When Steve Clemons of The Atlantic invited me to the Washington Ideas Forum that began Oct. 29, I looked at the schedule and quipped, “It’s an impressive lineup for the morning after the High Heel Race!” Needless to say, the Secretaries of State and Defense, National Security Adviser, and corporate titans did not run down 17th Street in drag that Tuesday night. You could, however, catch a faux Michelle Obama, complete with Secret Service detail and a basket with a turnip to promote a healthy diet.
In 1991, D.C. police rioted against the benign revelers who had taken over the street that included the block subsequently named Frank Kameny Way. Those street signs, and the crowds lining the sidewalks for what has become an annual Halloween tradition, are a small testament to the gay community’s victory.
I remember several members of the Gay Activists Alliance riding in Kameny’s car on an autumn night in 1981 after Congress vetoed our first attempt to repeal the District’s sodomy law. My colleague Tom Chorlton was ranting about how San Francisco’s Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were setting back our cause. I said they were funny and to lighten up.
Tom and Frank are gone. I was the new kid in town back then, when our struggles were mostly defensive and few dreamed of reaching for the gold ring of marriage. At one session of the 2014 Ideas Forum, Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post interviewed marriage equality attorneys Evan Wolfson and Ted Olson. Their amicable interplay showed no trace of the flap over Jo Becker’s book “Forcing the Spring,” which inflated Olson’s role in the movement and gave short shrift to Wolfson, Mary Bonauto, Roberta Kaplan and others. The struggle goes on, and more war stories lie ahead.
Clemons said after the first day of the Ideas Forum that it showed how many exciting things are happening. I am writing before the election for publication afterward, and in my state of waiting I agree. We have much to explore and create. The candidates who have haunted our airwaves and mailboxes are not as important as they pretended.
Progress unconnected to voting booths arose last week when Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly came out: “I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.” Someone joked that Cook had come out as a rich white man; but by sacrificing some of his privacy he spent his privilege in a way that will lift up many others.
Death stalks each generation in its own way, as activist David Mixner reminded us last week. He movingly recounted assisting the suicides of friends who were suffering through the final stages of AIDS in the 1980s. Testaments like his must be given if the new generation is to have any idea of the price that was paid by those who came before.
On my roof with the crowd’s cheers in the distance, I scan the skyline and think how insulated we are from the mayhem America causes overseas. The greatest threat to our cities is internal, from fear and contempt that blind us to one another. Police in Ferguson, Missouri have stockpiled weapons in anticipation of the grand jury decision in the death of Michael Brown. The prospect of difference descending upon a street, peaceful or not, provokes an impulse to suppress.
When injustice rouses my rage, I summon my guiding spirits. They include living stalwarts who are out of reach, like my Ugandan friends who face violent persecution with generosity, resilience, and grace that come from a source very deep and very old.
Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates spoke to The Root last week on the long fight against white supremacy: “[M]y responsibility is to resist and is to struggle and is to keep on going. And it doesn’t require … [me] to believe in ultimate victory. It just requires some amount of loyalty and fealty, frankly, to my ancestors. To people who came before me and struggled.”
As the harvest season’s masquerade becomes a memory, compatriot spirits living and dead still speak to us demanding our best.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2014 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.