The Huntington Pride Festival and picnic honoring LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) folks makes me proud to know that, while not being a resident of Huntington, I identify with the city.

If you would've told me 40 years ago, even 10 years ago, that the city would recognize such diversity in 2019, I would have laughed.

Forty years ago, Susie and I had a gay friend who lived the life that most gays in Huntington lived at the time. He hid his gayness from everyone except for a few friends.

He hid it because he knew that most people who didn't know he was gay would, at the lest, shun him and, at the most, beat him up if they knew. And his chances of finding a job here were nil.

He was a caring young man who was at odds most of the time with his mother, who looked upon gayness as a disease and something that could be cured if she or someone continued to nag him.

Finally, he had enough of Huntington and its "holier than thou" attitude toward gays. One day he disappeared and the next we heard from him he was in San Francisco where, he said, he felt at home.

But for the young, naive Huntingtonian, San Francisco was a dangerous place to be. He called us occasionally. The last we heard from him, he asked for a loan.

"I'll pay you back. I promise,' he said with slurred speech. Drugs, we suspected.

A few weeks later, we heard the sad news from his mother, I think. He was dead from AIDS.

I proposed to The Herald-Dispatch, where I was a reporter-columnist at the time, to do a series on "Being Gay in Huntington." I was never able to write it. No gay would talk to me for publication. They were all afraid of what might happen to them and their gay friends.

I keep thinking that had Huntington celebrated diversity back then the way it is celebrated today, our friend would have stayed in Huntington and perhaps not had succumbed to AIDS.

He would have been on 4th Avenue last week as the city shut down part of the avenue to bring out the multicolored flags, music and dancing. I hope there's another one next year.

I'm sure a sizable number of Huntington citizens are still not converted to LGBTQ diversity and still believe that our friend who died of AIDS in the West could have been cured of his gayness.

But the fact remains that a growing number of people in Huntington are willing to accept being gay in all its forms.

I don't think the city administration sponsored an LGBTQ Week believing it will bring more jobs to the city or make the city shine as a bright light in a sometimes dark world.

I think the city and Mayor Steve Williams did it because, simply, it was the right thing to do.

The city stands out in West Virginia as one that looks forward, not backward.

If every city in West Virginia did the same, there's no doubt the world would look upon the state quite differently.

Dave Peyton is on Facebook. His email address is davepeyton@comcast.net.

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