Remembering Stonewall

Like the first time I blasted off a shotgun at dented Coke cans, relatively recent Federal and State legislative reforms have hit and missed their respective marks. Today’s affirmation of the Affordable Care Act’s constitutionality hit the bullseye. As a person whose genetics have gifted me with a circulatory disease and a brief and relatively tame brush with the big “C,” among other things, I smiled widely as I read today’s headline over lunch. But with every step forward, we sometimes stumble back when problematic policy intends to perpetuate unconstitutional practices and undermine minority rights.

Still, we’re growing stronger as we step forward and clear the hurdles in our collective path. Whether it’s the increasingly divisive rhetoric promulgated in advance of the upcoming election, or the simple fact that minorities are tired of being bullied by clueless members of the majority, there’s almost a palpable energy being emanated by more progressive Gen Xers and Yers, baby-boomers, and beyond. While my sister continues to have my back, and has always been my most rabid advocate even before I came out, my baby-boomer parents are attempting to create an LGBTQ-tolerant ministry through their small Catholic Church in Alabama. And even while she’s been hospitalized, my maternal grandmother—my last remaining grandparent—keeps asking me if I’m getting “out there” and questioning why I don’t yet have a boyfriend.

While I understand that my family is an exception—for which I’m immensely fortunate—they illustrate a very clear message: intolerance is no longer the status quo, and the generational argument for bigotry is a cop out. Through education and continuous dialogue, each of us has the ability to change–to activate within others an innate activist mentality. In our own ways, we all want to craft a future where we’re a happier, more contented people. Until I came out, my parents had a very peripheral understanding of LGBTQ individuals and the issues that we face on a daily basis—in the oftentimes circuitous navigation of daily life tasks that many take for granted. And it wasn’t until I became deeply involved with the fight against Amendment One that they realized how targeted specific legislation was in denying minorities basic civil rights.

For many, it’s not until there’s a close tie to, or a familiar face put on, an issue that they suddenly realize that they have an obligation to be a decent human being and speak up. When I relayed a real-life case of a gay man being denied the right to visit his dying partner and subsequently collect his remains, and then threatened with death by his partner’s bigoted family when he attempted to attend his partner’s funeral, my grandmother sighed deeply over the phone, her voice wavering, and said, “Oh, Matthew. You’re bringing me to tears. This is so horrible. But what these people want to do to you and others won’t last. You’ll make it through.” Now, not only does she know the wide-reaching implications of what one piece of North Carolina legislation could do to her grandson’s life, but her Bridge Club does, too.

Because it’s up to us to get involved, and embolden others to do the same. We just have to stand firm and advocate for proactive changes. We have to make the future a place worth living. Every stride that we make today or tomorrow or next week has implications for crafting a more tolerant future for us all. If we learned nothing else from the Stonewall riots 43 years ago today, it’s that we each have to be willing to raise our voice, even if timidity or bigotry seeks to quiet it. We have to let our stories, our lives, and our relationships evidence the longevity of our fight.

Each of us is a catalyst for change. But we first must stand up, speak out, and simply be.