Wednesday, June 29, 2011

We are Family

I'm not sure why, but traveling to Chicago's Gay Pride this year was more meaningful to me than I had ever anticipated. I mean, after all, it is just a collection of people riding on parade floats, loud music, people marching, huge crowds cheering--it is pretty much the same thing year after year. Or is it?

Mind you, as I have the past few years, I traveled with a number of good, close friends. Naturally, those of us who live in cloistered South Bend always revel in the "family feel" of the parade. Countless men walking hand-in-hand--women too--without fear of reprisal, something rarely seen here in small town America.

Opening the parade was a float loudly playing what is generally accepted as a premiere gay anthem "We are Family" (by Sister Sledge). It set the tone, as always, for this year's parade.


The three hour + affair was populated with the usual suspects.... American military veterans of war marched as did members from PFLAG--both groups have always been incredibly popular with the crowds--and the audience, as always, was huge! I've always enjoyed seeing parents marching alongside their gay daughters and sons. I somehow doubt my parents would ever do the same. Still, it was an amazing, heartwarming sight!

Tens of thousands of people (surely, more than 50,000 people where present for the parade)--gay, lesbian, transgendered and straight people alike lined the route on Chicago's Broadway, Addison and Halsted streets. We observers stood, sat, hang from upper floor windows--applauding, cheering, laughing, pointing... living it up for the day!

As always there were plenty of floats with scantily clad men and women; many church groups were there illustrating not all homophobes are Christian--clearly so... many Christians churches and other denominations have embraced the gay community with open arms.

And what gay pride parade would be complete without the ever popular dykes on bykes? Drag queens joined the Righteously Outrageous Twirling Corps (ROTC) baton twirlers, the gay square dancers and then, of course, were the countless business floats proudly proclaiming they embrace and support their gay employees.

Local political figures courting the gay and lesbian were out in force... notably, Chicago's mayor Rahm Emmanuel marched in the parade. I believe, he was the first Chicago mayor to walk the parade greeting the crowds. He did it on foot, not separated from his constutuents seated in a car, but he marched on foot... and he obviously was not afraid to be seen there! He shook hands, smiled, and he was there! With us!

So why did this year's parade leave me so verklempt? Honestly, I am not sure, but I can say that the vote legalizing gay marriages in New York state just two days earlier surely played a part f my feelings.

One woman who marched alone carried a sign, proudly and up high, saying "Thank you, New York!" Another carried a sign saying "Illinois is next!" And yet another "Illinois, we're coming next to you!"

I wish I could say the same of my native Indiana, but I know better. Hoosiers may proclaim "Hoosier hospitality," but all too often, that does not include its gay sons and daughters. For us to experience the emotions of this day, we usually are forced to travel to Chicago, New York City or other major metropolitan cities, where inclusion is much more common.

As the four of us watched the parade, we wondered why the parade seemed so out of sync and unevenly spaced out. Not until the next day did I learn that homophobes slashed the tires of many of the floats just prior to the beginning of the day's events. If not for the ingenuity of parade officials, this year's parade might have not happened at all. Last minute efforts heroically rounded up enough tires to keep the floats going! Kudos to them--and to the marchers undaunted by hate... And shame upon those who attempted to douse this year's annual celebration!

Knowing this, even after the fact, made the parade more meaningful this year.

During the parade, I met a lesbian named Beth. She and I talked about our roots (her hometown--13 years ago--was Denver), our jobs (in her job she works youth and veteran programs, getting people ready for college and enlisting them for jobs) and we talked about whether we are "out" in our jobs or not. Beth, 33 years old and I being 53, bo,th agreed today's gay teens are a different animal than from *both* of our generations. Kids amazingly, are coming out today at the age of 10, 11, 12!!! This was unthinkable in earlier times... and I am sure this is scaring the beejeebies out of the Christian right, a notion I find rather amusing and ironic!

And this leads me to what I think moved me the most about this year's parade. Late in the parade there came a point where there were hundreds... literally hundreds.. at least three to four hundred youth marching in unison. It was like a huge disorganized conga line. It was so cool! The sight of all these youth gave me goosebumps (see the video at the end of this post).

I had turned to my friend Matt and Shane and mentioned wishing I had a video camera to capture this sea of moving bodies. Literally, I was in tears as I witnessed this. Hundreds and hundreds of youth who were proudly gay and lesbian--and if not, their straight friends--were marching alongside in support of their friends.

Thinking of that huge undulating mass of teens and twenty-somethings walking proudly in unison, I have goosebumps all over again just reliving that moment.

We truly are... family!

photos by the author
video courtesy of Shane Kellar

Friday, June 24, 2011

New York, New York!

New York state tonight became the sixth state in our nation granting marriage equality to its gay and lesbian citizens (which includes Iowa, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont... and in our nation's capital, Washington, D.C.). With a vote of 33-29, the New York legislative body said to the rest of the nation "marriage equality is the law of our land." Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign the legislature into law on July 25, 2011.

No longer will New York's gay citizens be shunted aside as second class citizens. That said, this bill will not correct the deficiencies on a federal level, but this is a start.

New York is now the largest state with the largest population to pass such legislature without being forced to do so by its courts. Brave leaders took a stand tonight.

With New York, long considered far more conservative than many other states, passed the marriage equality amendment on Friday after much hand-wringing and debate during the course of this past week. Republican leaders agreed to let the bill go to a vote only after guarantees were written into the legislation that would protect religious institutions from lawsuit.

Fine. So be it. Gay activists have long said they have little problem with religious institutions being permitted to practice their faith. This was never a matter of us vs. them. It has long been an argument on fairness, equality and rights guaranteed by our nation's Constitution. It is sad that gay people even have to fight this battle, but the realities have also made this a necessity.

Last night, President Obama was in New York state hosting a fundraiser. The President's spokespersons says the President still favors this issue be resolved state-by-state. This is unacceptable! Since when should citizens ever have the right to sit in judgment of their fellow citizens.. and to decide what rights are to be meted out--and to whom.

President Obama is on record saying gay and lesbian couples should be afforded the same (and equal) rights that heterosexual couples receive by saying the two simple words that conclude a wedding ceremony. "I do." By that very argument, "I do" should be a part of the President's re-election mantra.

Personally, I think the President has a lot of balls to go before gay and lesbian donors and tell them to their face "I support you, but only so far.... and while we're at it, can you give me your money?" Mr. President, you have my marginal support, but unless you are willing to go all the way, my support will remain in question.

Earlier this year, the President instructed the Justice Department to stop enforcing the legislation Defense of Marriage Act--DOMA, to most of us. Not enforcing the law is a wimpy way, passive-aggressive even, in saying you believe the law is unconstitutional. Non enforcement is no answer. The law must be abolished to ensure equality in our 50 states. Non-enforcement says nothing to the states other than "business as usual."

History is awaiting. Six states have said enough is enough. Sadly, my own state leaders (Indiana) are working to amend our state constitution saying "marriage is between a man and a woman." If successful, yet another state (currently 40 states expressly forbid same sex marriage) will step into the lane saying "we condone, nay, demand that discrimination be the land."

Just last week, California's recent constitutional battle took on a new urgency when local courts refused to vacate an earlier decision stating Proposition 8 is unconstitutional because the overseeing judge, Judge Walker is gay. Californians now await further rulings later this year to see if the nation's most populated state will be permitted to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples.

C'mon Mr. President. You have said your opinions about gay marriage "are evolving." To that, I say, "Evolve already!" Put your beliefs into practice... You have said you believe DOMA is unconstitutional. You cannot say one thing and yet be so spineless to not more aggressively put this law where it belongs--in the grave.

In other words, put forth legislation that goes beyond mere words, but in deeds. Leaders who permit such discrimination to continue will find themselves on the wrong side of history. I can honestly say, who wants to be remembered in our nation's history textbooks that way?

Clearly, public sentiment is slowly changing. Just two years ago, an overwhelming majority believed gay marriage should be forbidden, but many recent polls now give the affirmative camp a slight majority. It goes without saying much work remains to be done, and hearts to be won before this issue will be resolved.

Last word: Congratulations, New York leaders. Your brave stance tonight will not be forgotten!

Note: Gov. Cuomo signed the bill shortly before midnight tonight, cementing the legislation, making it the law in the Empire State.