Ron Dorfman and Mach Speed of the Gay Rights Movement

February 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

Ron Dorfman and Mach Speed of the Gay Rights Movement


It’s almost cliché these days to note that the gay rights movement moved farther faster than any liberation movement of the past half-century.  From abolishing laws criminalizing gay sex to establishing the rights of gays and lesbians to hold teaching and military service jobs to more than a dozen states permitting same-sex marriage—and a majority of the country agreeing—we have moved with mach speed toward full civil rights for a once despised and misunderstood minority of the population.





Neither the black nor women’s liberation movements moved as swiftly in accomplishing major goals. We’re seeing new restrictions on abortion rights and even contraception while women have moved from earning 59 cents to only 77 cents on the dollar men earn.  Then there’s the multistate movement to make it harder and harder for African Americans to vote.  Yet the National Football League will apparently hire its first openly gay player.


There are many reasons for this surge in acceptance. Almost every American family finds it has some gay member, from the Cheneys on the right to the Franks and Baldwins on the left. We have long accepted gays in the arts and entertainment fields, many of whom plowed tons of money into the movement, and now we know skilled LGBT people are everywhere from science to sports.


I began ruminating on this following the death last week of one of my closest friends and allies, Ron Dorfman, 73, who made his mark in this world as a leading journalist, major media critic, political progressive and gay activist. It was Ron, in his calm but powerful way and others like him who made it all happen. There were no Martin Luther Kings of the gay liberation movement, with the possible exception of Harvey Milk, but scores like Dorfman who led by example.


He was an innovative, consummate professional, a founder of the Chicago Journalism Review in 1968, when he was basically closeted, but came out soon after the epic Stonewall Riots a year later. He was able to live comfortably in both straight and gay worlds, plying his trade at publications such as Chicago Magazine and The Quill, national magazine of the society of professional journalists, while also using pen and voice to promote LGBT rights.


I first met him in the early ‘60s in the civil rights movement where we toiled together for years, then the peace movement, then in independent progressive political campaigns such as Harold Washington’s—then Ron worked hard to elect gay public officials here in Chicago, frustrated in some early efforts but eventually with some success.


Ron was an active aids educator who made one tragic slipup sometime around 1991 and contracted the disease himself. Before the decade was out we feared we would lose him, but as an early recipient of the anti-aids “cocktail” of drugs he was given new life.


Meanwhile, in 1994 he met Ken Ilio, the love of his life, and began a lasting partnership. Because heart and kidney problems put Ron’s life in jeopardy, they became part of a lawsuit that permitted them to marry before June 1, when Illinois’ same sex marriage law goes into effect. On December 28 they became the first male couple to be legally married here.


His heart gave out February 10th, but he had already made a difference—a difference in journalism and in human rights. It was a life fulfilled, merging the struggles for the rights of all oppressed. I am waiting now for some opponent of same-sex marriage to tell me how his or her own marriage has been damaged or degraded by the marriage of Ron and Ken and the many same-sex marriages around the country. That was the hollow threat of the ignorant or the vicious.


Don Rose is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer



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