The Right Side of History
Rhode Island conservatives were wondering on Wednesday if they were still the most Catholic state in the Union when the state senate voted to pass a marriage equality bill into law by an incredible 26 – 12 vote.
Rhode Island was the last of the New England states to jump on board the momentous Equality train and gays across the United States could not be happier. New England has always been known as a more progressive and forward thinking portion of our country.
Just a few years ago gay activists praised states like Rhode Island that offered the lesser, separate but equal civil unions option for its gay residents. More and more gay people are now offended by this lesser option. What we saw on Wednesday, April 24 was Rhode Island taking a huge step towards preserving the Constitution with its ruling and becoming the 10th state in the Union to approve Marriage Equality.
As a gay person, I hear people marvel or exclaim at the speed with which this “marriage equality trend” has gained ground. However, our reality is that it’s been going on since before the Compton Cafeteria riots in the 60’s. I wouldn’t call something that took over 50 years to gain “quickly won.” As recently as forty years ago homosexuality was listed as a mental illness by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM. I believe it has taken this long to make any real progress because some serious groundwork had to be laid.
When gay people first got the notion that they had the right to be proud human beings, treated the same as everyone else and afforded the same dignities as others, the only people that shared that view with them were other gay people. This is relevant because of the way gay people chose to engage the heteronormative community in a discussion about equality. We had been shamed and degraded, mislabeled and vilified for so long that to even open a conversation with someone, we had to approach them not only humbly but also with a palpable degree of self-shame. As we were politely asking those with votes to not shame us we had to overcome the degradation we had inherently swallowed simply by being gay. We had to find our pride in being who we were and we had to really believe that we were justified in what we asked for.
The people that think being gay is a choice have no idea the internal struggle that goes on when you realize you’re gay. We don’t wake up one day and say, “Wow! I’m gay!! I’m so proud!! Bring on the parade and nakedness!” For a lot of gay people it’s not something they are initially proud of and in the beginning days of the equality movement there was no outside, objective voice to tell them they were right.
Since that time we’ve had homosexuality taken out of the DSM as a mental illness in 1973, and psychology now supports there is no threat or danger or illness to being homosexual. We also have a full generation of gays that have found their pride, have outside support and have done the very thing that Harvey Milk told them would garner them fair and equal treatment before he was brutally shot for being gay. We came out. This is really the core of the core. We came out, and upon doing that, you could no longer refuse equality to your brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, friends and co-workers, leaders and fellow humans, and to those we say, “Welcome to the right side of history.”