Oct 16, 2013
WE are making history…
When Maggie asked me to write another article about LGBT History for LGBT Democrats of Virginia’s October 2013 edition of Our Commonwealth, I thought “Well, October is LGBT History Month, I’m sure I can come up with something relevant.” Then I realized there are so many choices that the task almost became daunting. However, I became really excited recently after the OutHistory.org website was recently revamped and given a complete facelift. I was especially excited because my exhibit, Rainbow Richmond, was featured in the debut of the website, which was quite an honor. Please go onto the website and search for Virginia; you will actually find several items including Rainbow Richmond. I was also recently excited when I got a daily report from the Equality Forum about the icons for each day in October. I was excited that one of my mentors and friends, Mandy Carter, one of the co-founders of SONG (Southerners on New Ground) was recognized as the Icon for October 11, National Coming Out Day.
National Coming Out Day! This October 11th was the 25th anniversary of National Coming Out Day. Did you know that National Coming Out Day grew out of one of the first LGBT Marches on Washington? On Oct. 11, 1987, half a million people participated in the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. The momentum from that March inspired Rob Eichberg, a founder of the personal growth workshop, The Experience, and Jean O’Leary, then head of National Gay Rights Advocates. They wanted an event that wasn’t a reactionary event stemming from something negative, like so many events. Recognizing that the LGBT community often reacted defensively to anti-gay actions, they came up with the idea of a national day to celebrate coming out, and chose the anniversary of that March as the date. They also got Keith Herring to donate the iconic symbol of National Coming Out Day which depicts someone stepping out of a closet.
Somewhere in the box of t-shirts that I can’t bear to part with, is a t-shirt with that logo (I also have t-shirts from several of the Marches on Washington, numerous PRIDE t-shirts from OUT in the Park in Norfolk, and the Millennium March on Washington in 2000). You could figure out a little about me by delving into that box. This month I could talk about my personal history and relatively recent LGBT history in Virginia, but I’m going to take a slightly different tack. I want all of you to think about your own history in relation to LGBT history, and how we are making history now.
There is so much happening right now in the fight and struggle for LGBT Rights. So much has happened in my lifetime and yours. I was talking to someone at PRIDE just weeks ago in Richmond, and we were talking about how our heads are spinning with the changes; she is a military spouse. DADT was ended just over two years ago and LGB services members were allowed to serve openly in our military. Today spouses of LGB people serving in the military have access to military benefits. You will notice that “T” is not included because the fight continues for our Transgender service members and their families. I remember well when Tracy Thorne (now Thorne-Begland) came out on national TV in 1992; he was stationed at Oceana Naval Air Station, just miles from where I lived at the time, in Virginia Beach, Virginia. I also remember stories from friends who had been in the military of the witch hunts they endured, how the military would try to turn friend against friend, all to fight the scourge of homosexuality in their ranks. Some friends were forced to leave, while others escaped and served silently. I remember well how they talked about how having a friendly commander made all the difference in the world for them.
My wife and I were married in April of this year after a long 12 year engagement, and next year we will file as “married” on our federal taxes. This comes after the Supreme Court struck down the provision in the Defense of Marriage Act which kept the Federal government from recognizing legal same-sex marriages. The question is how we will file in Virginia. That is still to be settled as Virginia does not recognize our marriage or our existence as a couple. As the Virginia tax code is currently written, we would be required to file the same for state taxes as we do for federal; we will see if that will stand. I have had the distinct honor of meeting Edie Windsor, who challenged the Defense of Marriage Act and won. She is another part of my history and yours now.
When I watched “Milk” a couple of years ago, my gut reaction was “We are fighting the same fight NOW…” Today, I am taking time to think about the fights we have won, and the battles that continue. We are living in historic times in regards to the LGBTQIA fight for acceptance and equality. So many positive things are happening, and we can truthfully say, “It gets better.” We still have battles to fight, but sometimes it’s healthy to take a minute, and a breath, and remember where we came from.
However there is a cautionary tale too – this election is, in part, a referendum on the changes happening. The Republican ticket would have us go back into those closets. They embrace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and believe that only marriages between opposite sex partners are valid. Help us keep history moving in the right direction. Get out and vote! Get your family and friends to vote! Vote for the most Equality Minded statewide ticket in Virginia’s long esteemed history! Check out the list of candidates endorsed by the LGBT Democrats of Virginia PAC and vote for equality minded candidates in your area. This election is too important to sit on the sidelines and hope for the best outcome. Volunteer and vote November 5th!