A Lucky Man

Celebrating Progress and Promise on Gay Rights

Ari Shapiro is a very lucky man. And he knows it.

His personal good fortune was the entry point to a discussion of the state of gay rights in America today, delivered as the UMKC Pride Keynote Address. The positive message of hope and progress, given by the award-winning journalist for National Public Radio, was the focal point of the second of three Pride events at the University of Missouri-Kansas City during March and April, all sponsored by the Division of Diversity, Access and Equity.

Shapiro observed that at age 34, he has the luxury of being a journalist who happens to be gay, rather than a gay journalist; was able to marry the man he loves in a religious ceremony with both families present; that he and his husband have purchased and are renovating a house together; that he can be open about his sexuality and still pursue a career other than being a gay activist.

“The banality of my life story is almost embarrassing,” he said, and contrasts dramatically with the shadowy lives endured by gays of previous generations.

He cited two books about gay men of earlier generations: “Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir” by Paul Monette; and “Remembering Denny,” a biography of Denny Hansen by his Yale classmate, Kansas City’s Calvin Trillin.

Monette’s 1998 book describes the final two years of life of his companion, Roger Horwitz, who died of AIDS. Trillin’s book describes the life and eventual suicide of Hansen, a closeted gay man, in 1991.

His life today, Shapiro said, “is something that Paul Monette and Denny Hansen could never have imagined.”

Calling the change in national attitudes toward gay civil rights the fastest social turnaround in American history, Shapiro defined it as “a snowball that is just picking up speed as it rolls downhill.”

The Stonewall riots in New York, considered the dawn of the American gay rights movement, happened in 1969. In 2012, 43 years later, the sitting president of the United States publicly expressed support for gay marriage.

“People who were 20 years old in 1969 are just 64 now. All of this has happened in their lifetime,” Shapiro said. And the prospect for even more profound change – a potential “earthquake,” he said – is just months away as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to decide two gay marriage cases: challenges to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and California’s gay marriage ban known as Proposition 8.

Shapiro reports for NPR on the White House,  with a focus on national security and legal affairs. He began covering the White House in 2010 after five years as NPR’s justice correspondent, and is the first NPR reporter to be promoted to correspondent before age 30. Shapiro has been recognized with several journalism awards, including The American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel and The Daniel Schorr Journalism Prize.

Early in his remarks, he said that “my being gay affects the work I do hardly at all – and I think that says something remarkable.” As he concluded, however, he said the freedom he enjoys in the 21st century helps him be a more effective journalist in one key sense.

“People can tell when you’re comfortable in your own skin, whether you’re open and honest.”

Other Pride events for 2013 include an ongoing exhibit at the Miller Nichols Library, Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933-1945; and the sold-out Pride Scholarship Breakfast on April 11, which raises scholarship funds for LGBTQ students who lose family support as a consequence of coming out.  The goal of UMKC Pride is to provide ideas and perspectives that support LGBTQ community members in harnessing and commanding their own power.

Photos by Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications


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