‘Rob’s’ death illustrates inequity of our legal system

By Chris Fitzgerald

“Ms. Fitzgerald, this is Officer Jones of the Winthrop (MA) police department. I regret to inform you that your friend, Rob, has passed away and we’ll be taking his body to the Medical Examiner’s office. We’re calling you because your name and phone number was among a pile of legal documents by the phone…”

I would later learn that Rob had been dead for three days before his body was discovered.

I met Rob on May 29, 1993 at U-Mass Boston while enrolled in Professor Dunbar’s American History I class, which incidentally, was the same day that I met my husband. We were among a group of late-bloomers, majoring in history, who, for whatever reason, had managed to satisfy our American History II requirement before its precedent course. Rob and I had maintained a close relationship, at least by telephone, since that first meeting.

Rob was so many things – a dutiful son who, as a teenager, had assumed financial responsibility for his family in order for his mother to escape an abusive marriage; a devoted friend; a decorated Vietnam veteran; a commercial airline pilot with over 20 years of experience; a cancer survivor (at least while he was in remission); an intellect; and finally, a homosexual. In life, the latter was the least of his defining characteristics, yet in death it was his primary.

Having lost most of his family to homophobia and the vast majority of his peers to AIDS, Rob left this world with nothing more than a grave-side service, primarily paid for with his GI benefits and, perhaps most distressing, without so much as an obituary in the “Boston Globe.”

Rob “came out” to me about seven years into our friendship, quite accidentally, after I revealed to him that “he would make the perfect homosexual male.”

Of course, that comment was intended as a left-handed compliment to a friend whose sensitivity and listening skills were the equivalent of the very best “gal pal.” Rob’s revelation cemented our relationship. That night we talked until the early hours of the morning, drank beer and wine on our respective ends, and laughed like we had never laughed before. In essence, it was a new beginning, as we had lifted the “iron curtain” between us for future dialogue. From that moment on, no topic was off limits, and over the course of time, Rob “enlightened me” to what it was like to be homosexual in a heterosexual world. 

Though Rob died in May, we had devoted much time to discussing the legislative oppression of homosexuals, including the imminent “gay marriage bans” which would likely surface as a result of Massachusetts’ legalization of gay marriage.

Rob explained that while neither he nor the majority of his peers desired a traditional marriage ceremony, what they most sought is equal protection under the laws, including the rights, as a couple, to 1) insure their partners on employer-sponsored healthcare policies; 2) contract; 3) collect social security benefits and pensions; and 4) adopt children (though he, personally, had no desire for the latter.) Had Rob been privy to a heterosexual union, he could have left his veteran benefits to his widow and children. Due to his homosexual status, however, his benefits died with him.

Rob, more so than law school, opened my eyes and mind to the inequity of our legal system. Being a “moderate liberal,” I had never allowed myself to become concerned with what was happening in other couples bedrooms. Hence, a ban on gay marriage is low priority on my political agenda. As a Christian, I have difficulty reconciling those who preach acceptance at the pulpit, while denying the same at the voting booth. I find it ironic that conservatives fight rigorously to defend the “traditional family” which accounts for less than ten percent of the current population.

Though closeted, Rob encountered some of the same attitudes from fellow veterans who attended school at U-Mass. In response to a “fag” comment made by a former “Desert Storm” Marine, Rob responded by stating that “if an estimated ten percent of the population is homosexual, it would only figure that a correlative representation of fags died in defense of their country.”

Hmm…words to ponder.

I have never felt personally threatened by homosexuality nor is there data to suggest that it leaves victims in its wake. I would suggest that the voting, heterosexual population needs to be more concerned with both foreign policy and domestic affairs whose true victims are illustrated, by the mass media, on a daily basis.

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