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Tribute to Youth Activism & Possibility for a Better Tomorrow

Young people have been integral in the development and success of social movements from the very beginning, and today, they are shaking up traditionally dichotomous notions of male/female gay/straight, and masculine/feminine.
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It was a brilliantly sunny, though rather cool, mid-June afternoon in Boston. Banners flying, music blasting, people of all walks of life assembled, reuniting, greeting, embracing, kissing, catching up on lives lived in the space between. The signal was given with a contagious cheer rising from the crowd, and for the next few hours the streets would be theirs:

Dykes on Bikes revving their engines; shirtless muscled young men dancing to a disco beat atop flatbed floats winding their way down the streets; dazzling drag queens in red and gold and silver; the Freedom Trail Marching Band trumpeting the call; a black-and-white cocker spaniel wearing a sign announcing "DON'T ASSUME I'M STRAIGHT"; lesbian moms and gay dads pushing strollers or walking beside youth of all ages; Gays for Patsy Klein decked out in their finest country duds, two-stepping down the boulevard; AIDS activists falling to the pavement of those same boulevards in mock death to expose governmental and societal inaction, which is still killing so many; married same-sex couples walking hand in hand; Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (P-FLAG) proclaiming "WE ARE PROUD OF OUR LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL, AND TRANSGENDER SONS AND DAUGHTERS"; alongside political, social, and service organizations, business and religious caucuses of all stripes and denominations, and of course, bystanders watching the procession, holding court from the sidelines.

And in the midst of this merriment and this protest, the humorous posters and angry placards, the enormous rainbow balloon sculptures arching overhead, and the colorful streamers and glistening "fairy dust" wafting down from open windows, amid the shiny black leather and shimmering lamé, the multicolored T-shirts and the drab business suits, came the youth, their radiant young faces catching the rays of the sun, marching side-by-side, hand-in-hand, their middle school, high school, and college Gay/Straight Alliance banners waving exaltedly in this storm of humanity, announcing their entry, their solidarity, their feisty outrage, and yes, their pride, chanting "Two, Four, Six, Eight, Queer is Just as Good as Straight, Three, Five, Seven, Nine, LGBTs are Mighty Fine;" then, gaining intensity, singing, "Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Homophobia Has Got to Go," and then, as if hit by an all-consuming revelation, shouting, "We're Here, We're Queer, We're Not Going Back, We're NOT Going Back, WE'RE NOT GOING BACK!"

And indeed, they will not go back into those dank closets of fear and denial that stifles the spirit and ruins so many lives. Oh, they will physically return to their schools and their homes. They will continue to study and play sports, to watch movies, listen to their iPods, and write about their days on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. Some will most likely continue to serve as community organizers, and some will go on to become parents, educators and political leaders once their school days are behind.

The place they will go to, though, is nowhere that can be seen. It is a place of consciousness that teaches those who have entered that everyone is diminished when any one of us is demeaned; that heterosexism, sexism, and bisexual, intersex, and transgender oppression (as well as all the other forms of oppression) have no place in a just society.

From the sidelines of the parade, beginning as a whisper and gaining to a mighty roar of support: "We are so glad you are here," came voices from the crowd. "We wish we could have done this when we were in grade school and in college," cried others too numerous to count. "Thank you so much for your courage!"

Yes, even today, it still takes courage to speak out and counter the stereotypes, the scapegoating, the fear, and the ignorance surrounding our lives. Yet, throughout the world, on university and grade school campuses, in communities and homes, and in the media, issues of sexuality and gender identity and expression are increasingly "coming out of the closet." Fortunately, we see young people developing positive identities at earlier ages than ever before. Activists of all ages are gaining selective electoral, legislative, and judicial victories. Primarily in academic milieus, greater emphasis and discussion is centering on what has come to be called "sexuality and gender studies" (sometimes referred to as "queer studies" -- an area of critical studies) where writers, educators, and students analyze and challenge current notions and categories of sexuality and gender constructions.

Young people have been integral in the development and success of social movements from the very beginning, and today, they are shaking up traditionally dichotomous notions of male/female gay/straight, and masculine/feminine. They are transforming and revolutionizing the society and its institutions by challenging overall power inequities related not only to sexuality and gender identity and categorizations and hierarchies, but they are also making links to the various types of oppression, and they are forming coalitions with other marginalized groups.

They are dreaming their dreams, sharing their ideas and visions, and organizing to ensure a world free from all the deadly forms of oppression, and along their journey, they are inventing new ways of relating and being in the world. Their stories, experiences, and activism have great potential to bring us to a future where people all across the gender and sexuality spectrums will live freely, unencumbered by constraining, outmoded, and oppressive social taboos and cultural norms of gender and sexuality. I am hopeful and thankful to the young people whose energy, talent, and creativity will ultimately bring about a time when all the disparate varieties of sexual identity and gender identity and expression will live and prosper.

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