Next on We'll Meet Again | Coming Out
Join Ann Curry as those who met during the early days of the gay rights movement reunite.
About This Episode
Join Ann Curry as people who first met during the early days of the LGBT movement reunite.
Before the 1970s, being gay in America meant facing widespread discrimination. To come out was to risk everything: family, job and even safety. For two young men growing up in New England, living a life out of the closet was only possible because of the people who helped them open the door.
Tom longs to find the friend who helped him accept his sexuality while Paul searches for the student activist whose courage changed his life.
Tom was born in 1949 near Hartford, Connecticut. His strict Catholic background meant that from a young age he was under pressure to conform, marry and raise a family. But at 13 years-old he realised he was gay. At the time gay people were not only classed as criminals and perverts – being gay was also believed to be a mental illness. Too scared to tell his family, Tom spent the next five years struggling alone with the belief that he wasn’t normal. Eventually, he went to see a psychiatrist who recommended Electroshock Therapy. Tom was horrified to discover that this “cure” for homosexuality involved receiving electric shocks while being shown gay erotic images, so that he would forever after associate his sexuality with pain.
Finally Tom found the courage to confide in his school friend, Marla Epstein. To his relief she accepted him unconditionally and gave him the confidence to live his life as a gay man. But within a few weeks of coming out to her, Tom discovered that she was dealing with her own family’s expectations. Her parents disapproved of her free-spirited lifestyle and sent her away to stay with family. Gradually Tom lost touch with Marla.
While he went on to enjoy a fulfilling life and successful business career, Tom has never forgotten Marla’s kindness and support. He believes that if she hadn’t been so accepting - his life would have taken a very wrong turn. Now he wants to find her again, to find out whether she’s OK and to let her know that – thanks to her - things worked out OK for him too.
Paul was born in 1952 and grew up within a loving family in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. At 18-years-old, he enrolled at the University of New Hampshire, keen to pursue his interest in politics. He was soon elected President of the Student Body. When a fellow student, Wayne April, approached him to ask for help in establishing a Gay Student Organisation, Paul was happy to sign off on the GSO. But neither he nor Wayne had reckoned on the response of the highly conservative State Governor, Meldrim Thomson. In local newspapers, Thomson threatened the University with cuts unless they (in his words) “booted out the pansies”. Media coverage had attracted the attention of Paul’s family and, in an emotional phone call, his father gave him the encouragement to stand up for what he thought was right and to live his life as he saw fit. This loving support opened the floodgates to feelings that Paul had been suppressing for years – that he too was gay.
When the University of New Hampshire gave in to Governor Thomson’s demands and banned the GSO, Paul threw his support behind the GSO and Wayne April challenged the University in New Hampshire’s Supreme Court. The court ruled that it was unconstitutional under the First Amendment to prohibit gay people from assembling and speaking freely. The case is now considered as being among the most important for LGBT Rights in US legal history.