By Vincent P. Arnone
As Buffalo’s hugely successful Pride Parade has come and gone again, I feel compelled to share a story of something that forever changed my life.
I came of age in the early 1970s. My high school career was exciting, but different than most. I went to four different schools in four years for various reasons. I had good friends from each of the schools I attended.
We were no different from most young men of those times. We loved sports and some of us fancied ourselves as tough guys. We were never afraid to mix it up if the need arose. Those were the days when tough guy reputations were made with your fists, not by sitting in a car shooting at someone from across the street.
Early in my second year of high school, one of my pals started bringing around another kid, a friend from his neighborhood on the West Side. He was different, kind of quiet and a true gentle spirit. If we ran into trouble, he would always be the voice of reason, never the fighter. We didn’t think much of his nature, just figuring he was more of a true peace-loving hippie than the rest of us.
We stayed friends after high school, and in the mid-’70s he moved to Atlanta. He would come home to visit his family every once in a while and always made it a point to see me. On one of those visits, just after the Blizzard of ’77, he stopped by where my wife and I lived on the West Side. We had a couple of drinks and he asked me to listen to something he felt was very important. He then explained to me that he was gay and that he would have told me sooner, but was afraid of losing my friendship.
I immediately realized that it just didn’t matter to me. I loved him as I always had. Like many foolish young men, I previously held some level of contempt for gay people. I didn’t understand and could not fathom how or why people could be like that. His coming out to me reinforced my beliefs of equality and understanding for all folks. It made me a better man.
My children were raised to stand up for those needing a friend, and to never let anyone bully someone in their presence. It may be easy to listen to an off-color joke or accept a racial slur in passing, but it’s not right. I’ve hopefully taught them that it is never acceptable and they don’t have to listen to it. It may be hard when a friend or co-worker speaks like that, but I will never let it pass.
My friend was happy with his life in Atlanta. It was a more accepting city at the time and he had met someone special. He came home less and less often. His dad could never accept the things he once hid from him. It bothered my friend greatly and he felt disowned. A few years went by and we stayed in touch once or twice a year. I came home late from work one evening and my wife told me he had called and asked me to call back. I was tired and figured I’d catch up with him in the morning.
He took his life that night and we lost him forever. My dear friend’s name was Marshal Grant. I will always believe it was because he lost the love of his father over something he could not help. I was once told by a gay relative that “no one would choose this preference.” Why would you? You risk losing friends and loved ones over something you have no control over.
I eventually managed to forgive myself for not calling him back that night, but I still think of him often. I think he would be pleased with how far we’ve come in accepting differences in people. I will always be grateful to him for helping me understand we are all just trying to find some degree of peace and happiness in our lives, and what we do behind closed doors should matter to no one but the people behind those doors.