A party at Harvey Milk’s house
Through some combination of dumb luck and having great friends, I stumbled into an invite to a party at Harvey Milk’s former residence in San Francisco on the Saturday night before likely the biggest Pride parade in history.
Drinks were flowing and the mood was jubilant, much as it had been throughout the city since news of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage came down on Friday morning.
Perhaps struck by the emotional tenor of the moment and influenced by the historic relevance of the party’s location — not to mention the bottle of whiskey that was being passed around — someone turned to my friend Robert, who is gay, and offered him congratulations on the federal government’s overdue recognition of his right to marry whoever it is he falls in love with.
As I remember it — admittedly through a moderate buzz — Robert, who is not particularly effeminate, paused for a minute, stroked his beard and adjusted his hat with a thoughtful look on his face.
“Thanks,” he said. “But the people who deserve the recognition are the femme boys and the butch girls who wear their sexuality on their sleeve. I’ve been able to go through life avoiding the violence and harassment that they’ve had to endure just because of who they are. They’re the ones fighting on the front lines.”
Somewhere between my third and fourth slice of hungover pizza on Sunday, a couple million people gathered a few miles from my house to celebrate the increasingly mainstream acceptance of the gay community.
As I polished off the last slice and thought about how I should have ordered another side of ranch, I saw this tweet from John Birdsall, a food writer from Oakland, noting how ubiquitous the rainbow flag had become over the previous few days as people, from all along the sexual identity spectrum, joined in on the party.
I’ve never hung a rainbow flag on my house and — as a relatively young, able-bodied, straight, cisgender white guy — I sit pretty squarely at the top of the privilege pyramid.
But as a kid, I remember having to lie about my mom’s sexuality, telling my acquaintance’s parents and teachers and even some of my best friends that my mother’s girlfriend, who played a significant role in my upbringing, was her roommate to avoid being made fun of.
I know that pales in comparison to what those in marginalized communities have to deal with, but I still feel shitty about it and can only imagine what it was like for my mom to have to listen to her 6-year-old son lie about who she loved. Sorry mom.
Robert’s comment kept popping into my head. The confetti from the parade has blown away and soon thousands of same-sex couples will plan their newly legal weddings, settle into the routine of matrimony and have families where the kids will be able to say “dad’s husband” or “mom’s wife.”
And who do we have to thank for that?
The Supreme Court’s decision is cause to celebrate and marks a great win for a community that has suffered too many loses, but a marriage license doesn’t eliminate prejudice and it doesn’t prevent bigotry.
Hate doesn’t disappear overnight and those whose identity demands they wear their sexuality on their sleeve will continue to be harassed, attacked and marginalized in ways that most of us will never be able to understand.
So congratulations to us all on the long overdue recognition of marriage equality, but a special thank you to the effeminate men and the masculine women and the trans people of color and the queer homeless youth and everyone else whose very identity puts them at the intersection of society’s biases, involuntarily thrusting them to the front lines of the fight.
Let’s hope that as same-sex marriage goes mainstream, close on its heels will follow acceptance of these groups.
As Robert said in Harvey Milk’s kitchen on Saturday night, “they are the heroes of this movement.”