To tell you that this award is an honor beyond measure scarcely does justice to how I feel.
First, I want to thank all of you for being here tonight, and for your support of The Center. In particular, I want to thank my family and friends for all their love and encouragement – my parents, Harry and Eloise Bohnett are here, as well as my brother, Bill Bohnett, and my sister, Wendy Campbell. I'm also very honored that Rand's brother, Jon Schrader, and his wife, Marcy, are here, as is Rand's mother, Hildi Lustig – I know this is a very emotional evening for Hildi as well.
One more very special person is here with me tonight, and I want to thank Paul for all his love and support.
When Eric Shore called to give me the news that I was to receive this award my reaction was emotional and complex — I felt gratitude of course, and, as one might expect, pride, and then, a real thud in my stomach. The Center wanted to give me the Rand Schrader Award! How could that be?
An honor like this would be significant even if it was not in Randy's name. But that it is in his name makes it, for me, much more meaningful.
Certainly those of you who know me – (and after that video probably those of you who don't, as well), realize how much I admired Randy — and still do.
And standing here now, receiving this award that was so aptly named for him, I can't help remembering another Center dinner, eight years ago, when I sat in the back of a room much like this one, watching and listening as Randy himself accepted The Center's award so graciously, and with such eloquence that I nearly burst with pride.
I loved Randy with all my heart, and I admired him in all the ways that I think everyone hopes to love and admire someone. He was my inspiration. My beacon of truth. Shining a light so pure and clear that the right path was always illuminated for me.
When he died, I honestly did not know how I would go on. But, of course, I did go on — as we all do, even when we think otherwise. I've gone on to a loving relationship with a fine man and, as you're aware, I went on to succeed in business to a degree beyond even my own pretty wild dreams.
So, here I am. Six and half years after having my world torn apart. I have not only lived – I have thrived. I've worked hard and have won a measure of professional and financial success.
My message tonight is that I've succeeded by my own definition and on my own terms, because I focused on three things.
I had a really good idea, and the discipline and strength to pursue that idea. I had faith – in God and in myself. And I had a commitment to tell the truth about who I am and what I feel.
I had loved someone deeply – and I suffered when he died. Terribly. But I had friends. I had a family – mine and Randy's. And we all shared our grief and comforted one another during our time of loss.
But what if I had been alone in that grief? What becomes of a man or woman when one loses a partner whom no one else knows was a partner? What happens to people who are afraid to tell the truth about who they are and whom they love?
It upsets me even to imagine such a situation. Fortunately, I was not alone in my grief. Through the love and support of family and friends, I was able to move on, move forward, and about a year and half after Randy died, I started GeoCities.
I'm very proud of what I accomplished with GeoCities. It was my vision and my dream, and I was completely devoted to it, despite many invitations, and just as many urges, to quit while I still had a dime to my name.
But, just as proud as I am of GeoCities itself, I am equally proud of the fact that I built the GeoCities team and company without hiding who I was or what I believed in. By the time I created GeoCities, I didn't want to just succeed in business. I wanted to do what I think we all want to do. I wanted to stand up and make a difference.
I'm glad that Torie mentioned the incident with the New York Times – it was a pivotal experience in my continuing coming-out process. There I was on the eve of our IPO, an event that would bring great visibility to the company, and to me. I was being watched and measured on all sides – by people in the industry, by the media, and particularly by our investors. So, of all the times I would ever be open and truthful, that moment was possibly the real litmus test. I had no idea what would happen. I just had faith and told the truth about who I am. I told the story that my passion for the idea of online communities, my idea for giving away free home pages, came from my own experience as a gay man.
It was through my personal experience of coming out that I recognized how important it was to give everyone on the Internet that same chance to speak up about who they are – to give a voice to their hopes, their dreams and their passions. And that's the story they wrote in the Times, and that's what GeoCities is all about.
My message tonight is that it's time for us to dream big – to create greatness within ourselves, and for ourselves. I am thankful for the success of GeoCities and for having the financial wherewithal to make a concrete difference in the world. But we all continue face the same challenge: To maintain faith in ourselves even when everything around us suggests that we should do otherwise.
And even more, to tell the truth about who we are, even when everyone around us would prefer that we remain quiet. It is time now, for us all to reach even higher. To demand much more. It isn't enough anymore to talk about tolerance and acceptance. It is time and it is right and it is necessary for lesbians and gay men to assume visible, out ,and proud leadership roles across all segments of society. All of this takes a certain amount of courage, I know. But I think it's the same courage that it takes to love someone – and to be open and proud of that love.
When I think about why God created lesbians and gay men, the best answer I can come up with, based on my observations of the role we play in society, is that God created gay people to show the world what it means to love – to love without guilt, shame or fear, and to love our fellow human beings with the same unconditional love that God shows us all.
I will continue to fight with all my might and all of my resources to ensure that lesbians and gay men have the same rights and privileges and protections accorded to other minorities, including the right to adopt children and raise a family, the right to be protected from job and housing discrimination, the right to serve in the military as an openly gay person, and the right to marry.
The honor I've received tonight is but a further call to action. There is only one award worthy of Rand Schrader and all the others lost to the devastation of AIDS, and that is to go forward – in our communities, in the boardroom, in our churches, within our families, and on the streets – with courage and spirit to claim the ultimate victory of human freedom.
Rand lived for no less, nor can I, nor can you.