American society has committed itself to full acceptance of gays, lesbians

June 1, 2011 

For the past few weeks, I’ve been watching the news closely to try to gauge if my gut feeling is accurate. Have we crossed the Rubicon regarding gay rights?

I dared to think this when a friend told me about this year’s gay pride parade in Northampton, Mass. Not only were there several groups from local high schools marching, there was a float from a retirement community. Having a whole lifespan represented in that parade was quite inspiring to me.

Then there was a spate of people coming out – the president of an NBA team most prominent among them. Coupled with that is the recent stop in Seattle of The Acceptance Tour, headed up by international rugby star Ben Cohen, who, as a heterosexual man, is risking millions in endorsements to support gay rights.

And none of it seemed to make much of a splash. That’s why I was wondering about the Rubicon.

It was 42 years ago this month that the gay rights movement was jump-started by a group of men in New York City tired of being beaten and thrown into jail by police. They were fed up with being thrown out of the only place they had to socialize: a sleazy, Mafia-controlled bar.

I was 17 at the time, and lived only a dozen miles away in New Jersey. The revolutionary events in Greenwich Village were not mentioned in the news. I knew nothing about gay men, nothing about lesbians, except that I thought I was one.

And that frightened me. I had no idea how to live my life as a lesbian. No role models, no one to talk to about it, no one else like me. I was a stranger to my own family, to my friends, even to myself.

Imagine my surprise to find today that I live an extraordinarily ordinary life: work, laundry, bills. My partner and I will celebrate our 30th anniversary next year.

From the simple wish of those men for a place to meet friends after work sprang thousands of groups and organizations nationwide – worldwide – based on the then-radical idea that gay men and lesbians are full members of society.

It was then that the world at large started to understand that we are your brothers and sisters, your cousins, your parents, your children – and that love, given the chance, between two men or two women could be just as valid, just as spiritual, just as profound, just as long-lasting as love between a man and a woman.

The thing about crossing the Rubicon is that there’s no going back. Once you’re there, you have to finish what you started. American society has committed itself to full acceptance of gay men and lesbians in society.

That’s the key word: acceptance. Not toleration. Acceptance. That’s why that rugby star named his tour The Acceptance Tour. That’s why more and more sports heroes and celebrities are willing to acknowledge who they are. That, I think, is where we are today.

I am thrilled to know that adolescents today have a full spectrum of role models, that all children can find a mirror of themselves in society, that they do not need to go to sleazy bars to find friends, that they don’t need to be strangers to their families.

In the end, the question of gay rights boils down to this: Does American society want to allow gay men and lesbians to live extraordinarily ordinary lives, or does it want to continue to try to push all of those brothers and sisters and cousins and parents and children back into the river?

Chris Madsen, a software developer and writer who moved to Olympia six years ago from Maine, is a member of The Olympian’s Board of Contributors. She can be reached at cetmadsen@gmail.com.

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