Excerpt from The People’s Victory – published piece chronicling stories from MEUSA (Marriage Equality USA). Purchase the entire book, here.
Marriage Equality USA Chapter Leader, San Benito County (2009 – 2011)
Restore Equality 2010, Regional Representative
Picture it: the 1st anniversary of the narrow but successful passage of California’s Proposition 8. A shopping center corner at the busy intersection of a rural town during the evening rush hour. A handful of Marriage Equality USA members proudly donning organizational logos and attire, some holding large posters and lit candles. Suddenly, without warning: guttural laughter. Honking. “Faggots!” Screeching tires. “Yes On 8!” Speeding vehicles veering alarmingly close. “YES ON 8!” More muffled jeering. Then again, with burning zeal: “FAGGOTS!!” The swelling hatred in the feverish shrieks was brutally visceral, shrill, and almost animalistic. Without laying a finger on any of us the piercing vitriol of passersby made my blood run cold, filling my body with fight-or-flight adrenaline and triggering overwhelming waves of fear, vulnerability and a dizzying panic.
Instead of retreating back to my car to calm my wobbly legs and catch my breath, instead of surrendering to rabid intimidation and recoiling into seclusion, I took a deep breath and a (figurative and literal) step forward on the corner of that busy intersection. An unprecedented and tenacious drive stirred within me – part anger, part sadness, and an increasingly clear realization that what we were facing must be part of something much more significant than a civil marriage ceremony and certificate.
Over the next few weeks a loud internal dialogue was waged. Standing on that intersection opened a floodgate of pent-up emotion stemming from ferocious bullying I experienced as a young boy. I desperately yearned for answers. I wanted to make sense of everything. WHERE did this condemnatory fervor come from? WHAT drove complete strangers to unleash such malicious threats and assaults? None of it made sense. Was there really something wrong with me? Wiping away the tears, I soon found myself reading analogous definitions of one particular word.
Homophobia: noun ho·mo·pho·bia \ˌhō-mə-ˈfō-bē-ə\ the irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against, homosexuality and homosexuals; unreasoning fear of, or antipathy toward, homosexuals and homosexuality. First known use: 1969.
THIS was my “Ah-Ha” moment: I, we, were all up against something inherently irrational (a baseless fear manifested as hate), and in order to effectively battle this historically deceptive and insidious mentality (think back to Anita Bryant’s Save Our Children campaign and the Briggs Initiatives’ parallels to Yes on 8’s Protect Our Children), we needed brave visibility. And standing on that corner was just that.
Moreover, for the first time in my young life, I interpreted the fight for marriage equality as more than a talking point and partisan issue within the prevailing political arena. It was also a movement that transcended relationship statuses. The important work being done resonated on much more profound levels to ALL of us (partnered LGBT people who longed to marry AND single LGBT people). It was a battle to establish, affirm and uphold our humanity. It was a new platform for an age-old standoff between the pervasive social toxicity, that is homophobia, and those of us wanting to expose and ultimately delegitimize these irrational forces of intolerance.
Soon after connecting the dots, so to speak, I began to hold my head up a little higher at subsequent rallies and events, and as I lived my life in general, particularly when confronted by homophobic opposition and their thinly-veiled discriminatory rhetoric (think “One Man + One Woman”). Not only did I habitually remind myself that truth and rationality were on our side, but I had a firmer grasp of what was at stake: not just civil marriage licenses for the engaged and prospective newlyweds, but our very lives. Most importantly the lives of all young LGBT people who, on a daily basis, are enduring the same type of harmful and illogically based viciousness unleashed on that busy intersection.