Images by Sarah MacReading. This article originally appeared on VICE US
Today marks the one-year anniversary of Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court ruling that recognized the right of same-sex couples to marry. Fittingly, on this day, New York City's having it's annual Pride March, which is expected to be the largest one in the city's history. The march begins at 36th Street and Fifth Avenue and concludes in the West Village, the home of Stonewall Inn.
Many in New York's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities have already visited the Stonewall Inn this month to honor the victims of the Orlando shooting and find solace among such senseless horror. The Pulse massacre, America's deadliest hate crime against the gay community to date, forced the country to recognize that despite the progress we've made, the LGBTQ community's life is still at stake. As Margueritte Wilkins, a gay senior citizen formerly of New York City who now lives in Washington, told VICE, "In these kinds of respect, I don't see where it's changed. I'm looking at the big picture; I'm not looking at little things. They passed the bill and x amount of people got married. But you still can't hold hands in certain places!"
For some perspective, we spoke with three LGBTQ senior citizens to ask what advice they would give to their younger selves, their thoughts on marriage, and how much work we still have to do as a society. These LGBT Americans have seen a lot of progressive changes occur during their lives, but they believe, like many, that our society still has a ways to go.
67 or 68-Years-Old
VICE: Hey Margueritte, tell me about yourself.
Margueritte: I'm about 67 or 68—they told me not to count anymore, so I don't count. I just relocated to Spokane, Washington looking for a better life. I'm enjoying the fresh air, the pine trees, and the snowcapped mountains.
You've been in love several times—what relationships were the most memorable?
The most memorable was in the 70s when things were much different in the world because there was no HIV. I don't think people were more promiscuous than they are now, but with HIV in the equation it's a different world. [But also] in those days if women had these things [like being gay] in their minds, they were considered mentally ill. It was about being in the closet, not about making waves. And it was very hard for me because I had to be something that I wasn't, or someone that I wasn't. I had to fake it all the time. The person I had to pretend to be was trying to be traditional, trying to fit in. People were getting married who didn't want to get married, and people were having babies who didn't want to have babies.
Were you married?
Never married [to a man], but I have one daughter and three grand boys. I happened to get married in 1974 to a woman. It was illegal, but we were in love and we wanted to bond. A reverend who was ordained by the church helped us, but it was very private when we went over to her house and had the ceremony. When the legislative government said it was alright for same-sex couples to be married, I was feeling very good about it. [But] I don't think there's been enough progress. I don't think it's helped that much.
[My wife] was the best thing that ever happened to me, though. She passed in '93, and I am still mourning. We made vows that whenever we left this planet, we'd meet on the moon, and I have hopes and dreams that that will come to pass and I will see her again.
How have you been feeling since the Orlando shooting?
I didn't realize until two or three days later because I hadn't been looking at the news, but I didn't know it was a gay club. When I found out that it was a gay club, I was just so hurt. It's really been a hardship for us.
What do you think is necessary for real change to happen?
People still have hatred in their heart. They will realize that it's really them [that's the issue]. We have to look at ourselves. I look in the mirror all the time. People believe they want to be good or different, and they know within their heart that that's not true. They are ugly inside and they have no respect for their fellow man. Treat me like you want to be treated. We are still second class citizens, and I don't think that's changed at all.
There's a saying that people have now: "Love is love." But who is to say what real love is? How can you love me and hate somebody else? That doesn't make any sense to me. Things are changing, but it will be slow. It will be a process and I hope that I see some kind of difference in my lifetime.
New York City
VICE: Hey Maurice. Tell me your story.
Maurice: I'm French Canadian, but I was born in the States and went to Rhode Island School of Design. I'm a fashion designer, retired of course. I've been living in New York City for 53 years, and I wouldn't dream of living anywhere else.
What is your life like romantically?
I just love my friends. I had a partner for 25 years, and unfortunately he passed away in 2003. I think about him and miss him everyday, but life goes on, as the cliché goes.
How did you two meet?
We met at Fire Island on the beach.
Was it love at first sight? Crazy attraction?
Well, we were both attracted to one another, and one thing lead to another, and there we were.
Would you say he was the love of your life?
Absolutely. He still is. We were perfect travel companions. We liked going to the theater, we liked going to the opera, we liked dinner parties. We were so compatible it was unbelievable, except he was brilliant—I wasn't! He was the perfect man I think, so smart. He was like my walking dictionary. I wanted another 25 years, but you can't control those things, unfortunately.
What do you think about life now for young, queer kids? Do you think they have it easy compared to people from older generations?
With all the technology going on, I find that people hardly speak to one another. There's no romance involved in living today. I guess if you like technology, you're in heaven. Unfortunately, I don't. It's easier today, of course, if you're gay, or lesbian, or what have you. But being in the profession that I was in, [being queer] was almost expected of you in fashion. I had lots of gay friends and I still do today, and I have lots of straight friends, so you are what you are. I don't judge people for what they are. Love is just caring. Of course sex is always important, but that sort of [goes away] eventually. But the important thing about love is sharing a life. That's the most important thing to me.
June 26th marks one year since the Supreme Court ruled to legalize same-sex marriages. How did you feel about that ruling?
I'm thrilled about it. I think it's such a good thing, finally. It is good for everyone, basically. So what can I say, I think it's great.
After the Orlando shooting, some say it can seem like no progress has been made.
Well, the progress is still there. This is just an unfortunate happening. If anything, it can only strengthen everybody. It can only strengthen the gays. You pick yourself up and start all over again.
Santa Rosa, California
VICE: Will you tell me a little about yourself?
Andrea: I have an interesting history. I was straight until I came to California. I came up in the feminist movement in the 70s, where there was a big community of gay women, and I've been with women since. Even though I've been with women all these years, I think I'm bisexual, in that I loved men. I haven't had sex with men in years, but if I met someone male that I could relate to emotionally, I don't know if I'd [care] about the sex.
Yeah, I imagine these days it's more acceptable to be sexually fluid.
Well, it wasn't in the 70s. It was very rigid.
How long have you been married to your wife?
I've been married since 2008. I got married in the brief window where you could get married in California, but I've been with the same person since 1995.
How did you two meet?
We met in a woman's group called Hot Flash, and she was friends of friends of mine. Everybody in the group had just turned 50, and we were helping each other through that period of our lives. She and I met in the group and kind of started hanging out, and then just fell in love.
When you identified as straight, did you know you had this other side of you? No, I didn't get in touch with any of that until I moved to California. It doesn't make any sense to me, but one day I was getting on a bus in San Francisco. I was living there with my son's dad, who I was married to at the time. I saw this woman on the bus and I just felt attracted to her, and I thought, "that's weird." It set off this whole chain of events. I was 28. Before that—nothing. Not even an inkling. I was always with men. It was so bizarre.
How did you feel about that at the time?
Not good, because I had just gotten married! Not good at all.
How did you feel about the SCOTUS Obergefell v. Hodges ruling last year?
I came out late in life, at 30. As opposed to Terry, my partner, who came out in high school, and has been gay her whole life and really felt the impact of being gay as a young person and hiding it. I still call her my partner. I have a hard time saying "wife." I don't know if it's because I'm 69 or because for so many years she was my domestic partner. It just seems easier to say "partner."
To me it's all about the feeling. It's not about the paper. I feel like she is my partner in life. I'm just not into the whole marriage thing. I did it because we could! It just makes it easier for us if one of us got sick, we own our house, that kind of thing. I think it's fabulous, I'm so excited that the progress had been made. But I live in a very open area. I'm more in touch with sexism than I am with homophobia. I identify as a feminist more than anything.
So are you happy that gay marriage is now legal?
I feel very happy that my wife and I have all the rights and privileges afforded to heteros.
It's strange, because that decision seemed like progress was being made, then the Orlando shootings happened…
It's a huge reminder that the work is never done, as far as never really feeling totally safe. There is so much hate in the world. The gun issue seems so obvious to me, but I raised a kid in the late 70s. I was an anti-gun, love-everyone hippie running around the East Village.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to a younger version of yourself?
A relationship is a relationship, and it doesn't matter if it's between a man and a woman. Yes, women relate differently, but the relationship dynamic can be very similar. If you love a person, the gender doesn't matter.
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