I attended my first gay pride festival in 1973, a mere four years after disenfranchised drag queens rioted against police harassment at New York’s Stonewall Inn.
I was twenty-one and in the cast of the gay history play, Coming Out. We performed as part of the festivities in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park. Bette Midler came on stage after us and sang “You Got to Have Friends.” The future seemed resplendent with possibilities and my tribe more powerful than ever imagined.
Over the decades, pride celebrations evolved from celebrating sexual freedom and affirmation to funeral processions mourning the unrelenting AIDS carnage in the 1980s and ‘90s. Then legal protection, adoption, and marriage equality came to dominate agendas as LGBTQ people assimilated.
But while there’s been much progress, little has changed to guarantee basic human and civil rights for queer people internationally; and whatever legal advances we gained nationally are once again at risk in Washington. Transgendered kids are especially vulnerable, as protections are being rolled back.
Today, at 65, I find myself between generations of queer identities. Often at professional functions I attend as executive director of the Flynn, my husband Larry and I are quietly reminded by older men and women how remarkable they think it is that we are an out couple. Inconceivable in their day, we are told.
Conversely, millennials share with me that coming out was never an issue for them or their friends, and they don’t relate to a queer culture defined by struggle, alienation, and death – all touchstones for my generation. I remind them that isolated seniors and fragile youth, however, remain at risk.
And it’s important not to forget the battles of the past as we forge new identities. We need to build upon the legacies that were so crucial in defining our community. From fierce drag queens who fought back at Stonewall in the late ‘60s, to the vehement AIDS activists of the late ‘80s who delivered our current health care and legal protections - I couldn’t be who I am today without them all.
I find joy in being part of this idiosyncratic family and reap the benefits of their struggle and courage. I look forward to participating as the next generations of queer activists define their social, political, and cultural agendas. There is still much left to do.