Posted on

Why Seconds Matter

Did you ever see the movie 8 Seconds?

Neither did I.

But I really wanted to. Not just because it starred Luke Perry, and had so much talk of riding and bucking.

(Clearly, I was trying to figure something out in 1994.)

Mostly, though, it was because I was fascinated by time.

How quickly it changes, and how so much history and experience can be compressed into mere seconds and still pack a punch.

Like how much of a wallop President Obama packed into 13 seconds.

***

Even though I’d read a few quotes from his inauguration speech on Facebook, my heart still jumped when I listened to his speech tonight. When he mentioned Stonewall, and Dr. King and so many great leaders in the same breath.

And, yes, there were tears too.

(I’m an emotional Italian. Yes, I know that’s redundant.)

But then he just kept going.

And that’s what struck me. The fact that he didn’t stop with Stonewall.

The fact that his tone has evolved from its more subdued debate volume into a booming declaration.

The fact that, during the next four years, LGBTs stand the greatest chance of having our rights realized than ever before.

The fact that he appealed to everyone.

Not just white people.

Not just rich people.

Not just straight people.

His thematic thread was spun directly from the Constitution–that revered piece of paper that governs so many, and holds within it so much potential.

And I can only hope that, through the efforts of us all, We the People will weave a more perfect and colorful union.

Where the air that we breathe is a little cleaner, the forests a bit thicker.

Where healthcare isn’t a luxury, a preexisting condition a denial of service.

Where the bodies of all aren’t the purview of a phallic few.

Where we are all, first and foremost, people with certain inalienable rights.

And that those rights are conferred upon us all.

Happy Inauguration and MLK Jr. Day, 2013!

Posted on

Together, We Remember and Fight

Andy watches Gwyneth Paltrow drive by in a Land Rover; I scratch my head and try to figure out how far off Christopher Street Two Boots actually is, and how long it’ll take us to order pizza once we finally get there.

Clearly, my stomach isn’t affected by star power. (Especially since Gwyneth probably hasn’t eaten a carb since Hush. Bless her heart.)

***

Soon enough, we’re powering through massive sauce-slathered slices and watching as hipster after hipster pours in for their daily carb fix. And as we look out at passersby puttering along sidewalks, I imagine how much this street has seen, especially with our next stop just a few blocks away.

Two Boots pizza...mmmm...

We finish up, and join the hive buzzing outside. As we remark at a particular mo’s great cowl neck sweater, the air chills and the remaining sunlight filters behind 1 World Trade Center.

A fading view

We turn a corner, dodge some taxis, then walk up to Stonewall Inn. Surprisingly unimposing, Stonewall’s façade is bathed in light, its slightly tattered rainbow flags fluttering in the breeze.   

It still has the BamPow! effect it did when I first saw it earlier this year. And I almost recite exactly what I did back then: So, this is where it happened.
 
***
 
 
To most people, this building isn’t anything special—just another bar with poster ads featuring scantily-clad, ripped models. The same can be said for Christopher Street Park across the way, minus the poster models (on most days, I mean).
 
Stonewall Inn

After the requisite pictures, we venture inside. And that’s when I feel the “something else” about this place. No, it’s not the booze. It’s the ambience, the tacit understanding that these boards, these walls, are hallowed ground to many LGBT Americans.

We sidle up to the same bar where generations of LGBTs and prominent civil rights figureheads initiated romantic conversations or decided to take a stand.

With two cosmos in tow, we leave the tab open and seat ourselves in a dimly lit corner.

Stonewall cosmo, of course

A trio of men carouse at the bar, and two women on a date navigate the awkwardness of ice-breaking conversations. The older bartender surveys the bar with a measured, seasoned eye, and strikes up conversations with a few nervous single guys sitting at the opposite end of the bar.

There’s no pretense. No expectations. Just unencumbered joy.

And I imagine this to be the atmosphere in 1969 when the police attempted to quash this haven and imprison those who railed against them. But thanks to those brave figures, Andy and I, along with all the others, are able to enjoy a drink or two, and absorb the history through osmosis.

***

Framed photographs along the wall depict various scenes before and after the Stonewall riots—the tension and catharsis are palpable.

“I wonder where these people are now,” Andy muses. “Especially that one.”

He points to a young guy seated on the steps of the neighboring business front. With his gaze fixed on something far away—perhaps processing the moment—he pushes his blonde hair behind one ear. Above him, two women share a celebratory kiss, and three men wrap their arms around one another, each smiling directly into the camera. In the foreground, a brunette with glasses smiles wryly, his eyes betraying a mischievous air.

Remembering Stonewall

Looking from the photograph to the present scenes unfolding before us, I think how little has changed. But how everything did.

How one event can propel others forward, out of societal shackles, into action. How ardently and passionately our forbearers have fought for our rights, and how far we still must go. How indescribable it is to have Andy by my side, in a place like this.

Knowing that, in a different time, we could’ve been sitting there, reflecting on our respective days, when the door crashed open and batons started flying. Knowing that there’re still heinous crimes committed against people just for dallying in front of such an establishment.

Knowing that we have the ability to craft a better future for a gay couple who, years into the future, will sit exactly where we are and ruminate about the people who’ve been seated at this table.

And, with hope, will thank us, too.

Posted on

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.

Posted on

Pride

With just a few weeks until the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots–the pivotal confrontations referenced as the impetuses for the US LGBT rights movement–I’ve noticed a gradual increase in Facebook posts by LGBTQ allies and LGBTQ individuals, the messages of which are infused with support and calls for acceptance. For those posts and those allies, I am grateful.

But one thing that gives me pause, not just with these messages, but in many rally speeches and calls for equality, is the attention given to people who identify as GAY–in all caps. GAY, not LESBIAN, not BISEXUAL, not TRANSGENDER, not QUEER. But GAY.

Debates about rhetoric plague every identity group and community, and the LGBTQ community isn’t immune. “Gay” has seemingly become the semantic blanket-term for all LGBTQ people, even though it most commonly references gay men. To map “GAY” onto these various identity groups adds to the welter of misunderstanding about how LGBTQ individuals identify themselves; only LGBTQ individuals can identify themselves as such, and decide if they want to be a part of a “community”–a term which is simultaneously inclusive and exclusive, a quintessential example of the us:them binary opposition entangled in one word.

And it’s when I start to deconstruct the nitty-gritty, ask myself the hard questions, that I come to realize the great differences within the LGBTQ community: the power dynamics, the alliances, the ambiguity. All too often gay men are given more attention than lesbians, and lesbians and gay men garner much more of the public spotlight than bisexual or transgender individuals. And then there are those who prefer to identify as queer rather than gay, lesbian, transgender, or bisexual.

Perhaps this “GAY” mapping is because it is “easier” for news anchors, reporters, and even members of the LGBTQ community to “get” the relationship between two men or two women than it is to understand a woman who has partners of different sexes, or an individual born male who identifies as female, who is in-transition to becoming the woman she has always felt she has been and is in a relationship with a woman who identifies as a lesbian. Identity isn’t easy; it’s always in flux. But everyone deserves recognition. We’re all people, with the only perceived differences between us being equal parts melanin and social stigma.

So, let’s not forget the “B,” “T,” and “Q.” Because between them and the “L” and “G” is where pride thrives, bound up in the connective threads that unite us, make us a community with committed allies, and not just jumbled letters. However you identify yourself, own it.

And be proud.