Joel McDonald spoke at the March 2014 Central Committee meeting of the Democratic Party of Virginia on the progress the Party has made toward marriage equality and hope for the future.
A few years back at a Virginia Young Democrats convention, I purchased a t-shirt that I wear often. The front of the shirt asks, “Why am I a Democrat?” The back answers, “Because I care about people.”
Democrats care about people.
This was the message that got me involved in Democratic politics in 2008.
President Obama’s speeches that year matched the message of the speech he gave at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, where he proclaimed that, “It is that fundamental belief…I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sisters’ keeper — that makes this country work…”. He spoke of there not being an America us us and them, but one America, and then he asked, “Do we participate in a politics of cynicism, or do we participate in a politics of hope?”
In 2008, we chose hope over cynicism. We chose unity, over divisiveness.
Thirty years earlier, Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, also spoke to the need for the politics of hope, saying, “The anger and the frustrations that some of us feel is because we are misunderstood…you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow…Hope that all will be all right. Without hope, not only gays, but [black people], seniors, the handicapped, the us’es, the us’es will give up.”
“You have to give them hope.”
People need hope, and Democrats care about people.
In 2008, President Obama did not campaign on marriage equality, and when I started knocking on doors and making phone calls to support his campaign, I was not openly gay.
In 2009, I finally came out, and I was also asked to become a part of a new caucus within the Democratic Party of Virginia, the LGBT Caucus.
In 2010, the LGBT Caucus was granted a seat on the DPVA Steering Committee, giving the LGBT community representation at the highest levels of the Democratic Party of Virginia. I’ve had the honor of representing the LGBT Caucus at a meeting of that committee.
In 2011, the LGBT Caucus helped our PAC raise over $21,000 for pro-equality Democrats to prevent a Republican takeover of the Virginia Senate. This is also the year that the infamous law known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed, something the LGBT Caucus worked closely with our Democrats in Congress to achieve.
In 2012, we saw President Obama embrace marriage equality, opening the door for Democratic leaders and candidates to campaign more openly on the issue.
We organized to pass resolutions at Democratic Congressional District Conventions and then at the 2012 Virginia Democratic State Convention reaffirming support for marriage equality and the addition of marriage equality to the Democratic Platform.
This created a massive wave of enthusiasm in the LGBT community to come out and support the President’s re-election.
In 2013, the we forcefully supported Terry McAuliffe for Governor, Ralph Northam for Lt. Governor, and Mark Herring for Attorney General. All unequivocally supported marriage equality. After their election, on behalf of the LGBT Caucus, I dubbed them the “most LGBT friendly statewide leadership in Virginia history.”
Immediately after taking office, Governor McAuliffe signed an Executive Order prohibiting discrimination in Virginia state government, including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Less than two months ago, Attorney General Herring took the brave stance of not defending Virginia’s ban on gay marriage, instead arguing on the side of marriage equality in Bostic v. Rainey. This case was decided only 33 days ago, where the ban was found unconstitutional.
Every step of the way, every moment of progress, has increased hope among LGBT Virginians and their allies.
In his second inaugural address, President Obama said, “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths –- that all of us are created equal…guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those…to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth… Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law. For if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”
Fewer words have ever given me such great hope. Hope that one day I can marry in Virginia Beach, where my parents were married, and in time for my grandparents to attend.
Marriage equality is not an abstract issue. It’s personal. It’s about people. It’s about me. My friends. My family. It’s about you, and about nobody being completely free and equal until everybody is completely free and equal.
We’ve come a long way since I started in 2008, further than I could have imagined; but we still have work to do.
Over this past week, it was made clear to me that those who matter the most, those who volunteer, make the phone calls, knock on the doors, and give the Party the strength it needs to win are as committed as ever to the cause of marriage equality and equality for all people. The outpouring of support from people, LGBT people and straight allies, from every corner of Virginia has been overwhelming. Because of this, I have hope.
Why are we Democrats? Because we care about people. We fight for justice. We fight for equality. We provide hope for a better day. Together.