(Our Executive Director, Anthony D. Romero, sent out a heartfelt letter to supporters yesterday. Below is an edited version. Originally posted on Huffington Post.)
I’m angry and heartsick about what may happen in California on November 4th.
In the most personal way possible, I’m asking you for a favor: help us ensure that gay couples all across California keep their fundamental right to marriage — the basic right to be treated just like anybody else.
I hope you will forgive the indulgence when I speak from the heart and tell you my personal story.
You see, I grew up in a loving and supportive household, where my family believed I could be anything I chose — anything except being an openly gay man. Neither of my parents finished high school, and yet, they believed I could accomplish all I set out to do as I went off to Princeton University and Stanford Law School.
They got me through the toughest of times, scrimped and saved, and always believed that failure wasn’t in the cards for me. They had more faith in me than I often had in myself. Whenever my parents visited me at Princeton, my Dad would slip a $20 bill in my pocket when my Mom wasn’t looking. I never had the courage to tell him that the $20 wouldn’t go very far towards my bills, books and tuition. But, it was his support and belief in me that sustained me more than the tens of thousands of dollars I received in scholarships.
When I finished college, they were hugely proud of my — and their — accomplishments. That was until I told them I was gay and wanted to live life as an openly gay man.
Though I always knew I was gay, I didn’t come out to them for many years, as I was afraid of losing the love and support that had allowed me to succeed against all odds. When I did tell them, they cried and even shouted. I ended up leaving their home that night to spend a sleepless night on a friend’s sofa. We were all heartbroken.
When my Mom and I spoke later, my Mom said, “But, Antonio (that’s the name she uses with me), hasn’t your life been hard enough? People will hurt you and hate you because of this.” She, of course, was right — as gay and lesbian people didn’t only suffer discrimination from working-class, Puerto Rican Catholics, but from the broader society. She felt that I had escaped the public housing projects in the Bronx, only to suffer another prejudice — one that might be harder to beat — as the law wasn’t on my side. At the time, it felt like her own homophobia. Now I see there was also a mother’s love and a real desire to protect her son. She was not wrong at a very fundamental level. She knew that treating gay and lesbian people like second class citizens — people who may be worthy of “tolerance, ” as some assert, but not of equality — was and still is the last socially-acceptable prejudice.
Even before I came out to them, I struggled to accept myself as a gay man. I didn’t want to lose the love of my family, and I wanted a family of my own — however I defined it. I ultimately chose to find my own way in life as a gay man. This wasn’t as easy as it sounds even though it was the mid-1980s. I watched loved ones and friends die of AIDS. I was convinced I would never see my 40th birthday, much less find a partner whom I could marry.
As years passed, my Mom, Dad and I came to a peace, and they came to love and respect me for who I am. They even came to defend my right to live with equality and dignity — often fighting against the homophobia they heard among their family and friends and in church.
The right to be equal citizens and to marry whomever we wish — unimaginable to me when I first came out — is now ours to lose in California unless we stand up for what’s right. All of us must fight against what’s wrong. In my 43 short years of life, I have seen gay and lesbian people go from pariahs and objects of legally-sanctioned discrimination to being on the cusp of full equality. The unimaginable comes true in our America if we make it happen. But, it requires effort and struggle.
One of the things I love about the ACLU is that it’s an organization that understands we are all in this together. We recognize that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Given what’s at stake in the outcome of this election, I am personally appealing to you for help to fight the forces of intolerance from carrying the day in California next Tuesday.
If you have friends and family in California, please contact them right now, and ask them to vote NO on Proposition 8. You can send them a message here.
We need to make sure people keep in mind that gay people are part of every family and every community — that like everyone else, gay people want the same rights to commit to their partners, to take care of each other and to take responsibility for each other. We shouldn’t deny that, and we shouldn’t write discrimination into any constitution in any state. Certainly, we can’t let that happen in California after the highest court in the state granted gay and lesbian people their full equality.
Unfortunately, due to a vicious, deceitful $30 million advertising blitz, the supporters of Prop 8 may be within days of taking that fundamental right away.
To stop the forces of discrimination from succeeding, we have to win over conflicted voters who aren’t sure they’re ready for gay marriage but who are also uncomfortable going into a voting booth and stripping away people’s rights. With the ACLU contributing time, energy and millions of dollars to the effort, we’re working hard to reach those key voters before next Tuesday.
If you have friends and family in California, please contact them right now, and ask them to vote NO on Proposition 8. Share this email with them. Call them. Direct them to the ACLU of Northern California’s Prop. 8 webpage for more information.
Don’t let other young people grow up to be afraid to be who they are because of the discrimination and prejudice they might face. Let them see a future that the generation before them couldn’t even dream of — a future as full and equal citizens of the greatest democracy on earth.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” As we strive to defeat Prop. 8 and the injustice it represents, the ACLU is trying to make that arc a little shorter.
On behalf of my Mom and family, and on behalf of all the people who will never face legally-sanctioned discrimination, I thank you for being part of this struggle and for doing everything you can to help.
It is a privilege and honor to have you as allies in this fight for dignity and equality.
For additional information on Prop. 8 and tools for advancing LGBT equality in your community, visit www.aclu.org/getequal.