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by Larry Lingle
The Significance of
Without judging the veracity of the
charges, last week's Houston Voice story on
an official with one of the resident homes
canng for those with AIDS is symptomatic
of society in general and gay society in particular.
What the particular official is alleged to
have done - aggressively sought sex from a
client of the agency to which he was responsible - is simply sexual harassment. Neither
unique in a gay context nor uncommon in
the general work place, sexual harassment
can be far more subtle but no less insidious.
Just as straight males for so long assumed
that female colleagues were open targets for
their attentions and amusement, there has
often been a similar assumption that in an
openly gay work environment male employees were in open season.
As an owner of gay business I have always
maintained a policy that management
should not mix sex with business. This is
not to say that I believe employees cannot be
treated with respect as well as affection. My
age and my attitude toward "community"
and "family" on occasion places me in a
position as a mentor.
One of those ubiquitous public service
commercials on television urges viewers to
volunteer as mentor 10 children as a means
to save the next generation from the mistakes of the previous ones. In effect, this is
what certain gay organizations attempt to
achieve. HATCH, locally, has been working
toward this goal for years.
This receni incident of alleged misconduct underlies the ongoing problem with
any such program involving either the
young or the defenseless. In the case of gay
teen-agers, a closet pedaphile sees an opportunity and exploits the innocent. Those
with authority over others immediately
enjoy an unfair and unequal opportunity for
While such problems are not unique to
the gay expenence, they are heightened by
our community's overemphasis on "sex" and
the perception of sexual activity. My business, a gay bookstore, carries gay video tapes
containing a variety of activities. All this
means is that I feel an obligation to offer my
customers material in which they are interested. It should not, and does not, reflect
my interests other than as a business.
While 1 am not acquainted with many bar
owners, one, whom I have known for a number of years, has three of the more successful establishments in Houston. And I have
always observed that he is the consummate
businessman and runs his bars with the
same professional attitude as any other successful person - straight or gay. Frankly, as
in any competitive field, the gay busi-
nessperson who neglects the essentials will
likely not last very long.
Unfortunately, another characteristic of
our community is that success breeds envy.
If a gay person appears to be successful,
those with less good fortune often attempt to
bridge the gap with rumors. I was recently
informed that my late partner, Bill White,
and I actually sustained our business by
being "the biggest dealers in crystal in
Putting aside the simple truth that anyone
who knows me, or knew Bill, would put
such a lie to rest. The reality that, like other
business owners, I constantly sweat meeting
payroll, paying suppliers and gauging the
market. In more that twenty-three years of
the business, we nearly went under more
than once and survived Chapter 11 bankruptcy just a few short years ago.
When we attack or spread rumors about a
gay business, or a gay person, or a gay organization we unravel the fabric of our community. This is not to say that we should not
expose error where it exists. Hopefully, last
week's Voice article will alert anyone who
would abuse their authority that public censure awaits.
At the same time, we must not destroy or
discourage those who would work to
advance our community. We should, with
certainty, encourage those organizations
such as HATCH who particularly mentor to
young gays and lesbians. In fact, I would
urge some broader based program within
our communily similar to Big Brothers and
Big Sisters in which older members of our
community, properly screened, are placed
on a one-on-one basis as mentors.
Without planning as such, I recently
found myself acting in such a way with
someone I had known previously and I
found myself in a position to be of some
help I can recall fairly recently when a
prominent lesbian couple took intu their
home a young man who had a troubled past
and he is now not only a contributing member of our community but has taken a leadership role in mure than one organization.
Given the different genders in that case it
was accepted for what it was. In my current
situation in which I have taken into my
home someone to whom 1 am attempting to
be of some help, I recognize the all to prevalent tendency to assume my motives are sexual. That is a risk I can assume and a canard
which deserves no response
Our community has the resources both in
wealth and talent to mentor to all those troubled by coming out or AIDS or just general
misfortune. It is certainly within our ability
to institute such a mentoring program, and
the rewards are boundless. I can speak personally of the immense satisfaction I feel
with each step forward by the young man
who happened to enter my life at a crucial
time. He is, in a very real sense, like the son
Bill and I might have wanted.
AMIS Housing Houston, Inc./Milam House
wishes to express its deep gratitude to
Forest Park-Lawn dale Funeral Home and Cemetary
for their generous donation of services in a time of great need.
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