In 1980, just out of college, I moved to New York where my older brother, the actor Richard Gere, was already making a big name for himself. That was the year of American Gigolo with Lauren Hutton, and it was also the year he starred on Broadway in Martin Sherman’s Bent.
I went to see the play several times, watching my straight brother play a gay man in Nazi Germany who lands in a concentration camp. Seeing the play would have been a harrowing experience for any viewer, but it was particularly so for me because, at that moment in my life, I was beginning to realize that I was gay. In the theatre, I would watch my brother, Richard, as he was grievously degraded and forced to wear a pink triangle, and I would quake in my seat with the horror of it all. One night at a performance of Bent, I was seated next to Lauren Hutton, who had come to see her American Gigolo co-star on Broadway. She could feel my consternation, my uncomfortable squirming, and reached over to take my hand, to console me.
By that time, that very same pink triangle, turned on its end, had become a gay rights symbol—a demeaning icon brilliantly reclaimed in order to remove its sting. In 1987, when it was adopted by the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), I proudly donned the pink triangle on a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “Silence = Death.” Now the pink triangle wasn’t just about fighting homophobia. It was about fighting AIDS phobia, too. Thankfully, by then I was “out," as a gay man, and as an AIDS activist. I still have that shirt.
Now, all these years later, with my husband, Peter, and two children by my side, Bent for me is about two moments in time: the Nazi era, to be sure, but also the year 1980, when the pink triangle catalyzed a social movement of which I now realize that I have been a prime beneficiary.