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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

A look back at my work with the LGBTQ community. I first became active in the gay rights movement in 1980 when I launched my LGBTQ jo...

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Good Time to be OUT and PROUD

Since last year’s Pride, happily there have been some quick-moving major developments in the quest for LGBT equality.  The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” took effect with a ho-hum reaction from within the Armed Services instead of the predicted panic by anti-gay worry-warts. 
Both California’s Proposition 8 and the federally passed DOMA—Defense of Marriage Act—are not being upheld in the lower courts on Constitution grounds.  These cases will eventually go before the Supreme Court for an ultimate ruling.

New York State’s legislature passed same-sex marriage and Governor Cuomo immediately signed it. In Maryland the General Assembly narrowly approved marriage equality and Governor O’Malley signed it into law on March 1.  A referendum in an effort to overturn the law is likely in November.

As for gender identity non-discrimination, although Maryland’s General Assembly failed to bring the matter to a vote again this year, protections were legislated successfully in Baltimore and Howard counties, which expand on those already passed in Baltimore City and Montgomery County.  Perhaps next year, the state will follow through.
We witnessed for the first time in U.S. history a sitting president publically support same-sex marriage as did the current vice-president, his two predecessors and two former presidents.  And this hasn’t been demagogued so far by equality opponents as one would have expected.   You can sense a change in the direction of the wind.

One of the factors for this welcome progress has been the trending revealed in local and national polls about the improved attitudes towards LGBT folks including support for marriage equality.  A few years ago this would have seemed implausible. 

The people seem to be always out in front of the politicians on these matters, and the politicians take notice.  That was one of the reasons “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed; it garnered huge widespread backing from the citizenry.
What is causing the needle move into the positive side of the dial?   A recent CNN-ORC International survey offers some clues.  Although the divide continues by political party and age, the support for marriage equality, for example, is inching upward, and it might be because the issue has become more personal than before. 

According to this poll, the number of Americans who say someone close to them is gay stands at 60 percent.  Contrast that to 49 percent in 2010.  And during the 1990’s, CNN reports that the highest percentage of Americans having a gay family member or a close friend reached only 41 percent.   And that was a mere 14 years ago.  In that timeframe, that number rose from 41 to 60 percent, almost a 50 percent increase.
Gays and lesbians are coming out; it’s just that simple.  More are doing so at an earlier age than ever.  Added familiarity with gay people through culture or other means creates a safer environment to come out as do the increased protections against discrimination in employment and housing allow gays and lesbians to disclose their sexual orientation at work. (Note, there is still a long way to go in that regard and federal protections are still lacking.)

While there are too many instances whereby parents reject their children after they come out, those who are accepting have recognized that sexual orientation is not a choice or these families are not dominated by religious dogma.  Or maybe they simply love their kids as they are supposed to do!
All this may explain the fact that more people have close ties to a gay or lesbian person than before.  It should also explain why the positive numbers are rising since folks do not want to see the people close to them hurt by discrimination.

Still, there is so much work left to be accomplished.  We still have too many haters, and that’s an obstacle that will be difficult to overcome.  They should be remanded to the ever-shrinking minority of homophobes and Bible thumpers.
As Pride rolls in, there are certainly reasons to celebrate.  More people are coming out and are being more accepted for who they are.  And that translates into progress.

Pride began as a commemoration of the Stonewall uprising in New York when a rag-tag bunch of trans people, drag queens, street hustlers, and others marginalized by society in general and by gay folks in particular fought back after constant harassment.  Gay rights then were completely non-existent. 
Each year Pride parades and celebrations allow LGBT people to let it rip and be themselves. Sometimes this has impeded progress, but the world is getting used to it—or over it. 

The evolution from political rallies at Pride to a party atmosphere has been the subject of much commentary over the years.  We have plenty to celebrate to be sure.  But we should never forget how this all started in the first place.  And we cannot allow ourselves to forget the road to equality remains largely unpaved.

Let’s celebrate our accomplishments as a community and who we are as individuals, but let’s also rally the masses to join in on one of the most fundamental battles for equality this state has known.  If we do that we can achieve further success.
To do that, we need the entire community to get behind the effort to defeat the referendum in November.  Not everyone sees themselves as ever being married.  That’s OK.  But here’s the chance to show the world that the time for being treated like a second class citizen is over. 

That’s what real Pride is all about.  And why we should be out and proud.

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