With the passage of legislation in Florida restricting discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, the “Don’t Say Gay” movement is gaining national momentum. Similar legislation is in progress in multiple states. Those of us in the LGBTQ community who marched for our rights in the 1970s–1990s can hear echoing in our ears the rallying cry we chanted then: “Say It Loud: I’m Gay and I’m Proud!” The right to be who we are without fear or shame; the end of hatred and violence directed at us.
In 1975, a group of teenagers sprayed mace in my eyes for holding hands with my girlfriend in public in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 2014, almost 40 years later—also in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and in public—my partner Anne and I were married after 31 years together. Massachusetts was the first U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004. Huge changes in those years; huge shifts in the collective consciousness. Even rainbow lights on the White House when same-sex marriage became legal in all 50 states in 2015. And now this frightening backlash. But we cannot allow ourselves to be silenced again.
Human rights are in jeopardy world-wide. In the United States, immigrants and Asians have also become targets for hatred and attack, along with Jews, Muslims, and people of color from diverse cultures. Hard-won women’s rights are threatened as well. ”Make America great again” translates as the desire to erase from existence anyone who doesn’t fit into the dominant patriarchal paradigm (white, Christian, heterosexual). This is the face of fear of difference, growing stronger and more widespread. I am reminded of the oft-repeated quote by Martin Niemoller regarding the systematic purging of groups in Nazi Germany: “First they came for the socialists and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist.” He continues naming group after group and finally ends with: “Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.” Chilling history lesson. It’s on each of us now, at this time, to speak—to “say it loud.” Don’t wait until you are left standing alone.
So here we are, witnessing threats to the growing universal acceptance of all peoples. What we thought we had moved beyond is once again at our front doors. Anita Bryant was not the last antigay vigilante. The Klan still exists. But giving up and living in denial is not an option. We were born for these times, like it or not. And we came here to do it differently. Not with fighting and aggression but with peace and kindness. The individuals who act from hatred are filled with pain themselves. In our hearts we have to hold empathy for all.
So I urge you to “Say Gay,” to say “Black Lives Matter,” to say “Stop Asian Hate.” Say it with conviction but not hostility. I encourage you to speak with truth, love, and compassion to everyone you encounter in your life, whatever they may believe. And to live that truth every day. We must continue to remind ourselves that love is stronger than hate, and fear is an illusion that can dissolve in the presence of a courageously peaceful open heart.