When you’re a child you get used to certain things: balloons, chocolate milk, the scent of fresh cookies wafting from the kitchen, or holding your mother’s hand before you cross the road. Some things about childhood are automatic. You begin to see, talk, and understand. You may not be exactly sure how to get dressed by yourself, but certainly know when you are hungry, happy, or sad. Childhood is also when you begin to learn. You develop an appreciation for what appears to be natural and a curiosity for what appears to be abnormal. For Amy Clark, her childhood in Pensacola, Florida, was a cornucopia of family, friends, food, laughing, crying, learning to walk and talk. However, something made her childhood somewhat different from others, an automatic that would eventually influence her well into adult life. Besides having crayons, balloons, cookies and toys - she also had something else. Amy had someone in her life that embodied the LGBT movement.
Key West in the ’70s, where Amy’s parents and their long-time family friend Uncle Hue lived at the time, made a home for its inhabitants based on tolerance and understanding. As Swish friend Gilbert Baker, a long time LGBT activist and creator of the movement’s symbolic rainbow flag describes, “Key West in the ’70s had Gays, Straights, Europeans, Latin Americans, Blacks, Cubans and White folks all living together on a two-by-four-mile island. When you put people that close together, they tend to find ways to get along.” This experience proved especially true for Amy’s household; her parent’s best friend happened to be gay. Amy had Uncle Hue around the majority of her childhood. As she describes, it was as if she grew up with three parents. Uncle Hue became an automatic. She was raised in an environment in which homosexuality was accepted, loved and a part of everyday life. For Amy, having Uncle Hue around was never an issue of what or why, but was as normal as balloons, coloring, or watching Saturday morning cartoons.
In the ’80s, Amy and her parents relocated to the panhandle of Florida, to a town named Pensacola, which by chance, happens to be home to one of the biggest pride events in the country, Memorial Day at the Beach. Amy had grown to be a young child. She had moved from basic curiosity into an acceptance and understanding of everyday life. Amy and her sister had long surpassed the notion of questioning Uncle Hue and his lifestyle. To them, homosexuality was normal, and deserved no questioning. The ‘80s also saw a rise to HIV/AIDS , a force that would change Amy’s life forever. Uncle Hue was diagnosed with HIV and was told he had only few years to live. Remembering his days with Amy and the rest of her family in Key West, Uncle Hue moved down to Pensacola, Florida to spend his last years with them. More than automatic, Uncle Hue could live his last days in support, acceptance, and love.
As Amy describes, she was always aware of Uncle Hue’s lifestyle, but never questioned it because of the acceptance displayed by her parents and friends from the time she was able to observe and understand. She grew up alongside that lifestyle and it never occurred to her that anything was different about Uncle Hue. Only after her developmental years in public education did she learn there was something different. Beyond the confines of her household, Pensacola rested comfortably on America’s Bible Belt. Amy was surrounded by conservative ideals. By the time she was old enough to understand her own upbringing, she was also confronted by the beliefs and actions of those around her. Amy recalls a time when she returned home from school and asked her mother, What were the words she had been hearing? What did they mean? Was Uncle Hue a bad person? For the first time in her life, Amy questioned her beliefs. The more she understood her acceptance of the LGBT community, the more isolated she found herself.
When asked about Swish, Amy remembers when she felt a call to action. It had been one thing to grow up with someone from the LGBT community, but understanding the importance of supporting and fighting for it came later. She recalls being sixteen and at a punk show with her friends, gay and straight alike. After the show, Amy came out of the concert to Bible College students preaching and waving signs denouncing homosexuality. She could not understand how people whose lives centered on love, tolerance, and acceptance could contradict their beliefs by opposing homosexuality. This encounter lit a fire in her, a fire that has yet to burn out.
Currently, Amy works with both GLAAD and Pensacola Pride, volunteering at her local chapters. Amy assured us that as long as there is a struggle, she will continue to fight. For Amy, to Swish is to work towards equality; it embodies what she feels in her heart. She grew up loving and accepting the movement, and there is no hesitation for her to defend it on its path to acceptance. The most important thing to Amy is how much equality would raise standards of living. Marriage, health insurance, adoption… these are all reasons why Amy swishes. Swish is a way for Amy to fight for the options and luxuries that the straight community takes for granted; it is a way for Amy to fight for what Uncle Hue never had. For Amy, Swish is a way of honoring and remembering an old friend from childhood––a friend who made the not so familiar, familiar.