Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Courage and Commitment

As dozens of gay and lesbian couples and invited guests around the state jubilantly anticipated their nuptials on January 1, a much more somber gathering was taking place on a wind-swept, chilly corner near Baltimore’s Washington Monument the evening before.



Couples queued up at City Hall for their marriage ceremonies.
First, the pleasant news.  On January 1, marriage for same-sex couples became legal with many deciding to tie the knot just after the stroke of midnight.  Baltimore City Hall was the venue for seven such couples with a radiant and proud Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake officiating the first of the ceremonies.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake demonstrated courage in advocating marriage equality before many other elected officials had done so.  She had to weather pressure from her constituents and pastors of mega-churches in the city who opposed same-sex marriage, and she promoted marriage equality as one of fairness.  “Newly married couples will stand before their friends and family to profess their love and commitment to each other. This is what we worked for, and I am looking forward to take part in this historic and jubilant day,” the Mayor said in a statement prior to the event.
The couples in all corners of the state who committed themselves to marriage also exhibited courage.   Many of them have been in long-term relationships that have spanned ten, twenty, thirty years or more.  They had to endure society’s disapproval that was manifested at times by their government, in their families, neighborhoods, and in their workplaces while expressing a degree of commitment to each other that was no less equal or less valuable than that of legally married heterosexual couples.

Thus, when midnight approached on New Year’s Eve, members of couples—adorned in sharp suits or stunning gowns with colorful corsages and flashing smiles that could light up a small town—were ready to declare their love and commitment to their spouses-to-be as cheers and applause rang out.  Even the normally “neutral” media who covered the City Hall nuptials could not fully hide or contain their glee and appreciation for this historic event.
Those were among the first same-sex couples in Maryland to wed.  A whole lot more will do the same in the coming weeks, months and years.  

A different exhibition of courage and commitment occurred on December 30.  Not the joyous celebrations that would be seen and felt the next evening and beyond, but a dose of reality in that much work remains.  Around 40 folks huddled together in the cold, bundled up in winter coats, gloves, scarves and hoods, to participate in a candle light vigil with the hopes (and demands) of ending the violence against LGBT persons in Baltimore. 
The group awaited the arrival of Kenni Shaw, 30, who was brutally attacked from behind by five gutless young men in East Baltimore on Christmas night.   Following opening remarks and prayers that also expressed gratitude that he is still alive, Kenni and his mother joined in the vigil and addressed those assembled with a commitment to stand up to violence. 

Donning an oversized woolen hat, Kenni’s face revealed the swollen red eyes and bruising from the assault five days earlier.  He spoke in a soft voice that was filled with determination and emotion.
Vigil participants praying to stop the violence.
You see, Kenni doesn’t want this horror to ever happen to his LGBT brothers and sisters.  That is why he has spoken out against the violence in a variety of publications and appeared on local TV since the attack.  In this town, where there is a no-snitching culture, Kenni stood up and demonstrated the courage we all dream we could possess. 
He probably inherited this courage from his mother, Sheila Shaw.  Also eager to speak out, Ms. Shaw demanded the cessation of this senseless violence towards someone simply because of being LGBT.

This event and the subsequent march a week later into the heart of the inner city where the attack took place brought black and white folks together.   Many of these same people were also active in the struggle for marriage equality, which was celebrated the next night.  There was a sense of strong commitment that something must be done to stem the violence regardless of the victim.  In Kenni, we all see the potential that this could happen to any of us. 
It is not a black or white thing.  This is not about the racial divide or economics.  This is about homophobia. It is disappointing that the attackers were in their twenties since many of us have come to believe that the younger generation regardless of race has become more accepting of LGBT folks.  This underscores how there is much work left to do; there is still much hatred in the hearts of those who can’t embrace humanity as the precious gift it is.

Cheers to all the couples who overcame a lifetime of hostility or indifference and began a new life together with the power of their love and commitment.

And cheers to Kenni and Sheila Shaw who taught us a valuable lesson about courage.

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