On Sunday morning, June 12, I arrived on Pennsylvania Avenue to set up my group’s Capital Pride table and learned the awful news of the Pulse nightclub massacre. That Sunday night, the Tony Awards were dedicated to the victims, and the company of Hamilton performed the Battle of Yorktown without muskets.
2016 was the year of Hamilton, of Moonlight, and of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). It was the year of Pulse. It was the year of Standing Rock. It was the year President Obama made a healing visit to Hiroshima. It was the year North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory was defeated by his own homophobic and transphobic policies. It was the year that saw the rise of Trump. At its end, America stood on a precipice.
It was the year a black gay man, Eugene J. Coleman, was Class President and First Captain at West Point, only the third man ever to hold both titles. The anti-gay right may seek to reverse open military service; but overreach is a classic blunder that will be the right’s undoing. Coleman represents “the normative power of the actual,” as former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger put it in 2011 in criticizing Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s ferocious opposition to New York’s passage of civil marriage equality. As on that front, experience dispelled the fears.
In Annapolis last spring I saw two young men from the Naval Academy holding hands. Our integration into military culture has sunk deep roots. Those who would reverse it are rebelling against the classic virtues of honor and merit. Like most federal courts on marriage after Windsor, the military is on our side, notwithstanding the Kremlin Stooge’s gang of retired crackpot generals.
If, like the white urban hipsters mocked by Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock on Saturday Night Live, you think the 2016 election is the worst thing ever to happen in America, spend a few hours in NMAAHC. The artifacts there attest to a long, heroic struggle by African Americans against erasure. Before these precious objects could grace Lonnie Bunch’s triumphant museum, they had to be passed down by many generations.
“We have seen worse” is a refrain heard from many African Americans since Election Day. That practical wisdom is the bulwark of our republic, whose strength lies in the very diversity that our president-elect has done his best to splinter. The imagination to stand in another’s shoes cannot be imposed by any law nor defeated by any strongman. It lies at the beating heart of the American experiment.
On December 13, Rachel Maddow interviewed Attorney General Loretta Lynch in the Stonewall Inn. Stonewall did not mark the beginning of the LGBT rights movement; Frank Kameny’s fight against the D.C. vice squad preceded it, as did the riot at Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco. But Stonewall was a key flashpoint, and now it is a national monument. Lynch said that the bar and the events it commemorates are emblematic of the struggles of many groups for equality. A monument designation may be revoked, but the notion that such an action erases us is like someone who stops pointing at the moon and thinks the moon thereby disappears.
Tarell Alvin McCraney’s original title for Moonlight was “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue.” His storytelling and eye for detail gave director Barry Jenkins, cinematographer James Laxton, and talented actors a wealth of insights to work with; and it was made for far less money than the polished results would suggest. Moonlight is being touted for best movie of the year. McCraney was recently appointed chair of the playwriting program at his alma mater, Yale School of Drama. Talent, skill, perseverance, and an ability to sell your ideas can take you far.
As with playwriting, so with politics. Withdrawal and despair are out of the question. We must stay in the game, and continue telling our stories, and building and rebuilding alliances. At a crucial moment in Moonlight, the teenaged Chiron fights back. That can come at a price, to be sure. What price are we willing to pay to defend our communities, our lives, and our country? That is for each of us to answer.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2016 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.