With what looks like a lot of progress, do things really get better, and will they stay that way?
When I think back on the shame I felt growing up, knowing that I was gay and that there was no hope and no future for someone like me, I can hardly believe how far we’ve come. Girls are taking other girls to the junior prom. Young same-sex couples are having children, with encouragement and support from their families. Longtime couples like my partner and I are married now, proudly combining our resources at the advice of our approving tax accountant. Even anti-gay proclamations from Donald Trump’s camp are met with loud, vehement protests from gays and non-gays alike. I can say with sincere honesty that it never occurred to me that I would live to see a time like this.
Things have changed so radically that I feel like my grandparents talking about the Great Depression when I recount what it was like to hide, to keep the most important part of ourselves a secret from everyone, even those closest to us. Young lesbians nod their heads reverently when I talk about how truly one-sided my feelings were for my high school girl friends, but they can’t imagine it. It’s as if I’m describing scenes from an old movie.
And yet, there is another side to all of this. Just last week a friend from my old job called to ask if I could talk to a student with whom she works. Unlike many lucky college-aged lesbians, this 21-year-old comes from a family who doesn’t believe that we are all lovely, wonderful people regardless of whom we love. This young woman is struggling with accepting who she is and needs to hear that things really do get better. The fact is, I am happy to meet with her and talk with her, but I can’t guarantee that attitudes will change and she will be fully accepted.
And this is where my dilemma lives. The world is different, and for this we are all grateful and delighted. But it has been altered in a miniscule way relatively speaking. Some laws have shifted, some opinions have softened, and some voices are being heard with greater respect. We all know, though, that there is still fear, misunderstanding, and deep hatred in the heads and hearts of many, many people when it comes to the LBGTQI community. We cannot dismiss this as its own kind of aberrant behavior and simply hope it doesn’t hurt anyone we know. It’s why we also must remember the hard stories from our past, and acknowledge the horrific ways people can behave when they feel threatened.
The last thing I want is for us as a community to live even one more day in constant fear and bitterness. In 2013, when the Supreme Court overturned a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act, prompting the federal government to recognize same-sex marriage, I cried. Every time I saw a same-sex couple leaving a courthouse hand in hand after that, I cried again. There is probably no greater joy than the opportunity to live openly and freely with the person you love. We need to rejoice in that fact every time we can. But we also need to remember how recently this wasn’t a possibility, and how quickly people’s opinions can turn, can hurt, can damage. We aren’t completely free yet of the contempt and disdain that was once routinely spat at us by passersby. We must remember that we enjoy the liberty we do have because of the hard work of our gay brothers and sisters, not because of the magnanimity of straight people.
I am very happy to be married to my partner, and delighted that I get to live in relative freedom at this end of my life. Still, I won’t forget for a moment how fragile that freedom is and how recently it was not ours to celebrate.
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Read more from Ginny McReynolds at www.finallytimeforthis.com