By Kambiz Shekdar, Ph.D.
Bruce and Suzanne’s lives revolve around civil rights and communication. This ally couple has a role in almost everything Pride-related in the city, including co-founding the committee that organized the NYC World Pride Stonewall 50-year-anniversary celebrations. Now, they may take on an even more active role.
The couple met in 1984 when Bruce recruited Suzanne to be photo editor at Fire Island Tide, the beach newspaper distributed where they spend a lot of time (Cherry Grove and the Fire Island Pines). It was the height of the AIDS crisis and AIDS fundraisers. Their relationship grew amidst the backdrop of LGBTQ+ people, events and organizations. For four decades they have lived on—you guessed it—Christopher Street. During that time Suzanne has taken behind-the-scenes photographs of the groups assembling for Pride marches and events from her fire escape on America’s gayest street. Suzanne and Bruce have been marching with the gay community ever since the first celebration.
Two minutes’ walk from their home are the headquarters of our community newspaper, WestView News, where Bruce and Dusty Berke, curator of Tiles for America, created the paper’s growing LGBTQ+ section. In connection with this Pride issue, I thought the LGBTQ+ community might want to learn more about this straight ally couple (curiously) in the gay world.
Much of the Polis’ time and energy is devoted to Heritage of Pride, which organizes the Gay Pride Parade, where each serves on at least three committees and attends one or more meetings per week. As Bruce puts it, “Because the LGBTQ+ community does not have a singular leader like Martin Luther King, people look to the parade for this role” as the spokesperson for the entire community. Just as we were planning our interview, a bombshell announcement rocked gay pride world: Heritage of Pride banned the gay cops. GOAL (Gay Officers Action League) issued a statement defending its 40 years of work to achieve police reforms for LGBTQ+ members. The gay community is now debating the role of police and police reform in the same as is the broader society.
To Bruce and Suzanne, a community that once prided itself on inclusion has begun to exclude. As George Capsis, publisher of WestView News, put it, “It is, for me, a surprise that the gay rights movement started over 50 years ago and is a success in making gay people like everybody else.” The rare and prized secret ingredient that drew the couple into the fold of the LGBTQ+ community in the first place was its unique ability to band together diverse members in support of each other’s dignity and civil rights. Normally content to sit on the sidelines and offer support, the Polis have now started to play an even more hands-on role to make sure the gay community does not become as prejudiced as so many other communities have.
Rockefeller University alumnus and biotech inventor Kambiz Shekdar, Ph.D., is the president of Research Foundation to Cure AIDS and the LGBTQ editor at WestView News. Contact Kambiz at firstname.lastname@example.org.