In collaboration with Stephanie A. Jones, J.D., LL.M., M.P.H.
First, America, Happy Birthday! It's true what they say, time really does fly. 234 years young and you don't look a day over 150. I am so proud to be an American -- in fact I well up with tears if I sit and just think about the extraordinary blessing it is to be so privileged. I remember as a child getting goose bumps as I sat on my parents lap and watched the American Legion fireworks display. I would quietly witness the dusk sky melt from orange to dark blue, smell the gun-powder from the "bombs bursting in air" and listen to the sound of the emcee's booming voice proudly shouting "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"...that memory is the heart of what America means to me.
I believe that with the blessing of being an American also comes a duty for me to work to further civil liberties from which such happiness flows. Over the past month, I have been traveling around America, celebrating LGBTQA Pride Month or Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Questioning, and Allies -- those that identify as heterosexual, but act as strong advocates of the community. Our Allies sometimes get left out of the acronym, but they play a vital role in the movement towards equality. While at these Pride Month events I raised money for local charities by signing copies of the June 2010 issue of PLAYGIRL Magazine, in which I "drop my labels," both literally, and politically. The PLAYGIRL project provided a forum for me to challenge prevailing concepts of sexuality, race and ethnicity, to explore artistically, and, as a political science student at The New School in New York, just what dropping our labels might look like. As I say in the PLAYGIRL Magazine interview (yes -- there is an interview!) I believe labels further stereotype and categorize us as separate from one another, when I believe our "sameness" to one another clearly trumps our "differences."
These academic theories of mine have been completely borne out in my sea-to-shining-sea traveling of this country during Pride Month. I have concluded that what we need in order to realize those aspirational words, penned by our Nation's founders, is to view the world with a "lens of integration" of ALL peoples, and not a "lens of separation" by gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, or any other single characteristic commonly employed to divide us. Such labeling focuses on our differences when what I have seen at Prides across the country is that those who identify with the LGBTQA community have so much more in common with people who identify themselves as exclusively heterosexual! At Pride events I saw so many beautiful families (my own included) often several generations of families together (often with a dog or two in rainbow garb!) celebrating time with one another and simply wanting what all families want: the right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Sadly, these fundamental rights remain an elusive dream for myself and countless others that identify with the LGBTQA Community, but I am confident that the LGBTQA Equal Rights Movement will soon know the same success of the Woman's Liberation & African American Civil Rights Movements that have prevailed before it.
To do so, however, we must employ the "lens of integration" -- in mainstream culture, and within the LGBTQA community itself - emphasizing not the differences but the similarities across all of us as peoples, in order to shift perceptions, for and as we all know - perception is reality -- good, bad, or ugly.
To start to employ the "lens of integration," I would encourage you to read and begin to use my recently published definition of "personal orientation", in the Urban Dictionary, as an alternative to "sexual orientation":
I would encourage you to support the grassroots work of my friends, who are clearly challenging stereotypes and misperceptions:
Nathan Manske & Marquise Lee who are sharing the true stories of individuals that happen to be gay across the country
Jamie McGonnigal who is inspiring us to remember our roots and educate ourselves about all those who stood up at Stonewall Inn
Lastly, I would encourage that we Americans all learn about getting involved with the work of these flagship organizations:
The Human Rights Campaign
The American Civil Liberties Union
As we gather together this Independence Day -- at our various fireworks displays, BBQ outings, parades, and sporting events -- let us take a closer and less critical look at all the faces in the crowds and take time to reflect upon our sameness, the very sameness that unites us together on this special holiday and every day as 'one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for ALL.'