It’s been a few good years for the LGBTQ community. In June of 2015 the Supreme Court ruled on marriage equality, I think that will be the “defining moment” when they write the history books.
It was more than 46 long years of struggle to reach that win. I’m okay with this little group of letters, though in my elder's head I’ve never needed them. Everyone I knew that fit those letters were always members of the gay community to me.
We learned from the struggles for racial equality that it takes many years of demonstrations to convince the majority of a nation to change. Through the help of many brave individuals, groups and famous people such as Martin Luther King Jr, we learned how to represent ourselves, predominantly through nonviolent movements.
I began my journey in the gay rights movement in 1977. That was the year I adopted the word gay to identify myself. I always knew I wasn't wired like most of the people I knew. I always felt I was different, though I never understood what that difference was. I grew up on a combination of military bases all over the United States, and in junior high my family settled in South Central Louisiana.
Prior to high school, I’d never heard of the word gay, other than as a synonym for the word happy, (which I certainly am), and once I did hear it, there were many, many other words used as synonyms for it, none of which were kind. Growing up in the seclusion of a military family, and then in a very small rural town in the South, I wasn't exposed to anyone that I could identify as being different like me.
After high school graduation in 1976, in Loreauville, Louisiana, I looked forward to moving to a larger city to attend university. During those years, my heart and eyes were opened to a whole new world I that I had been on the edge of and yearning for but hadn’t known existed. I decided I was now comfortable enough with my sexuality to start the process of "coming out."
The first thing to do was to inform my closest university friends. That was easy, as the intellectual environment that we lived in was very accepting, and they pretty much already knew by now. I was just confirming their suspicions. The gay group on campus, called Alterum, was planning a gay awareness day, and they made flyers to post around campus with the tagline "Wear Jeans if You're Gay Day." It caused the anticipated upheaval at the university, but most noticeably from the student body, not the faculty or administration.
It fell to my best friend to announce the event at the honors course we both took that week. It was a brave thing for him, for although all of his friends knew, my friend had never publicly announced his sexual preference. When my favorite professor, Dr. Pat, called on him for a "special announcement" I could tell he was nervous. He had been sitting there scratching his thumbs with a neighboring finger, a nervous trait he often manifested by the rugged looks of his thumb cuticles.
The announcement came and went without any harsh recoil; we were, after all honors students, the cream of the university. When that day finally came, Friday, April 14, 1978, all of the fraternities in the Greek system made it a mandatory suit and tie day for their members. My hero Dr. Pat, was a towering personality, even though she was only average in height. She was also full figured enough that her wardrobe consisted only of large comfortable dresses. Dr. Pat handmade a huge button, which she wore for several days, that said "I don't own any jeans, but I support Gay Rights." Further proof that my adoration of her was not misplaced.
The ensuing rush of years brought many changes to our gay community. Just as in the racial equality movement that spanned 1954 to 1968, the Stonewall Riots in 1969 began OUR very public push for equal rights. Suddenly we were banding together and marching in our cities and our nation’s capital. By this time, I’d moved to the Washington DC area to work in the computer industry and I was living in the heart and political center of the burgeoning gay rights movement. We realized that until we ROSE UP AS A RIGHTEOUS GROUP and protested EN MASSE, we would never gain the support of the general public.
There were many good causes over the years that had "million man marches" on Washington that fizzled because there weren't a million supporters willing to make their way to DC to show that support. Staying at home and raising money only puts money in the politicians pockets, it doesn't put people on the streets in quantities enough to make change happen. We FOUGHT in Stonewall NY, we RIOTED in Stonewall NY, we MARCHED in EVERY state in the union, we organized FOR REAL, in REAL NUMBERS, we SHOWED up in numbers impressive enough to have people notice and make change happen. I was on the front lines of those gay rights marches in Washington in 1979, 1987, 1993, and 2000.
The last display of the entire AIDS Memorial Quilt was in October of 1996 when The Quilt covered the entire National Mall in Washington, DC. I walked and knelt and cried over every panel of that quilt that day, and lamented the loss of so many friends. It’s never again been shown in its entirety because it’s too large for any public showing.
I lived in California during the fight against Proposition 8, a proposition that stated "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” It was started by opponents of same-sex marriage and actually passed by a narrow majority. Again, we took to the streets of cities all across California and many other cities across the nation, spontaneously marching to show our disapproval of losing yet another battle for equal rights.
Though I know I’ve missed many powerful examples of other times we’ve risen up as a righteous group, I wasn’t on the front lines of those other examples of courageous activism. Nor was I able to be in Washington DC in June of 2015, when we rose up for perhaps our greatest reason, to celebrate the fact that Marriage Equality was now the law of the land. We’ve grown quite a bit since we used to just be known as “gay”. We now inclusively have consigned the letter “G" of gay to stand with those other proud and brave letters: L, B, T, and Q. I’m okay with that.