On July 13, I stood downtown on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Congress holding a sign that read "Honk for equal rights!" Generally, I make my own signs for protests but this time I decided I'd just pick one and, since no one else had grabbed this sign, I decided I would use it to encourage passers by to participate in this rally for marriage equality by honking their horns.
As I was standing holding the sign anticipating beeps from traffic, a young woman broke away from the adults she was with, stood in front of me, smiled and waved. Then, she uttered " beep, beep."
I gave her the thumbs-up and watched her return to her group and cross the streets. As she walked across Michigan Avenue, a tear started to trickle down my cheek and before I knew it, I was weeping softly at this simple gesture of support and how much it meant for both the young woman and me.
These are the sort of moments that make it all worth it. Yes, a Supreme Court decision is great but when I look back I will remember instances when a simple gesture or kindness expressed caught me by surprise and moved me.
After 20-plus years of activism, one can become jaded and cynical, especially working within the LGBT community. It's nice to be reminded why we do the work we do. Those years have seen many successes but just when you think weve advanced, there comes an ugly reminder of how much further we still have to travel in our quest for full equality.
Saturday I was marching for marriage equality. That following Monday (July 15), I was in a courtroom offering my support to two young women who had been beaten a week earlier in the Austin neighborhood, which is home to friends of mine.
According to the story I read in the RedEye, they were attacked by a group of men, including someone they knew, for being gay. The story and its graphic description of the physical attack made my stomach turn. My first reaction was one of anger, of rage.
How dare they!
How dare they attack two of my young lesbian sisters for just being themselves. What gives them the right to disrespect them, yell slurs at them and lay hands on them? The answer: NOTHING!
Sure we can march for marriage and I'm all for it, but what do we do when our own neighborhood becomes hostile territory? Do we march? Do we demand justice? Or do we first extend a hand to the young women and say " We're here for you, we're here to support you or how can we help?"
Though I love a good march, my first instinct was to reach out and say, "I'm here to support you and you are not alone!" That instinct comes myself having been the target of hate. I've been threatened by mail, had a rainbow flag burned and a window busted at my home and let me just say its terrifying.
Despite my years of activism, nothing prepared me for the sense of vulnerability that the attacks brought or how isolated I felt. I cannot even begin to know what it's like to be physically attacked like the two young women were, but I do know that they do NOT have to feel isolated or alone.
Let's continue to organize for marriage and all the other causes near and dear to us, but let's take time out to extend our hands and hearts to these two young women who NO longer feel safe in their neighborhood and who are in their early to mid 20s and have a lot more living to do. Lets make sure they know that they are part of OUR community and we will take care of them.
If not us, then who?