Wednesday, December 3, 2014

It Gets Better

The holidays can be a time of stress and anxiety, just as much as they can bring happiness and peace.  Suicide rates go up.  It's probably a good time to remember that in 1985, a famous handsome football star desperately laid himself 100 feet above the ground atop the cold cement Kensico Dam ledge, asked God to forgive him, and then rolled his body off in an attempt to kill himself.   Why?  The tough offensive lineman for the University of Pittsburgh (1977-1979) felt he couldn't deal with the nightmare that had become his life.

Ryan White
He was living secretly as a gay man in a world where the word "gay" wasn't used---"fag" or "faggot" were the derogatory insults of choice.  And this was the mid-1980's when men were dying like flies from AIDS and many in society said openly that they were happy to get rid of homosexuals.   The same year that he tried to kill himself, 13 year-old Ryan White became a symbol of the intolerance that was inflicted on AIDS victims.  Once it became known that Ryan (a hemophiliac who had contracted the disease from a tainted blood transfusion) school officials banned him from classes and he was subjected to prejudice for just being sick.

Just 12 days before trying to end his life on the dam, Ed had decided he couldn't be untrue to his desires any longer and had his first sexual encounter with another man. Only the joy of waking up next to another guy (who he had met at a gay bar the night before) was overcome by the real-life fear of AIDS and the knowing that he was one of the people that mainstream society loathed.

"I was so scared of dying of AIDS and hurting others, I thought maybe I should just kill myself," Gallagher recalled later. "I didn't’t want to be gay, I didn't’t want my father knowing, I didn't’t want anyone knowing."

 Only  fate stepped in and this 6' 3" gay sportsman didn't die.
 
Gallagher survived the fall but discovered that he was left a paraplegic.  He later recalled that before his suicide attempt, Ed had become unable to reconcile the image of himself as a masculine athlete with being gay.  He later admitted that the incident forced him to come to grips with his own sexuality: "I was more emotionally paralyzed then, than I am physically now."  Ed saw it as a second chance at life and he made every moment count. He knew firsthand the stereotypes of gay men as being effeminate and non-competitive.  Ed knew the myth that there are no gay football players in college or pro sports.  And he knew that he was living proof that they were lies---and he said so to everybody who would listen.

Ed made it a point to tell his story and show his pride in who he was as a man.  He focused his efforts on helping kids accept themselves for who they are.  Ed also went on to become a fierce advocate for disabled rights, creating the organization Alive To Thrive.  He eventually died May 2005, after having a life-changing positive impact on thousands of others.  Thank you.








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