In Memory Of Jerry Carlton Of Hancock, Wisconsin
I was saddened to learn today of the passing of Jerry Carlton from Hancock, Wisconsin, the place where I was born and raised. I think a few words are in order as a way to honor the life he lived, and the impact he made on others around him, even if he may not have always been aware of the extent his positive role played in the community.
Growing up in that small town, in a time when I was coming in to my own in the late 1970s, it was a huge relief to have someone in the community who, whether he was aware of it or not, served as a real role model. I so desperately needed that. Jerry helped me to understand that being gay was nothing strange or unusual, nor was it a reason to keep me from achieving my goals in life. I valued very much knowing that, despite the harsh stereotypes that I had to battle in high school, there was so much more to life. Sadly “Soap” had the only television character on TV who was gay at that time. The secrecy and mystery surrounding life as a gay man, especially in small towns, was so prevalent, that it seemed like leading a life filled with happiness and fellowship with a loved one of my own may have only been possible as a fantasy.
Luckily, I found someone special thirteen years ago. We live together here on the isthmus of Madison. We walk the neighborhood hand in hand and hope that we are “educating” others as to what being gay really means. That is to say, we hope that the young people who see us realize that our sexuality is by far the least interesting thing about us, and that we love in the same way that all of the other couples in the neighborhood do.
In some way I hope we are the Jerry Carlton’s of the modern era, and in that way serve to move society forward.
Hancock is a better place because Jerry Carlton lived life authentically with his companion, Michael, for 48 years. That lesson is something which will live on in others for years to come.
Rest in peace, Jerry.