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Over the years I have often paraphrased Martin Luther King Jr. when saying how I, as an LGBTQ African American, didn’t want special rights just the same rights as every other American. I want to one day, live in a nation, where I and all children for generations to come would not be judged by the color of our skin, immigration status, sexual orientation or gender identity, but by the content of our character.
I honestly didn’t expect to see it in my lifetime, but I was constantly haunted by the question posed by my friend and mentor James Boggs, “What can we be that our children might see?” That question just wouldn’t go away.
Isn’t that a part of the American dream, for each generation to leave a better world for the next? Isn’t that the promise of America?
Each time I heard of a young person, LGBTQ or not, bullied to the point of suicide, I would hear Jimmy’s voice asking, “What can we be that our children might see?” I knew I had to do more than just say, “It gets better.”
Each time I met a young veteran who chose military service as much as an economic option as for patriotism, come home traumatized not only by what they had seen but, for LGBTQ vets, living under the fear of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” to unemployment, poverty and discrimination, I’d hear that question.
In many states we can still be fired not just for being LGBTQ, but for being perceived as LGBTQ. Laws denied our families the basic rights and protections afforded other American families. We were far from being the society, community, country that we should want our children to see let alone leave to them.
Silence was not an option, nor empty words. We had to say it with our actions because saying those words to them didn’t mean anything. And over time we’ve seen change.
Like dominos, the tiles of discrimination began to fall. The repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” more states supporting marriage equality, local human rights ordinances, presidential evolution, an inclusive democratic national convention, Tammy Baldwin goes to the senate (I know there were other openly gay politicians elected to various offices, but I love Tammy Baldwin – ok!), a strong coalition of women and LGBTQ activists pushed an expanded Violence Against Women Act through that includes greater support for LGBTQ victims, immigrants and Native American women who have been traditionally underserved.
And, at last, we – the LGBTQ community will get our day in court, the U.S. Supreme Court, as it hears a challenge to California’s Prop 8 and a New York court ruling striking down a centerpiece of the Defense of Marriage Act.
The LGBTQ community collectively is holding its breath. We’ve seen the polls. We hear the talk, but could it actually be time – time for our families, our love, our communities to be afforded the rights and protections of every American family?
Is this the beginning of the age where the “Dream” is fulfilled? When our children for generations to come will not be judged by the color of their skin, immigration status, sexual orientation or gender identity but by the content of their character? And how incredible would it be to begin this new age of LGBTQ equality as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington where Dr. King uttered these words?
While I am encouraged by the progress in our fight and excited about the future for our community; at the same time I am saddened as I look around at the casualties of this long march towards equality. Those who only in their hopes and dreams made it to that mountaintop to look out at the promised land of equality. Those on whose shoulders we have and continue to stand on. Those who lived openly and those who lived closeted lives, fearful of being their true authentic selves. We must never forget.
I optimistically believe the U.S. Supreme Court will rule in our favor, but then what? It’s a huge step and everything won’t be perfect overnight.
There will be challenges and even more work to be done, but as Dr. King said in his last speech on April 3, 1968, “We’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end.”
These days, I still hear Jimmy’s words whispering to me. I think about what we might be that our children might see, but I also think about the world LGBTQ community and families will design, build and lead in this brave new world.