A few weeks ago, I watched the four-part series “When We Rise,” about the recent history of the LGBTQ community in the U.S. and the fight for our basic human rights, including marriage equality. At the end, I felt emotionally exhausted, like I had relived the last 39 years of my life. I lived in San Francisco in 1978 at the time of the California Briggs Initiative to ban gay/lesbian schoolteachers, thankfully defeated, and the shooting death of gay city supervisor Harvey Milk. In 1981, I moved back to Boston, right before the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, which would take the lives of thousands of gay men. Every year I took part in the AIDS Walk to raise money for those with AIDS, and I lost dear friends on both coasts to this terrible disease. In 1987 and 1993, I marched on Washington for LGBTQ rights and freedom, and each year there was a Pride March in Boston (in June, to coincide with the 1969 Stonewall uprising in New York). Those were years of great sadness and loss, and yet the love in our hearts and the hope that together we could bring about change kept us going.
In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same sex marriage, and the movement for marriage equality continued to gain momentum. In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act), and in 2015, it ruled in favor of same sex marriage nationwide. My partner and I, who had been together for 31 years, married in 2014, with family and friends celebrating with us. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, the national consciousness had shifted significantly toward love and inclusiveness over bigotry and hatred. We all had gotten so used to living with secrecy, fear, and the threat of violence that when acceptance appeared, it was almost shocking—extremely emotional and powerful for each of us. But it had not really been sudden; years of activism and private and public “coming out” had brought about the change. The rainbow lights shining across the country on national monuments, as well as the White House, reflected the magical new reality we were all experiencing.
However, today in 2017, a new administration, accompanied by a conservative backlash, is already beginning to whittle away at our hard-won gains, beginning with transgender rights. LGBTQ community members are currently the top target for acts of hatred in the Boston area. We are not done. Freedom, equality, and justice for all people are ideals that must be lived and upheld every single day. We do that by not giving up, by not allowing outrage or depression to overrule the universal compassion and kindness in our hearts. Intolerance still exists, but we are here to live our love, and we won’t stop. Not now, not ever. The music of our hearts and souls will carry us forward. As songwriter Holly Near wrote after Harvey Milk was killed: “We are a gentle, angry people, and we are singing, singing for our lives.”
I have changed in so many ways in the last 39 years, yet the core of me remains the same. I too am here to live love in the world. When I am meditating alone or in spiritual circles, when I am marching in demonstrations, when I am speaking my truth, I am centered in that love. A living prayer for love that includes friends and strangers alike around the world. Our hearts and souls link us together into one family. We are all connected, we very diverse humans on planet Earth, reaching out for freedom, equality, and the right to self-expression. In the deepest part of our being, we are not so different; we all want similar things in this life. Ultimately, it’s all about love. Always.
In Memoriam: Gilbert Baker, who in 1978 created the first rainbow flag in San Francisco, died last Friday, March 31, at the age of 65. That first hand-dyed and hand-stitched rainbow flag became the international symbol for LGBTQ pride and freedom.