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Edda Cimino: She kept her life to herself

EddaOn April 17, 1977, The Miami Herald profiled a lesbian schoolteacher who said that only two people at work knew her secret. ''I live in terror that someone will learn I'm gay,'' said the teacher, identified as ``Eleanor.''

Thirty years later, she's unafraid.

''I didn't use my name. I already had plenty of flack,'' reveals Edda Cimino, who retired in 1995. ``Teachers were trashing gays and lesbians in the teacher's lounge. They were telling dirty jokes about gays and lesbians. . . . We got death threats on the phone.''

Then, she had enough. ``It was harder to be in the closet than out, I finally decided.''

Cimino said she got tired of going to school and hearing the dirty jokes:

``One day, I walked into the lounge and said, `I know you don't mean to hurt my feelings, but I want you to know I am gay and please don't use those remarks when I'm in here.''

Cimino said that through the 1960s and early '70s, ``you could get a police record if you were a gay male walking down Biscayne Boulevard.''

Gay people lived with the ``fear of losing their job, fear of being thrown out of their apartments, fear of being spied upon.''

During the '77 campaign, ''it was terrifying'' to be gay in Dade County, Cimino said. `People threw garbage at our cars if we had anything on them that were anti-referendum. I learned not to put any advertisements on my car.''

In the 1990s, Cimino co-chaired the Miami-Dade chapter of GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

At age 77, she ''feels great'' about herself.

''I used to be ashamed and afraid,'' she said. ``Now, I feel like I belong in the world. That I have a right to be here.''

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