By David Phelps
What a year! As I sit at my computer, typing these words, my mind keeps darting back and forth over the events of the past 12 months - events that are now, for better or for worse, being relegated to the pages of public and private history.
Think about it. This was the year - in January - when we first heard the name "Monica Lewinsky" - and the pundits began forecasting the imminent downfall of the President of the United States. Instead, at year's end, it was the President's arch nemesis, House Speaker Newt Gingrich who went - along with Al D'Amato and Lauch Faircloth, while William Jefferson Clinton proved, once again, the adage that "no politician is truly dead until you see him being lowered into the ground."
This was the year when, at its beginning, no-one could have imagined that, by Halloween, we would have a new drag icon: Linda Tripp. This was the year we realized there truly is no privacy, even with telephone calls and email messages. Fourteen years after "1984" we slipped closer to a society dominated by "Big Brother" in the form of Kenneth Starr, Independent Counsel.
This was the year we saw brutal hate crimes in Texas and Wyoming sear the nation's conscience, forcefully reminding us that the road to equality and civil rights is still fraught with danger and hatred. This was the year we saw the Majority Leader of the United States Senate compare us to kleptomaniacs, sick individuals in desperate need of a cure.
This was the year we saw a record number of Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund candidates elected to political office - highly qualified open lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals, at all levels, across the country, including Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin, the first open lesbian and openly gay non-incumbent in the U.S. Congress.
And, like other years,1998 saw more than its fair share of human tragedy and disaster: plane crashes, hurricanes, school shootings, road accidents, and the passing of the famous and the infamous. For me, 1998 was a tumultuous year. It was the year I faced the painful experience of saying goodbye to my partner of seven years as he moved to Chicago - and then learning to deal with the reality of a long distance relationship. Through writing these columns, I made new friends - and began attracting hate mail.
It was a year that saw my closest friends forced to deal with heartache and heartbreak: separation, the birth of a stillborn child, the trauma of a major accident resulting in extended hospitalization and recuperation. It was a year where we grew closer, drawing on each other for strength and love and support. Our shoulders grew broader so others could rest their heads; our arms grew longer so we could wrap them around each other; our hearts become larger to accommodate both pain and love.
It was a year of laughter and tears, of exuberance and depression. It was a year of amazing heights and dark valleys. It was a year where each of us learned the true meaning of friendship.
It was, in the words of Charles Dickens, "the best of times, the worst of times."
And now, as a nation and as individuals, we say farewell to 1998 with our confidence in the future higher than at any other time in the past three decades. Our economy is robust, employment is at a record high and opportunities abound in 1999. But there are challenges.
None of us can accurately forecast what this approaching year will bring. The year we are leaving is living proof of that impossibility. But what we can - and do - know is that 1999 represents a continuing challenge for all members of the glbt community. It will be a year where candidates for President of the United States will establish "exploratory committees" and, before year's end, announce their decision to run - or not. Many of these candidates, recognizing the power of the gay and lesbian vote for the Year 2000, will begin to actively court our support. We will need to examine, carefully, their record on our issues.
It will be a year when a record number of gays and lesbians - seeing the success of their brothers in sisters in 1998 - will decide to begin the process of seeking political office. To succeed, they will need our assistance and support in 1999. Organizations such as the Victory Fund and the HRC will be financially pressed to provide the training and organizational support needed to make them effective and electable candidates.
It will be a year where we will see renewed activity by the so-called "Religious Right" and other conservative groups to paint gays and lesbians as evil, with a blatant agenda of child molestation, perversion and degeneracy, ripping aside traditional and family values. They will create ballot initiatives; they will seek to overturn existing laws and statutes that protect our rights. They will fight us every step of the way - and 1999 will be a year where we will learn the painful lesson of never, never, never giving up.
It will be a year that will see increased demands on our time, our financial resources, our energy, and our commitment. NGLTF's "Equality Begins At Home" actions will seek to mobilize grassroots activists throughout the country. There will be AIDS rides and walks to support, Marches for the Cure to attend, circuit parties and fundraisers for a variety of worthy causes. Our leaders will debate the merits of Washington-focused activity or community action.
As gay men and lesbians, we will fall in love, we will separate, we will laugh and we will cry. We will meet new friends, we will say goodbye to old ones. We will dance and sing, we will mourn and withdraw into our innermost selves. We will seek a better life for our children and for our community, we will demand better healthcare and lower taxes. In 1999, we will be, simply, no different from everyone else who lives in this great country.
"There is only one happiness in life," wrote the French author, George Sand. "It is to love and be loved." To my friends, and to all of you who read this column, I wish great happiness in 1999.
Over - and out!
David Phelps is a member of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund's Advisory Council. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.