I’m sure if I was born into an African-American family in 1962 in Salina, Kansas — where I was actually born, my personal sense of civil rights advancements would feel very different than I feel looking at the question through a gay portal. But I still feel great progress has been made and history is tilting in good directions for the most part when it comes to tolerance and acceptance in the country.
I’m sitting now in the “Hotel Bar” (formerly the “Lake Terrace Lounge”) at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs — one of the greatest resort hotels in the United States and one of the few I know of that seems to have actually improved and become grander and better since its very grand beginnings in the early 20th century.
When I arrived at the airport, I was in a line with hundreds of folks at the Broadmoor Hotel booth near baggage claim getting our tickets for the “shuttle” which on this occasion were a line of mega-buses. The onslaught of folks heading by bus rather than taxi or town car to this fabulous resort were here for a huge conference dealing with Christian Bible Study. Nice folks — but not my thing.
But reminded me of when I was here in 1993 with my partner with whom I’ve been since. At that time I didn’t quite have the knack of knowing what exotic social stuff a same sex couple might do out of town. There was no Atlantis Cruise option at that time (or I didn’t know about it). So on New Year’s Eve 1993, Andrew and I decided to take a holiday package at the Broadmoor and get out of Southern California.
We got here and were excited to be going to a big formal, razzy New Year’s thing, about 1500 people we were told. When we got there, all of the folks looked mostly the same — elder white male and female couples. Each couple got a top hat to wear, and a tiara — we did too. It took us about 30 minutes to turn in the tiara for a top hat — and I actually just gave up.
The only coolish couple we saw was an elderly woman having the time of her life, must have been 70 or so — a great dancer. She had a pretty studly dancing partner, about 24 and blonde who we figured had to be an escort. The rest was as densely conservative as one could imagine a room with 1500 people to be — and at least in my imagination, everyone either frowing at us — or smiling at us, pointing second, and then frowning discreetly when they hoped we weren’t looking.
We left the dinner — the lobster, the tiara, and the top hat, left it all there — gasped for air when we got out of the room. We exclaimed, “What were we thinking??!!”
And then we walked through the hotel to get back to our rooms and heard the voice of an amazing jazz singer, a magnificent, burly, African-American woman whose name I can’t recall, and I am ticked at myself for not remembering, or filing her name away. We walked in to the Lake View Terrrace Bar, and I aggressively maneuvered my way to one of the front good tables. I was desperate. My partner thought I overdid the aggression — but I’m results driven and felt the entire state of Colorado owed us after that scary dinner.
We were glad to be somewhere where the social pressure had given way to acceptance. The jazz diva, just stunning, just said “and who do we have here?” My partner looks like someone who could be a character actor on some hybrid show of the Love Boat, True Blood — think Jason, and Melrose Place. He always draws attention.
And then behind us I heard, “Steven, is this your partner?” And it was someone I had met only once — at an event I hosted with him at the Economic Strategy Institute — “Mack” McLarty, Bill Clinton’s Chief of Staff. He and his wife, at least then, made a habit of spending their holidays at the Broadmoor.
The McLarty’s were dancing up a storm to the great jazz — and they made us get up and dance too. My partner and I danced in this Broadmoor bar together on December 31, 1993. It was like something out of Six Degrees of Separation when Will Smith danced with his new male friend in the Rainbow Room. That jazz singer and “Mack” saved our New Year’s that year in 1993 — they were warm and accepting, but they were anomalies here. . .then.
I’m back now, not with Andrew (who would love to be here but is teaching) but here nonetheless and have seen quite a number of same sex couples here. Colorado Springs hasn’t lost its conservative edge — and down the hill are the mega-churches and Focus on the Family operations that spend a lot of time harassing the gay community. But this place has changed, for the better — here at The Broadmoor.
And today, after a talk I gave for the World Affairs Council of Colorado Springs and stood out on my Broadmoor balcony looking at the beautiful frozen ponds and plentiful geese honking all about, I had the privilege of taking a call from former Senator Chuck Hagel, a man I would have worked hard for if he had run for President
I told Hagel about my exchange last Friday evening with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell at the reception after Richard Holbrooke’s memorial service. That couldn’t have happened in 1993. I told the Senator that Mullen shared with Ambassador Susan Rice and me that for him, it was an absolutely, life-topping, unforgettable experience to stand on stage with President Obama and Vice President Biden and be one of those at the DADT repeal signing ceremony to receive an explosive standing ovation. I was there — and it was over the top in all the right ways.
But what I realized today is that what Mike Mullen and Chuck Hagel and I chatted about off-hand is much more regular today than what “Mack” McLarty mustered in 1993. And that’s a good thing.
This is a more personal post than I normally share here — but the memories and benchmarks of change, while nuanced, are important to me.
I highly recommend the Broadmoor now, even with a lot of Christian Bible types running around, and check out the Hotel Bar and order the Raymond Vineyard Merlot, one of the best I’ve ever had.
And in case he reads this, “Mack” McLarty is a permanent friend for what he did that year in what was then a highly conservative establishment in a much more conservative, less accepting time.
— Steve Clemons