introduction: How an Army of Good Gays Won the West
At the height of the real estate boom in the 2000s, Robert M. “Robby” Browne, 2007 Corcoran Real Estate National Sales Person of the Year, put on his woman’s bathing suit and silver heels and walked out onto the Club Exit stage. A thousand screaming, cheering, photo-snapping real estate brokers roared their approval. The openly gay Browne, six feet tall and nearly two hundred pounds, danced a sweetly amateurish version of the Village People’s gay anthem, “YMCA,” as ten half naked male Broadway dancers backed him up. “Is there any question of who the star is?” Browne asks proudly, watching the video today. For most real estate brokers, a third year as Corcoran’s top producer would have been stardom enough, but when Corcoran CEO Pam Liebman began planning the 2007 event, Browne thought he wouldn’t bother to attend. He’d had enough top-earner, $100-million-club years. He was turning sixty, and he was thinking about his life as a whole. Finally he said he would show up, but only if he could accept the award in drag. Browne’s beloved gay older brother, Roscoe Willett Browne, died of AIDS in 1985. He’d never forget the day when President George H. W. Bush said that dying of AIDS wasn’t as important as losing your job. “George H. W. Bush did not acknowledge the sacrifice of my brother and our love. My brother. He’s in his eighties and he still has his brothers and I don’t have any brothers,” says Browne. “And my brother was a Yalie and he was in Vietnam; Bush, how could he be more your person?” we exist, says Browne, looking at the video of his awards ceremony. “This show says we exist.”
Exist? You can’t pick up a paper without seeing evidence that gay people exist and are compelling American society to acknowledge them. The federal government protects them from homophobic violence and twenty-one states have laws against discrimination; 141 cities across the country constitute enclaves of equal treatment. A federal nondiscrimination bill gains more support in Congress with each passing year. Poll numbers show Americans overwhelmingly support protection for gays and lesbians against hate crimes and equality in health benefits, housing, and jobs. In July 2010, a federal judge struck down the federal law, the Defense of Marriage Act, that excluded gays from the federal benefits for which married people were eligible and that allowed the states to refuse to recognize the marriages if they pleased. In August, another federal judge invalidated the amendment to the California constitution, added by Proposition 8, that limited marriage to a man and a woman. September had hardly dawned when a third federal judge found the policy requiring gay soldiers to hide their sexual orientation, don’t ask/don’t tell, unconstitutional as well. The United States Congress repealed the law prohibiting out gays and lesbians from serving in the armed forces. Right after the Fourth of July in 2011, the federal courts in California ordered the United States military to stop screwing around getting ready and just cease enforcing it at once.
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