When I heard the news that California’s high court had re-opened the door to marriage equality in that state, my reaction was bittersweet.On one hand, I have a lot of friends in California and can now anticipate attending several weddings.On the other hand, I am a Missouri native and we lost our battle against an anti-marriage equality ballot initiative in 2004. So as I gaze westward to California it is with pride, frustration and a renewed hope.
After the Missouri marriage ban passed in 2004, it took a long time for me to step back into the political arena. It’s not that I was hoping to get married. I joined the marriage equality fight because of the thousands of rights associated with marriage that are denied LGBT Americans and their partners. What took me a long time to get over was the realization that some 70 percent of my fellow Missourians think that I am unworthy of marriage and, more importantly, a threat to their marriage. I started to look at people wearing wedding bands as if they were at war with me and began to see them as an active threat. And when a married friend called to say that she was divorcing her husband I had to bite back a harsh reply.
What finally got me off my pissed off behind was the thought that the same people voted to “protect” traditional marriage may think it is okay to fire us, deny us housing, torment our youth at school or even attack us on the street.Beyond marriage, there are threats that demand our activism and communities in need of education. So, I dusted off my walking shoes and joined PROMO, Missouri’s statewide LGBT equality organization.
One Saturday I was door knocking in support of a pro-equality candidate. It was incredibly hot and my feet felt like they were baking but I marched on from house to house to spread the good word. I came to a home and knocked, rustling up a smile when an elderly black woman answered. I explained why I was there and she insisted I come in for a glass of water. When I entered, I was greeted by another elderly black woman who remained seated in a wheel chair. We chatted for a spell and then they asked what organization I was with. I told them and they cut their eyes at each other. Then the woman who had asked me in took my hand and told me that she and her “friend” had been together for some 40 years…just long enough to “see young people like you live the kind of life we never imagined at your age.”And with that simple statement I suddenly saw the pictures on the wall of the two of them hugging, the pillow on the chair in the shape of a heart with two sets of initials embroidered on it and two hands lined by living with simple gold bands on their ring fingers.
Whenever I am tired or my heart aches from hearing another story of an LGBT youth who has been bullied, I remember that woman’s words to me and I am reminded of why I am an activist. Because when our lives are protected they can be truly revealed and celebrated. When we live out and proud we honor the activism of those now claimed by history. And because I want the youth of tomorrow to live the kind of life I am unable to even imagine…authentic, audacious and built on a foundation of equality. Happy Pride!