(Host) A recent case of vandalism in an old cemetary has given commentator John Scagliotti a lot to think about.
(Scagliotti) Down the dirt road from my farm a good friend of mine is buried in an old graveyard. Ron Squires and I were both young and idealistic when we met back in the 70’s at a commune in Guilford. He was quick to tell me how proud he was to be an 8th generation Vermonter. And just as quickly told me he was gay.
In those days most folks didn’t come right out and say it. But Ron Squires was a surprisingly candid young man. He was a self-appointed guardian of Vermont traditions. Ronnie baked apple pies for the Grange benefit and took kids from our school into dilapidated cemeteries to help clean them up. One of those graveyards is where he’s buried now.
So you can imagine my dismay when I picked up the local newspaper last week with the headline stating that Ron’s grave had been defaced. The picture of his mom, Shirley Squires, standing bravely with her fingers slightly touching her son’s headstone was heartbreaking. When Shirley told the police about the vandalism, they asked her if Ron had any enemies. She could think of no one. The vandal had carved anti-gay graffiti into Ron’s gray Guilford slate gravestone.
Just last month I had an occasion to remember Ron’s courage during a discussion over dinner with friends the day New Jersey Governor James McGreevy announced that he would be resigning from his office. The governor went on to call himself a ‘gay American.’
I thought it was pretty sad that he used that term only at a time of scandal. But had he earlier in life come clean about his sexual identity I’m certain the chances of his being governor would have been pretty slim.
And that brings me back to Ronnie. He was also a politician. In fact, he became the first openly gay one elected to our Vermont legislature. But it hadn’t been easy for Ron.
Had Ronnie stayed dishonest about his true identity he too might have gone further in his political career – like the governor. Except many gay people like Ronnie who came out early in their careers didn’t just roll over. No, they did the important political work that was needed to change the conditions that would make it possible for younger gays today to accomplish more of their dreams. As soon as Ronnie was in the legislature, he spoke eloquently on the need to end discrimination. With Ron’s voice ringing in their ears, the legislators passed Vermont’s anti-gay discrimination bill in 1992, the fourth state in the nation to do so. Ron passed away a few months after that major victory.
Already there are plans afoot to fix the tombstone by the many friends he left behind. And well they should, because under that granite slab rests a good Vemonter and truly a great gay American.
This is John Scagliotti from Guilford.
John Scagliotti is the creator of the public television series “In the Life” and the Emmy Award-winning producer of the documentary “Before Stonewall.”