My Jewish heritage holds one critical principle at its core, as enunciated by Rabbi Hillel 2000 years ago: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Christianity does the same with a similar admonition from Jesus, from the same time period. Over the past 50 years in the United States, that core belief held by so many Americans was tested, both during the African-American and LGBT civil rights movements, in a surprising and powerful way.
Before you can love your neighbor, whether they are viewed as the same as yourself or profoundly different, you must love yourself. This is not some touchy-feely mantra, but as stated above, is a core principle of our major religious and spiritual traditions. Before you can accept others, you must accept yourself. Regardless of the cause of your low self-worth, or even self-loathing, once it has been conquered, then you are out of the closet, literally or figuratively. You can then more easily accept those who resemble yourself, and move on to the more difficult chore of accepting those who are different.
Our drive for LGBT freedom and equality has been driven by those who came out of the closet and spoke for themselves. We have succeeded over the past 40 years, because we have embraced that power. After depending on the sympathies of those in power for so long, we now have some political power of our own. Even the trans community, shoved aside after Stonewall and late again to the party until the past decade, has seen a wondrously accelerating rush to freedom and acceptance that was unimaginable just four years ago. Having just returned from serving as a national committee member at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, where the halls of the arena were so overwhelmingly gay, where trans persons seemed to continually come out of the woodwork, and where the party is now fully committed to LGBT rights as if none of it was ever in question, I am left with a profound realization.
While we have been fighting for our freedom, we have actually done more to liberate our neighbors than ourselves. Dr. King said: “The stirring lesson of this age is that mass nonviolent direct action is not a peculiar device for Negro agitation,” but a “method for defending freedom and democracy, and for enlarging these values for the benefit of the whole society.” “The whole society.” Read that again – everyone. As the former vice president remarked about his lesbian daughter, “Freedom means freedom for all.”
We must reclaim the fundamental American value of freedom. As President Johnson told the graduating class at Howard University here in D.C. in 1965:
“Freedom is the right to share, share fully and equally, in American society: to vote, to hold a job, to enter a public place, to go to school. It is the right to be treated in every part of our national life as a person equal in dignity and promise to all others.”
So it is the glorious opportunity of this generation to end the one huge wrong of the American Nation and in so doing, to find America for ourselves, with the same immense thrill of discovery which gripped those who first began to realize that here, at last, was a home for freedom.”
We have added “freedom to marry” to LBJ’s list (this speech was given two years before the Supreme Court’s Loving v. Virginia decision outlawing bans against interracial marriage), and we’ve expanded the categories of persons who deserve protection to pursue the fundamental American truths of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, to include us, all of us sexual and gender minorities.
As we work to re-elect the president so we can solidify our gains of the past four years and build on them, in particular to “leave no gay behind” with respect to employment and to include all of us in housing and public accommodations protections, and allow trans people to serve in the military, I will end with a quote about the party platform from up-and-coming Democratic star, the “Superman-mayor” of Newark, and friend of our community, Cory Booker:
“This platform of big and practical ideas sets forth an emboldened pathway toward the historic hope which has driven generations of Americans forward,” Booker said. “It is our most fundamental national aspiration—that no matter who you are, no matter what your color, creed, how you choose to pray or who you choose to love, that if you are an American — first generation or fifth — one who is willing to work hard, play by the rules and apply your God-given talents—that you should be able to find a job that pays the bills.”
More and more Democrats accept that as a given. We have done our sacred duty in bringing them, and all Americans, to that understanding of freedom.