As a teenager, I, like many homosexuals, struggled to accept and love myself for who I was. The world makes it incredibly difficult to believe that being gay is okay. The idea that “gayness” is something to be ashamed of has become so ingrained in American culture that it is almost impossible to avoid encountering some form of bigotry each and every day.Â
Only when I finally came to believe in, accept, and be proud of myself did I begin to see that changes were happening in the world around me. Being gay was becoming more and more socially acceptable. I even stopped fearing that I would be killed for being gay (yes, this was a fear that I lived with for years.) I still never imagined that I would one day be allowed to marry.
Then in December 2003, in a twist that I really never thought I would see, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that gays could not be denied the right to marry. The emotions that were stirred in me were strong. My heart swelled with hope and my eyes teared. Thinking back on it still causes those same feelings to resurface today.
Five years later and relatively little progress has been made though. On the contrary, a lot of steps backward have been witnessed. DOMAÂ still prevents any union between same-sex couples from being recognized federally, a handful of statesÂ have constitutional amendments outlawing gay marriage, and what is arguably the most progressive state in the nation has claimed a first: stripping rights from a minority that were previously afforded to them.
At the same time celebrities are coming out, television shows and movies are regularly featuring gay characters, major corporations are enacting by-laws protecting gay employees and offering domestic partner benefits (links go to companies that scored 100 on the HRC Corporate Equality Index for 2009), and gay-straight alliances are becoming commonplace in schools.
So why is it, then, that the gay rights movement has moved at a snail’s pace? Why is it that five years later only two states offer homosexuals the right to marry while so many states have been able to quickly outlaw that capability? It’s because we are too lazy.
A few months ago, after Proposition 8 passed and gays in lesbians in California stripped of their rights, half a million people around the country came out in protest. Chicago alone saw 10,000 take to the streets. Finally people were upset and demanding action. What happened that day was amazing. People of every orientation, race, religion and background imaginable were out in full force fighting for what is right. Not only was it empowering but it was emotional. I struggled at times to hold back tears. I was full of happiness, pride, comfort… outrage, anger, and motivation.
I looked around at my friends who came with me as we poured out onto Michigan Avenue. Everywhere there were chants. “Gay, straight, black, white same struggle, same fight.” “What do we want? Equal Rights. When do we want it? Now.” “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Homophobia’s got to go.” Shoppers in stores along the Magnificent Mile came to the windows and drivers stuck in traffic cheered instead of getting angry. It seemed that maybe things would start turning around.
Two months later, on January 10th, Chicago’sÂ DOMA protest drew barely one hundred and garnered no news coverage.Â
Some chose to sleep in because it was snowing. Others stayed home with hangovers. Â Quite a few people didn’t bother to take the day off from work. Out of over three hundred people that I invited personally only three showed up, and quite ironically, all three were straight.
I was there with my three friends and a small handful of others. We all had picket signs. We also were covered in snow, cold and drenched, feet soaked from road slush and ourselves very hungover. But for the few who made it that day we realized that equality mattered more than a few extra winks of sleep.
What I want people to understand is that for progress to happen we have to fight for it. Politely but steadily and without wavering. The single reason why bigots have been able to make so much progress is because they, not we, have been organized and committed to their mission.
On the eve of a “change we can believe in” it is important to remember that the changes we want don’t happen while idly waiting for them.
- Educate people through casual conversation.
- Stop people when they call things “gay” or use the word “faggot.”
- Attend events like the protests that have happened. Attendance get media coverage and media coverage reaches far and wide.
- Absolutely under no circumstances support anything or anyone that supports bigoted views.
- Fight not just for your own rights but for those of others.
- Leave your comfort zone, push the limits.
- Come out – to everyone.Â
Did you know that the Defense of Marriage Act denies over a thousand federal rights and freedoms to same sex couples – even if they hold a valid marriage or civil union in the state they live in? It also prevents marriages or civil unions granted in one state from being considered equally in other states. Barack Obama promised to repeal DOMA. On January 10th a nationwide gathering will occur to protest the disparity in rights for gays and lesbians and ask Obama to follow through on his promise. Please join me in and many others in Chicago or visit jointheimpact.com to find a protest near you.
Newsweek: Gay Marriage: Our Mutual Joy – Great article which explores the history of marriage.