Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thank You, Allies

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #456, November 22, 2012)

This column is being written before Election Day, Nov. 6. You won’t be reading it until after the election has been held. That doesn’t matter, because whichever way the election turns out, the message of this column is the same:

Thank you, allies. Thank you from the bottom of my very gay heart.

I wrote a column in 2005 (Lavender #265, July 22) about the importance of having allies. The column was based on a song, “Not In Our Town,” that I had heard sung at a recent Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus concert. The song told what happened in Billings, Montana, in 1993: the town responded to anti-Jewish hate crimes by displaying paper menorahs in a window of almost every home, whether the people who lived there were Jewish or not. The song’s chorus ended with “No hate/No violence/Not in our town.”

In that column I wondered “what would happen if large numbers of people everywhere—gays, lesbians, bisexuals, trans people and allies alike—all started wearing pink triangles” as a show of solidarity. Then I made a proposition:

Wear a pink triangle. Wear it all the time. Wear it proudly. When people look shocked and say, “I didn’t know you were gay,” either tell them, “Well, I am” or tell them, “Well, I’m not — but I have a lot of friends who are, and I don’t like seeing them discriminated against.”

I could never have envisioned that, in Minnesota at least, that symbol of solidarity would be neither pink nor a triangle. It would be orange and blue, or blue and orange. It would take the form of lawn signs, buttons, stickers, t-shirts, billboards and even automobiles wrapped in the “VOTE NO” message.

The orange and blue symbol would be worn and displayed both by members of the GLBT community and by people who do not consider themselves members of that community, but who have nevertheless risen to the community’s aid. They saw injustice for what it was and refused to accept it without a fight. And every time I saw one of those orange and blue markers, I felt a little more hopeful about the future.

So much was so different when I came out in 1974. It was five years past Stonewall. The first Gay Pride celebration in Minneapolis had been held only two years earlier, in 1972. And, in 1971, Minnesota’s own Jack Baker and Mike McConnell had been the first same-sex couple anywhere to attempt getting married.

Nevertheless, for much of my time as a gay man, marriage was something that was for other people but not for me. In my mother's book, My Son Eric, she writes of my reaction to my older sister’s wedding (which, unbeknownst to her, took place shortly after I realized I was gay):

Eric had said after [the] wedding, “It made me sort of sad.” “Why?” I had asked. “Because it will never be that way for me.”

At the time she thought I was referring to the church where the wedding had been held, which was something of a family tradition. When she later found out I was gay, it suddenly dawned on her what I had meant.

What a difference 38 years makes. I have lived through an epidemic, one that is still claiming lives. I have marched against Anita Bryant, both in Minneapolis and in St. Paul, when she came to town. I've seen the Pride celebration grow and have seen many more allies show up for it in recent years than I saw years ago. I’ve seen Minneapolis dubbed the gayest city in the country. I’ve seen the progress toward equality the GLBT community has made in so many areas. And I’ve seen the backlashes against that progress, among them bullying and, this year, the marriage amendment.

I suspect there are as many reasons for taking a stand against the Minnesota marriage amendment as there are people who have taken that stand. Some are themselves members of the GLBT community. Some have children in the GLBT community. Or parents. Or aunts or uncles. Or friends. Or coworkers. Or, perhaps, none of the above—just a sense of basic fairness.

Whatever the reason, many, many folks have come forward and said that they felt the Minnesota marriage amendment was uncalled for, and they have backed that assertion with their dollars, their volunteer efforts, and their votes. It has been truly amazing, and a more than a little humbling, to watch.

Now that at least this phase of the struggle for marriage equality will have concluded by the time you read this, there is only one thing appropriate to say when you have been the recipient of the kindness of so many thousands—hundreds of thousands—of people across the state. It’s something that perhaps our allies don’t hear often enough: I feel such gratitude for all your efforts and support. Thank you. Thank you so much.

(Update: The “Vote No” forces won, and the Minnesota Marriage Amendment was voted down. Minnesota was the first state where this type of amendment lost at the ballot box.)