The Shadow Box

When I think of U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, I remember the shadow
box that hung on the wall of his Madison condo.

It was a weekend afternoon and Pocan was throwing a
housewarming party at his new condo. I was dating a city council rep at the
time, so I found myself invited to this shindig.

I had met Pocan a few times as a reporter and via a few
friends I had in Madison’s gay community. He served as a county board rep and
was a solid fixture in both the area’s political and LGBTQ communities. I always
found him to be extremely well grounded, humorous and generally just a good guy
to be around. When I was fumbling my way through county politics as a student
reporter, he took time out to help me understand what was going on, all without
making me feel like I was a fool or that I was wasting his time.

As I perused the condo, checked out the deck and nibbled on
some hors d’oerves, I came across a beautiful framed set of letters, about the
size of a shirt box. In between the two letters, written on official federal
stationary rested a set of rubber gloves, the kind you would expect a
stereotypical housewife to don before washing the floor.

In reading the letters, I didn’t quite get the gist of what
I was seeing, so I asked my date, who told me, “Hang on. Let me get Mark. He
tells the story so much better than I can.”

Pocan left whatever he was doing and came over to explain
what ended up being inexplicable.

He and a few other politicians from the gay
community had been invited to Bill Clinton’s White House to meet with the
president and discuss various issues. The Wisconsin contingent road tripped out
there and met up with LGBTQ folks from across the country.

Prior to meeting with the Big Wigs in D.C., the Secret
Service did what they considered to be a standard frisking of the guests.

However, since these people were gay, they donned rubber
gloves.

The guests were hurt and outraged. The Secret Service didn’t
back down. One of the letters explained that they were following protocol due
to fear of disease. I can’t remember if the term “AIDS” was used or not, but
the connotation was clear.

The guests voiced their disapproval both at the time and
upon returning home. Sometime there after, Pocan and others received a letter
from Bill Clinton, apologizing for their treatment and offering his regrets.

Pocan framed both letters and in between them, he placed a
set of rubber gloves.

I don’t know if he forgave, but he made sure he never
forgot.

I thought of Pocan this morning because of a report that his
husband, Philip Frank, received a federal ID issued only to the spouses of
federal lawmakers.
Pocan and Frank were married in Canada in 2006.

“It’s significant,”Pocan told the Wisconsin Gazette. “It’s
the first time.”

The card provides no benefits and is mostly symbolic, but
Pocan is right, because each step taken in the right direction is at least one
step taken away from the wrong one.

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