A Smoking Gun…

Being from Montana, our communities don’t see much violence. In a way it feels like we are kind of in a buffer zone, insulated from such things. When it does happen, it’s almost like it becomes a complete shock to the system and we absorb the violation as if it were our own. Violence becomes a smoking gun that leaves a dark unknown residue in its wake. That touches us all.

You would think that growing up gay and being from Montana, people would be more homophobic and we would be more prone with violence directed toward us. But from my lifetime of experience of being from here and growing up here it has turned out to be the exact opposite. I have found much of the community both from my small mountain hometown of Superior to Missoula to be open, warm, compassionate, and considerate. Several years ago Tom Bezucha come to Montana to film his movie Big Eden that I think really captured the essence of how life in rural Montana actually functions. I premiered this film in Missoula as part of a festival I was involved in at the time and he come to stay with us. In many ways I felt like the film was the story of my life. The actual movie was filmed just north of Missoula about 70 minutes away in Lakeside. Missoula has always been a liberal city and in a sense is looked upon as the gay mecca of Montana. Though we do not have any bars here, we do have a thriving community that often seems fairly tight knit. We tend to know or know of each other. There is a community center that I think does fairly well, though I have not actually been involved in activities with but have supported in fund raisers efforts. In many ways I felt I have led an open and out life with no repercussions or ever feeling threatened and for the most part have felt very healthy being here.

I have also spent a great deal of time in big cities and worked as a bartender in a very big gay bar/restaurant in Washington DC in the Dupont Circle area. Many of my friends and co-workers in this area were constantly being bashed, hurt, maimed, or cut up. I have personally known and had dated someone killed by such a violent act, so I have felt it’s powerful impact. You learned to stick together with your friends when you went out, which was always hard for a boy from Montana, because we are used to wandering alone. But I felt like I have always had a tough kind of intensity about me that people didn’t really want to mess about with, well at least on the exterior, though I may have been a softy on the inside. Thinking back there was an incident in Montana that happened when I was just coming out in the mid eighties. A group of my gay friends and I decided to go out to a place called the Rustic Hut, a country dance bar in Florence, just south of Missoula. There were six of us and we began dancing together. Some of the locals became upset, knocked the table out from under us in a threatening manner. Most of the guys scurried to the car, but me and another kid stood our ground. Blows were not exchanged, but an unwelcome intensity filled the air as we were peacefully asked to leave the establishment, but this was not a community in which we were known. Since those times I have danced with my partner in open public places without any fear of harassment.

The Matthew Shepard murder was a shocker and sent a tidal wave of terror to small communities that were like Laramie Wyoming such as Missoula. I remember so much anger and outrage and the entire community gay and straight gathering in vigil marching through our streets. As the time I was very involved in a community magazine and did a photo story on it’s impact. It created a solidarity amongst us and a greater sense that we needed to look out for each other. I am a peaceful person who believes in peaceful means. It is really the core of my nature and always has been.

Kelly’s death by the hands of her ex-husband seems to be hitting my old home community very hard. A senseless crime of passions that has awakened the sleeping giant, bringing the reality of our sense of community back together. I have connected with so many people I have not talked to in a long time.