Remembering What It Means to Be Gay

While it is important to support my own communities when they are discriminated against, it is important for all of us to address oppression itself. Violence and sexism in our culture are not just issues for women, and the experiences of racism are not just issues for people of color.
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Early on the morning of June 27, I feared the worst-case scenarios emerging out of the decisions forthcoming from the Supreme Court about the landmark cases involving the human and civil rights of LGBTQ communities. It turned out to be an amazing day of achievements by our multiple queer communities and our allies in the political and cultural spheres of our lives. While there is still much more work to be done, there was a slight sense of relief that freedom and justice were slowly moving forward. The energy and joy was high as I was walking, holding my husband's arm, down Market Street in San Francisco this late afternoon. The call in the community had gone out to come and celebrate in the Castro, and I remember the decades of gay pride celebrations and dyke marches that followed a similar path, not unlike the ones that will follow this weekend for the upcoming glorious Pride weekend. I remembered that I have never experienced a single gay pride parade in San Francisco that was rained upon; I remember thinking in the past that surely this is an implicit sign of our communities' approval by the grander forces of life.

During that evening, as we sat in the world premiere oratorio of "I Am Harvey Milk," written by Andrew Lippa and performed by the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus, I remember all those expansive and inspiring figures upon whose shoulders we stand in order to live the openly queer lives we do today. I remember the impact of Harvey's life and death, and I remember all those who have come before and after him, with images Harry Hay, Christine Jorgensen, Bayard Rustin, Alan Turing, Del Martin, Phyllis Lyon, Leonard Matlovich, Audre Lorde, June Jordan, Gerry Studds, Billie Jean King, James Baldwin, Barney Frank, Larry Kramer, Roberta Achtenberg, Ellen DeGeneres, Gene Robinson, and so many others cascading through my consciousness who continue to show me how brilliant gay, lesbian, and queer life can be. I remember that we rarely, if ever, accomplish things by ourselves. As queer communities, we have benefactors, seen and unseen, known and unknown, who have supported us to be proud without being arrogant, and to help us across the arc of social justice and transformation which always is more difficult than we would like and always takes longer than we think it should. I remember to be grateful to my mentors, role models, friends, and inspirations.

And with memory, how could I not remember the suffering and difficulties that all of our queer lives have navigated? Our oppression existed and still exists in seclusion in some proverbial closet, whether briefly or for a lifetime; in the scourge of disease that is still with us; in the bullying and killing fields of homophobic and transphobic violence, driven by the irrational hatred that gets projected onto us. We know pain. We know it intimately. And even as we move to heal ourselves and our communities, what suffering teaches us, each in our own way, is the possibility of compassion. Even when I hurt, I can recognize more vividly and clearly how others hurt as well, because I know what it is like from the inside out. How, then, is it not possible to reach out to alleviate pain, whether it is yours or mine? And so I remember how our communities have cared for, nurtured, and healed each other, time and time again. I remember the times that I have ached so deeply, and you reached out to touch my heart, hold my body, and soothe my mind. Thank you, because you have shown to me how I can pay that forward to others.

As the fate of Prop 8 turns once again towards its own demise, I remember how I felt the mixed confusion of feelings when, on that November night in 2008, we accomplished the previously seemingly impossible feat of electing our first African-American president, but within minutes found out that Proposition 8 had also passed, taking away the civil and sacred liberties of marriage for LGBTQ communities in California. I remember the joy and despair being so close in my heart. I remember thinking to myself, "How could these extremes coexist?" I remember holding that complexity without any clear answers. Then this week, the Supreme Court began to dismantle the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which protected marginalized populations, and the next day they created a whole new landscape into which same-sex marriage and LGBTQ civil rights might expand. I remember 2008, and today I feel as I did then. While the details might be different, I remember the complexity as the same.

As I connect the past to the present, I remember that oppression and discrimination are the same forces across the different communities they target. And while it is important to support my own communities when they are discriminated against, it is important for all of us to address oppression itself. Violence and sexism in our culture are not just issues for women; they are issues for all of us, regardless of gender. The experiences of racism or the denigration of the Voting Rights Act are not just issues for people of color; they are experiences that need to be addressed by all peoples from all backgrounds. The struggle for the sacred union of marriage for LGBTQ communities is not just a problem that queer people can remedy for ourselves; it is a process in which queer and straight people need to work together to create.

Because ultimately, I remember what it means to be gay is to be human; it is remembering to be part of the universal family. However one affiliates -- culturally, ethically, racially, through gender identity or orientation -- is not the only area of concern or attention in our life. I remember that even though my vote or voter registration has never been directly suppressed or manipulated to my knowledge, and even though the voting districts that I have lived within have never been gerrymandered to my awareness, these issues along with the current dismantling of the Voting Rights Act need my attention and action, even as I enjoy the possibility of my own LGBTQ civil rights becoming more possible. What it really means to be gay is to be fully human and attending to all those aspects of our collective humanity needing attention, care, compassion, and the change that we call justice. I feel this is what we can consider to be a movement forward, not just in our civil rights but in the evolution of our humanity and ability to live in this world together.

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