When I came out in the 1970s you could still get jail time for private, consensual homosexual activity. People could and did lose their jobs, homes and even custody of their children for being openly queer.
Our lives and the lives of our allies were devalued. The former cop who gunned down openly gay supervisor Harvey Milk and pro-gay mayor George Moscone in San Francisco in 1978 served just five years in prison. The government spent more money fighting tooth decay in 1982 than it did on AIDS research and prevention, even as the body count doubled every six months.
In my first two decades as a gay man I watched the LGBT movement lose nearly every battle we waged for legal and social equality, from Dade County, Florida and Eugene, Oregon to St. Paul, Minnesota and Wichita, Kansas. Only as we approached the new millennium did the movement begin to secure some legal protections and a measure of social acceptance.
Today, as we again confront the ignorance and bigotry of a hateful minority, I know how this will play out. We will win.
I say this because as I look back over the past 40 years it is so abundantly clear that we were winning the whole time. We lost battles, but gained allies. We lost friends and lovers, but gained courage and strength.
We lost leaders, but gained heroes.
We Are This
In the wake of North Carolina’s passage of House Bill 2, stripping LGBT people of legal protections and demonizing trans people, social media sites have promoted the hashtag #WeAreNotThis.
As a resident whose family has lived in the state for more than two centuries, I’m proud to say that’s true. The North Carolina of today is moving forward, leaving behind its shameful legacy of hate and racist violence.
If we are not this law, if we are not this legislature, then what are we? I find the answer in a new generation of heroes—social justice activists who make us proud to live, work and love in North Carolina.
We are Skye Thomson, a 15-year-old trans youth who bravely confronted North Carolina legislators when they convened to take away his rights.
We are Jade Brooks, Jessica Jude, Salma Mirza, Noah Rubin-Blose and Ngoc Tran, five young people arrested outside the North Carolina governor’s mansion for protesting injustice.
We are Joaquín Carcaño, a 27-year-old transgender man who works at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill; Payton Grey McGarry, a 20-year-old transgender man who is a student at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro; and Angela Gilmore, a lesbian who is the associate dean for academic affairs at North Carolina Central University, the three plaintiffs in a lawsuit that is challenging the legislature’s petty and demeaning assault on the LGBT community.
We are the vast majority of people across North Carolina, straight and queer, liberal and conservative, binary and nonbinary, who are outraged by intolerance and united for a future free of the politics of fear and division.