When I took to the streets of NYC for my first Pride March in 1972, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was 15 years old. The march was only in its third year and I never could have imagined back then the progress that would be made in my own lifetime. At 19 my journey began, and I never looked back.
That year, thousands of us marched up Sixth Avenue to the loud chant of antigay epithets and tomatoes thrown at us. Yet the spirit of those gathered could not be broken. We were out of the closet, heads held high and we were not going back, no way, no how. “We are everywhere!” read the banners and soon we would be connected through community all over the country and the world.
Over the years, Pride sprung up across the planet in thousands of cities, large and small. It was word-of-mouth marketing pre-Internet days, connected by rainbow flags waving across state capitols and in the streets.
In each of the decades since Stonewall, the collective abiding principle of coming out – telling our stories at home and at work – has built a movement that, in part, culminated in the signing of New York state’s same-sex marriage equality legislation last Friday. (I am certain that then-15-year-old Cuomo had witnessed many NYC Pride marches go by and never forgot them.)
Fast forward to now-Gov. Cuomo, who not only had the political will, but personal heart to see his campaign promise realized. News reports of the weeks and days leading up to the historic vote in the New York state senate showed Cuomo’s personal signature not only on the final piece of legislation, but on the negotiations behind the scenes.
A true game changer in the New York initiative was his leadership at the top, combined with coordinated strategies that educated New Yorkers about the issues of full equality. Business leaders, entertainment stars and sports stars jumped on the equality bandwaggon as did several Republican state senators – yes, Republican. This diverse mix is what it took to push the bill into law.
Back home in Michigan, we can take away a lot from this historic event in New York. First, we should not give in or give up in spite of the current political climate. Get inspired and invigorated by the New York events and get involved. New York took more than thirty years of work and that also included setbacks from time to time. Right now our political and social agencies here in the state need volunteers. So decide right now to get involved, or re-involved if you haven’t been in a while. All our agencies are seeking out board members and volunteers willing to serve and they need you to step up.
Second, we need all our agencies working toward full equality to put aside “brand identity building” and work together toward a common set of strategic goals – it is essential that you continue to move toward unity in this work. So revealing in the backstory reporting of behind the scenes activity in New York was how Gov. Cuomo called all the LGBT groups into the room and demanded they stop their infighting and work together in a coalition. He blamed them directly for the law failing to be passed in 2009. The time for excuses is long over here in the Michigan, so this is a callout asking our agencies to get with the program.
Third, we need to build stronger alliances with like-minded business and community leaders around the state. It is simply bad business to be non-inclusive and business and communities suffer by allowing Michigan to linger near the bottom of the equality equation.
I have never been more hopeful – in fact certain – that with commitment on each of our individual parts, we will achieve full equality here in Michigan in the next decade. So let’s get to work. Join the ranks. Together in unity!