very quietly, "I don't think drinking coffee poured by me is going to make you gay." David then turned away. The restaurant owner came out to the customer, told him that his business was no longer welcome. The customer began to point out to other customers that he was trying to help them not get sick and that they needed to stand up and refuse to be waited on by gay people. "Gay people" are not the words he used, however. He was spewing derogatory terms. He went further saying that all those people needed to be put into camps and kept away from "normal" people. The owner stood firm and service was refused. Not one other customer walked out with the loudmouth.
James got sick. Really sick and was not able to recover. He passed away from AIDS in 1986. His family donated his body to science, per his request, to help further studies on AIDS. David and his partner are still together and Yolanda never had a child with her partner. The owner of the deli, Larry, closed the doors to the deli last year. All of these people were "pavers". The customers that did not walk out with the loudmouth were pavers. Each of these people remained dignified in adversity. They put love over fear. They recognized that a human was more important than profit.
Whatever the cause, before there was a movement, there were pavers. A million small bricks were laid on the road that today's activists are marching on. I hope that as the activists head out today they remember those who laid the road for them.
Cindy Noble Cole