As time progresses so does culture. Since the beginning of mankind we have created a plethora of cultures that span to every corner of the globe. It can even be said that each individual person displays his or her very own personal culture. This culture is built from everything an individual has experienced in their lives, and because life is dynamic everyone’s culture is always shifting and morphing into something else. The only real constant about culture is change. For the most part we don’t recognize much of this change. We identify the shift in personal beliefs as growing up, maturing, and becoming wiser. Often what happens during this shift in culture, is the realization that, “My beliefs are different than those of my parents, my peers, my church.” On an individual level these differences, although at times difficult, can be overcome. When it comes to a shift in the culture of a population it can often be met with organized animosity, hatred, and bigotry.
During the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s, communities of people who identified themselves as homosexual lived in scattered populations throughout America. By in large they lived in peace but were very secretive about their sexual orientation. America’s involvement in World War II saw a mass mobilization of young men and women. Formerly isolated groups of gay men and women found themselves in the military, or working in the vast industries mobilized supporting the effort, or in many cases as volunteers working to support the troops and local communities. This uprooting of homosexual individuals from small towns, big cities, and rural communities did two things for the homosexual culture. One, it allowed for men and women who were secretly homosexual to meet one another and talk about their experiences and points of view. Second, it brought homosexual individuals out into open society. They had to interact and by consequence were able to begin the process of sharing their beliefs and feelings. This unintentional meeting of cultures that led to an exchange of information between individuals with different viewpoints was one of the primary catalysts that gave visibility to the homosexual culture in the United States.
At the end of WWII, men and women returned to their homes and lives, but underneath society had changed. American culture had started to shift. After the war there was awareness in America of a homosexual subculture. This rising awareness coincided with Senator Joseph McCarthy’s investigations in the 1950’s into individuals in government, and in the media, especially those in the Hollywood movie business, who were considered subversive. Of the many criteria Senator McCarthy’s House Un-American Activates Committee used to vilify people, besides anything remotely associated with communism or socialism was homosexuality. By the end of the 1950’s American society started to recognize the homosexual culture. But this recognition was a far cry from acceptance, and it would take another 50 years before this emerging culture would gain any real recognition and influence on American culture.
Nick Francis was born on in 1993 in Reno, Nevada. He grew up in the Reno community, attended Huffaker Elementary School, Demonte Ranch Middle School, and then Bishop Manogue Catholic High School. Like many middle class families of the time, Nick was raised in a conservative and religious household. His formative years were not unusually and by his own account he was “your average high school student.”
“I was at Manogue on a scholarship so I had to keep my GPA really high,” Nick said. “I ran track and also I started Future Business Leaders of America on campus my junior year to get involved and boost my chances at getting into a good college, and then I was in little clubs like the environmental club and what not. I had a pretty solid group of friends so we just spent most of our time together.”
After graduation Nick attended the University of Nevada. In January of 2012, right before the start of the second semester, Nick came out of the closet.
“It wasn’t something that I really thought I needed to do though,” Nick said. “I had known for a long time how I felt, and coming out just seemed trivial. I can see though, how addressing this or coming out can do a lot for an individual, but for me it wasn’t really a big deal.”
The “rave scene” of the late 2000’s played a big role in Nick’s decision to come out. The “scene” was yet another subculture within American culture, but like homosexuality it didn’t fit the model of what was considered normal and acceptable.
“These people were nerds, rejects, gay people, straight people, and anyone who did not ‘fit in’,” said Nick. “This scene was developed as a coping method to deal with societies distain, but this is not the first time something like this has happened. If you look at the 1980’s there was a huge “dance scene” that developed that impacted the gay culture. This scene became a copping mechanism that many gay people used to deal with societies distain at their lifestyle.”
In the 1980’s the disco dance scene swept through the American youth culture. In terms of the gay movement this disco scene was an avenue for free expression and acceptance. For the first time there were dance clubs where people could gather together without fear of judgment or oppression. It is important to note that during this time the straight scene and the homosexual scene were doing exactly the same thing: gathering together, dancing and embracing sexuality.
For a short time it seemed as if homosexuality was on the path to being understood and accepted. Unfortunately, with the AID’s epidemic of the 1980’s and 1990’s the doors were slammed shut and locked. In the beginning of the 1980’s reports began to emerge from California and New York of small numbers of men who had all been diagnosed with very rare forms of cancer and pneumonia. The cancer, Kaposi’s sarcoma, normally only affected people of Mediterranean or Jewish heritage and young adult African men. The pneumonia, Pneumocystis Pneumonia Carinii, was generally only found in individuals with seriously compromised immune systems. The strange thing was all the men that were coming down with these illnesses were young and had previously been in relatively good health. There was only one thing that connected them all: they were all gay.
On June 5, 1981 the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the first documentation of this coincidence. Less than a month later, the New York Times released an article that stated more than 45 homosexual individuals had been diagnosed with Kaposi’s sarcoma. By the end of 1981 there were five to six new cases of these illnesses occurring in homosexual men every week. A year after the CDC’s first initial report there had been over 400 cases spanning 22 states. Between 1982 and 1985 the term HIV and AID’s was adopted when talking about these immune deficiencies. 10 yeas after the first case of AID’s was documented in the United States there over 45,000 cases of AID’s nation wide and AID’s had become the second leading cause of death of men between the ages of 22 and 45.
By the start of the 1990’s there was a common assumption that homosexuality was an “infections disease.” Every year, more and more gay men were becoming sick and dying. An irrational fear of homosexuality gripped the nation. “Gay Bashing”, which included everything from verbal insults to serious physical assault, forced openly homosexual people back into the shadows. Any hope that the homosexual culture had in attempting to assimilate into American culture had been halted.
In the 1990’s there were many cases of heterosexual men and women who had been diagnosed with HIV/AID’s. Still it remained a “gay” disease. The heterosexual cases were dismissed as being caused from intravenous drug use. Not until 1991, when Magic Johnson came out and stated that he had tested HIV positive, did the nation take notice that this disease affected more than just gay people. Magic quit playing professional basketball and used his celebrity status to begin and sustain a public education campaign to inform the public of the specifics of this disease.
“I think sometimes we think, well, only gay people can get it. It’s not going to happen to me. And here I am saying that it can happen to anybody, even me, Magic Johnson,” Magic said.
This announcement had a huge impact on American society and public awareness of HIV/AID’s. In the months after Magic Johnsons announcement that “…it can happen to anyone,” in New York City, the number of people tested for HIV/AID’s increased by more than 60%. With the deaths of well-known people such as tennis star Arthur Ashe, in 1993, and famous rapper Easy-E, in 1995, the awareness that AID’s was not just a “gay thing,” began to gain traction.
Historically, the culture of the United States is deeply rooted in religion. Further, many of the mainstream faiths, especially during the 80’s and 90’s were adamantly against same sex relations. The AID’s epidemic only furthered many Americans’ already pre-established views of homosexual culture, as unnatural, unclean, and unholy.
Over the next 10 years the homosexual culture made slow, but steady advancements into American culture. On May 24, 2004, the homosexual community saw the first tangible sign that their lifestyle was acceptable when Massachusetts, became the first state in American to legalize gay marriage.
The year is 2012, Nick Francis had just come out and things were good for a while. Yes, he noticed that some people he would have called friends only a semester before had somewhat phased themselves out of his life, but on the other hand this experience only strengthen his friendship with many others.
“Of course I lost some friends, but none that I would consider close,” Nick said. “My close friends were actually mad at me that I hadn’t come out to them in high school. The most surprising thing was, people who I was sure would vanish out of my life, actually, after my coming out, were the most supportive and have become some of my best friends.”
The biggest concern for Nick was his family and what they would think. Nick, like many, grew up in a family where the homosexual culture was openly looked down upon. Nick’s grandfather, who was one of the most influential people in his life, was a pastor for a Protestant Church. He recalls a sermon when his grandfather said, “All those faggot are going to hell!” This statement illustrates the clash of cultures that society faced in the late 1990’s, and continues to contend with today. Nick knew that one day his parents would find out he was gay and he had come to terms with that, but he never intended for his grandparents to find out.
“It was right around Memorial Day, I think. And I got a call from my mom one morning at like 7 a.m.,” Nick said. “She asked me how I was and how school was going. Then she told me that she needed to talk to me in person. I was planning on having dinner with them that night so I told her I would talk to her then. She quickly responded that she really needed to talk to me in person right now. I asked why it could not just wait until tonight, and she responded that she had heard something from my older sister and really needed to talk to me.”
At that instant Nick knew that his sexual orientation had somehow become family knowledge. He told his mom he would talk to her that night and hung up the phone. Nick never went to his parent’s house that night. Nick’s mother had found out from his older sister, who heard it from a friend in Ohio where she lived, who had heard it from a friend in Reno. A few weeks later Nick received a text from his mother saying, “Are you going to ever come home?” Nick’s response was, “Am I ever allowed to come home?”
The next year was filled with drama and animosity. Things were said on both sides and it was hard for Nick and his family to overcome the cultural barrier that had so abruptly risen between them.
Around the same time Nick decided to branch out and join a business fraternity on Nevada’s campus, Delta Sigma Pi.
“I joined only a few months after coming out, but it’s coed so there wasn’t a lot of difference between Delta Sigma Pi and a regular group of people,” Nick said. “For the most part people have been accepting, but I’ve also made a point to speak up when people speak ignorantly or perhaps need education in an area their lacking.”
Nick has had the experience of growing up as an openly gay man, in a time when the gay lifestyle and culture is on the path to real acceptance and understanding. This has helped foster in him an optimistic view of the future.
“Our generation as a whole is just really a lot more accepting of these things than past generations,” Nick said.
Nick has made it a point to become very knowledgeable and involved in the homosexual community and has never let the fact that he is openly gay stop him from doing anything. A senior this year, Nick made the decision to join another fraternity on Nevada’s campus, the brotherhood of Sigma Nu.
“This has been the biggest surprise, and my experience with fraternity men on campus in general,” Nick said. “I’m openly gay so I think that eases some apprehensions that other people have vs. wondering if someone might be gay. Everyone within Sigma Nu fraternity has been really accepting. Younger individuals still use the word faggot or gay a lot more than older members I’ve noticed, but that’s just something that I’ve seen change over the time someone matures in college.”
This can be seen as one of the high points in the progression of the homosexual culture. Across the nation on more campuses than ever before you will find men who are openly gay joining social fraternities. Ten years ago you would not have seen this. Brian Kehoe, a member of the Sigma Nu fraternity on Nevada’s campus in the early 2000’s who has returned to school at the age of 32 and is still involved within Sigma Nu provides a first hand look at this.
“Ten years ago when I was an active member of Sigma Nu you would not find openly gay men within fraternities. It was really looked down upon by not only by the fraternity itself but by the social culture of the university,” Kehoe said.
Eric Johnson, the newly elected Vice President of Sigma Nu, when asked about Nick Francis being openly gay only had this to say.
“Nick is not our first openly gay member, and he will for sure not be our last,” Johnson said. “When someone joins this house and goes through the process it bridges any gap that you may find whether that is race, wealth, or sexual orientation. We are a group of diverse brothers, and I would not have it any other way.”
Today there are 35 states that have legalized same sex marriage, and the Supreme Court has said that laws prohibiting gay marriage are unconstitutional It is a huge step in the right direction for the homosexual community. It is estimated that over 85,000 same sex couples have been married since 2004. Every day openly gay men and women are making strides toward equality throughout every aspect of society. With the scientific advancements of the 21-century not only is American society aware of the real cause of HIV/AID’s, but also how it is transmitted. Today the average person who is diagnosed with HIV/AID’s has an average life expectancy of 50 years after diagnoses, compared to the 12-year life expectancy of someone diagnosed in the early 1980’s.
It has been three years since Nick came out. He has made efforts to be open in regard to his sexuality and has pushed the barriers. He has joined and become a valued member of a campus fraternal organization and has taught his fellow brothers what true brotherhood real is. His relationship with his parents is strong and even with is grandfather deep wounds have begun to heal.
Nick is part of a community that for the first time is truly an accepted subculture in American society. There are still huge steps to take but as with any issue of equality, whether it be race, gender or sexual orientation, the process is one that takes times, often decades, to cement its place in individual consciousness. As is so clearly illustrated by the race issues surrounding the most recent tragic deaths of young black men and the hands of white police officers, so too is the struggle facing the gay and lesbian communities. Certainly progress has been made, but only by keeping the issues of equality and acceptance constant in the American conversation can we as an American culture, integrate into our lives and the lives of the generations to come, the subcultures that in so many ways define who we are.