Gay rights pioneer Gilbert Baker passed away last week. Gilbert was best known as the creative talent gave us the rainbow flag. Our flag. The symbol of the gay rights movement.
Our symbol of Pride.
During the Obama administration, our community made great strides toward full equality. Don’t Ask, Don’t tell was finally wiped away, giving LGBTQ service members the ability to serve openly for the first time. Non-discrimination laws for the first time protected us from being fired or kicked out of our housing simply because of our sexual orientation. Gay marriage became the law of the land. Finally, we were all free to marry the person we loved and receive the same spousal benefits as our straight fellow citizens.
To me, these new rights and freedoms are still wondrous, fresh and amazing. After 17 years together, Sandy and I were officially wed in 2009, but it wasn’t until that 2014 Supreme Court ruling that our state finally recognized our Massachusetts marriage license. It’s only been three years that we could breathe easier. I still feel a sense of wonder when I introduce Sandy as my wife in public. Pride doesn’t seem to quite describe the emotion.
I guess that’s why the push back happening since the marriage ruling has felt especially cruel. These are deliberate efforts to circumvent and negate our legal unions under the guise of religious liberty. The so-called bathroom bills are part of larger legislative efforts to allow legal discrimination once again. Here we are, fighting the same old battles. Second verse same as the first.
What is it that makes people with privilege so afraid to allow the rest of us a seat at the table? Why does the act of expanding rights to more citizens terrify so many? In the three years since I’ve been able to marry, has one straight person’s marriage been harmed? Of course not.
Last week the current administration decided the government would not count LGBT people in our 2020 census. Not counting LGBT citizens would effectively erase us from the public record once again. The administration says it’s not necessary to count us. A story came out of Russian-controlled Chechnya this week, human rights activists reported the abducting and killing of gays. Hundreds have gone missing. The government’s response: “It is impossible to abduct or kill people who do not exist in our society.”
Throughout LGBT history, bright colors have been used by closeted people to signal homosexuality to one another. Oscar Wilde sported a bright green carnation in his lapel for this purpose. This has always been the way. The human spirit will find ways to overcome oppression and state-mandated invisibility. We will find ways to prove our existence.
Legal experts in social justice tell us women’s reproductive rights and LGBT rights go hand in hand. It’s clear these rights are under attack on both fronts. Religious liberty and state’s rights are code words for assaulting LGBT and women’s rights. We must recognize what’s happening and stand against this bigotry. We cannot give an inch of ground because our humanity is at stake.
Gilbert Baker knew we had to own our place in this world. He said, “A flag is a way of proclaiming your visibility, of saying, this is who I am.”
In the face of this renewed backlash against our very lives, it is time again to say unequivocally, we will not be erased. We exist. We are citizens. We vote. We will stand and be counted.