~The Spirit of Brown Lives on in Different Faces~
Everyone has fears. Some
people are afraid of riding in an airplane; others are terrified by spiders.
Sometimes we even have fears about other people that seem different. Their
mere presence can make some people very uncomfortable.
When I was growing up
in New Jersey in the ’50s, I only knew one black person: Helen, our
cleaning lady. She didn’t live in our town. We didn’t know many “Negroes,”
as we referred to them, because some people didn’t want their children
living next to them. There were none in my grade school.
In those days, my father
operated a small jukebox business; he bought machines and placed them in
restaurants and bars. One of the bars was Leon’s in Hackensack. Leon’s
was my father’s best location. My father went there often to change
the records, count the money and split it with Leon.
I loved to go with my
father on his route. On my first visit to Leon’s, I realized that every
person in there was black except for my father and me. I was immediately
uncomfortable. However, my father didn’t act any differently. He laughed
and joked with Leon, his staff and all the customers. I said nothing, but
stayed very close to my father. I was relieved when we left that first time.
But we would return many more times and I never felt that way again.
Six years later, the Civil
Rights Act was passed. Twenty-five years later, I would be forced out of
my law firm because I too was different. Nearly 40 years later, Doug Duncan
appointed me to the Montgomery County Human Relations Commission as the first
openly-gay man to serve. But when I was appointed to the Commission and when
I later became the Commission’s Chair, I thought about Leon’s
and how my perspective on people who were different than me had changed so
radically during those 40 years. On the Commission, I helped to celebrate
diversity, working tirelessly to root out discrimination against all people,
especially that against African-Americans.
So as we approach this
of Brown, I understand the fears held about gay people by some people
in Maryland. I hope that you will strive to overcome these fears and to learn
more about gay people and our families. For we have hopes and dreams too.
Mine is to someday be able to marry my partner Steve right here in Maryland.
I want my son Jeffrey to be my best man. My parents want to walk me down
the aisle, but they are already 77 and 83 years old. I ask you to remember
the hurt and frustration which result when government works to deny your
Lawrence S. Jacobs
is a Rockville-based attorney who represents businesses; he also helps
same-sex couples protect their loved ones through estate planning.