In Which There’s More Work to do But I Still Need to Dance

Photo: MO 2015

“Excuse me, do you know what this line is for?” I asked the last person standing in a line outside the Supreme Court on Friday.

“Oh, I think it’s just to get into the Supreme Court to walk around as a visitor,” he responded.

“Today’s a good day for that!” I smiled as I joined him in line.

We made small talk and noticed the guy behind us wearing a cool shirt with a rainbow akin to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album. We lamented that we both weren’t wearing clothes more celebratory, having just come from work. He handed us rainbow bead necklaces and put on a sparkly green hat. We became friends, walked inside, and started decorating statues of old men with our beads, taking pictures every time, having only gotten yelled at by a security guard once. We took pictures in front of the Supreme Court sign and selfies on the steps outside, thrilled just to be here.

Photo: MO 2015

The energy was electrifying. We walked through the crowds of people who were celebrating- and a few warning angrily of God’s wrath- and began listening to people’s stories. There was the woman who let us pose with her peace statue, a staple she’s carried to the first and second Gulf War protests, HIV/AIDS marches and here to the Supreme Court two years ago to the date to celebrate the end of DOMA. There was the woman next to her who showed us three signs she made. “This one was going to be for if they voted against marriage equality,” she showed us, pointing to a sign that read, “Unite the States of America” in big rainbow colored letters. “This one for if they decided to keep it to the states,” she explained, referencing the sign that read, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” “But instead, I get to hold this!” She exclaimed, bearing a sign that read, “Not just gay, ecstatic!”

There was a man wearing all black with red bike lights tied around his waist, shouting that men who have sex with feces are going to hell, and so are men who have sex with men. “Come on, let’s hug it out!” A guy implored. “This is not a time for hugging,” The man replied back flatly, going back to calling out his warnings against “homosexual acts.”  “I’ll give you a hug!” I called out the imploring hugger and we embraced tightly, while enthusiastic passengers in cars continued to drive past waving, cheering, honking in conviviality.

Tears warmed my eyes thinking about how far we’ve come since 2004, when Massachusetts lead the way by becoming the first state to recognize same sex marriage. My own journey in becoming an ally to the LGBTQAI community began with actual action in 2012, after a dear one shared that growing up they considered committing suicide because of the bitter retaliation they received simply for their sexual orientation. I’d always wanted to become a better ally, and this person’s experience reminded me just how urgently all of our voices are needed for equality. I joined a church with a focus on LGBTQ inclusion, led by a pastor who was a married lesbian. I got involved with Believers for Marriage Equality, a series of videos from people in the faith based community voicing support for marriage equality as we neared election time, in which we Marylanders would vote on marriage equality since protesters garnered twice the amount of signatures needed to place a referendum on the ballot.  On March 1, 2012, same sex marriage was passed by Maryland’s General Assembly, and now on election day, ran the risk of being taken away through Question 6.  I wrote blog posts supporting Question 6 and advocated for it on social media. I went to the Marylanders for Marriage Equality election night watch party and celebrated with newfound friends as Maryland became the first of three states that night to vote in equality. My friendships became more diverse. I went to lectures on marriage equality from a public health perspective (Access to health insurance? Right to visit a sick loved one? Yes, this is why I love public health). I brushed up on the history of marriage equality, got pissed off, and joined organizations that were moving equality forward. I say all this not to call attention to myself, but to hopefully paint a picture of why I will forever remember June 26, 2015, honoring the blood, sweat, and tears of activists who’ve done much more than me to collectively bring us here.

This is a victory.
We made history.
And I am celebrating.

But it didn’t take long for me to see all sorts of social media posts about other injustices going on in our world. Violence in Burundi. Burnings of multiple predominately black Churches. Terrorism in Tunisia. Human trafficking. More details on the Emmanuel AME Shooting. Baltimore County officers shoot and kill unarmed man. The intersectionality of all of these issues- and the actual lives affected by such broad sweeping experiences- demands more action, voices, and public outrage. Even the SCOTUS ruling doesn’t mean everything will be ALL rainbows, as we consider that people who identify as LGBTQ still experience higher rates of poverty, worse health outcomes, bullying and job discrimination compared to those who identify as straight or heterosexual.Societal attitudes also aren’t different overnight just because of the SCOTUS ruling, but as we consider the changing public opinion of gay marriage, going up in public approval rating from 67% to 73% in just this past year alone, I am hopeful that we are indeed “bending toward justice,” to quote Dr. King.

We still have a ways to go in achieving social justice in gender equality, immigration, racial unity, ending war and violence and so many more areas.

But just for right now, I am taking a sabbath to rejuvenate my soul by relishing in what can happen when we collectively organize ourselves into activism. I am listening to others’ stories of what this ruling means to them. I am taking full advantage of every free hug I can get. I am pausing to witness every single rainbow flag I have seen lining the streets of my home city. I am smiling at the increase I’ve seen in the number of hands held by people of the same gender—just in one weekend alone— perhaps because some people who once may have felt unsafe are just beginning to feel as though they can truly be themselves and be respected. I am feeding off this energy I feel as I see people talking to one another, feeling less like strangers and more like the brothers and sisters we truly are. I see an influx of connecting, as perhaps we can ever so slightly stop having to fight for equal marriage and simply get on with the loving and enjoy our cake while we’re at it, too.

I know that even after a wedding, there are still challenges that come, conflicts that arise, differing opinions about important and not-so-important things that must be worked through with grace. And we, too, as a society will have to come back down from the apex high of Friday’s decision. But I know I will be able to return to the peaceful fight for justice with more tenacity, vigor, and passion if you can just let me soak in this sabbath in which I am still celebrating. I may need to take a longer sabbath than some, and some may need more time than me. But come together again we will with just a little more space to tackle these other social justice issues as I slowly loosen my grip from the battle for marriage equality, more room in my hands for activism, strength, a patient heart that understands we are daily writing our histories and though some pages are long and others thin, together, I believe, we are still writing something beautiful.

Now, please, pass the funfetti.

Photo: MO 2015

In Which Love Looks Like Equality and Releasing Helium Balloons

MO 2012

MO 2012

November 6, 2012: All day an uncontrollable energy has pent up inside of me, wondering if tonight I would get to see, alongside a community of others, if Maryland would be the first state to show the world with our voice and our vote that we believe in equality for all human beings, not just some. I couldn’t shake the amazing piece of history that was being shaped today, right before our very eyes.

And I was thrilled to be able to spend it in community. I headed over to Baltimore SoundStage earlier this evening to attend Marylanders for Marriage Equality’s Election Night Watch Party. Although I began the night alone, I ended it in full embrace. I meandered in and made my way toward the bar, pretending to be interested in the free drinks. I struck up a conversation with a woman next to me who had “volunteer” written on her name tag. I asked her how she got involved with the campaign and she shared a bit about having family members who are gay. Then she asked about my story. Tears I didn’t know were inside of me leapt from my eyes, as if confident that they were safe here, welcomed here, understood here. I shared the impact of people I’ve gotten to know from the LGBTQ community, but namely that someone who’s touched my life had shared that they almost committed suicide as a result of the retaliation they suffered from being mocked for their sexuality. “How many more deaths or how much more bullying does it take in order for us to decide that we must pay attention to this and that this matters?” I asked my new-found friend.

I browsed the room. It was, dare I say, holy ground. Love was everywhere. Men and women who are gay, women and men who are straight, families with children came together and hugged and smiled and said hello to one another, even to the girl like me who felt like a pariah, out of place with no one to celebrate with. Instead of feeling socially inept, I was welcomed in with open arms by so many people. “Melissa,” one of them said. “We just want to collect you.” I laughed, smile spreading from one corner to another. “What do you mean?” “Come to our gatherings, come to our parties, come hang out us.” Come. What an invitation. What a word of inclusion. What a picture of love. I smiled. “You all are the people I’ve been waiting to meet!” I shared, sensing that my friendships were expanding with more diversity, acceptance and freedom.

The night continued to shine, all because of people who decided to come together. I was humbled to hear the stories of people and their journeys. A woman who identified as bisexual shared her experience of finding a Catholic faith community that fully supports her journey and the LGBT community at large. People who worked tirelessly for months of campaigning because this is what it took in order for two consenting men or women to be able to marry in our state. People who had to FIGHT just to begin their marriage. I imagine that love must mean an awful lot, because it cost something. I’m not sure if all straight people have experienced such an ardent love that was willing to face rejection of friends, family, society to walk down an isle; that was willing to stand in lines to rally in order to earn their marriage license; that was willing to sign petitions, pledge support, and advocate to government to earn their wedding rings; that had to wait for the majority of opinions of the entire state of Maryland to approve of their marriage just to be able to say a legally-recognized “I do.”  This kind of love costs something; but for the ones willing to pay the cost and fight the good fight, I’m sure they have tasted of a love that cannot be separated or severed after working so hard just to sign a piece of paper recognizing their union.

We continued to watch the election coverage vigilantly. The gap for question 6 was narrowing. It was always slighty ahead until a moment of a 50 50 split- 50% for, 50% against. I cringed. So did my new-found friends.

But a couple hours later, as Governor O’Malley, who signed marriage equality into law in Maryland on March 1, 2012, and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake, and Union members of SEIU 1199, and staff from Marylanders for Marriage Equality got up on stage, a twinkle in my heart jittered in anticipation, as we heard for the first time: “Maryland is the first state in this country to vote in equality to all families!” Oh yes, we hooped and hollered and hugged and high-fived and kissed loved ones and embraced one another as we officially became one of three states in the nation to vote-in marriage equality that night, with Minnesota standing closely beside us as they voted down Amendment One, which would have altered the state’s constitution to define marriage solely been one woman and one man.

Silver, gold, and black balloons fell from the ceiling like New Year’s Eve confetti- a dawn of something new, unprecedented, and long-anticipated. The couple next to me hugging almost brought me to tears. A woman behind me who shared some of her story with me started crying. I started crying. And we hugged each other. Stephanie Rawlings Blake and Gov. O’Malley spoke with such passion as they expressed the progress we’ve made since 1996, when a house delegate official tried to push marriage equality through, but needed state police protection for a week due to receiving death threats. Yes what progress we’ve made. What progress we have left to make. But if for tonight, in that moment, it was worth it all to just stop right there and celebrate as Kool and the Gang took over the speaker system, bringing us all into dancing and echos of, “woo hoo!” [it’s a celebration.]

There is something beautiful when we preach and practice inclusion. No one gets left out. Everyone finds that there’s room at the table.

Yes, we were simply moving forward with the loving and the accepting. All I could think about was that this must be a fragment of what Heaven is like: where there is nothing you can do but shout, cheer, whistle, scream from the top of your lungs in enthusiasm because a group of people have been brought from exclusion to inclusion. From outsiders to insiders, together, inside a big circle of love. From the edges and the fringe to the spot out there in life that’s warm and free and insists, “Come on in! You belong! There is more than enough room for everyone!” And any movement to block that room and elbow someone out of the circle is a movement backwards, against love.

As Stephanie Rawlings Blake declared, “This is the civil rights issue of our time.” I fully believe that.

And I fully believe that in 50 years from now, I will never, ever forget this night. The untainted hope. The sense of victory in the fight. The sense of little old me finally having courage to voice my opinions, convictions and experiences, despite spending years feeling restrained by the noose around my neck that was silently choking my voice so that I couldn’t speak out without hearing “I’m wrong.”

I don’t care anymore about being “right” or “wrong” in others’ eyes. I think there’s a few who think I’ve jumped off the deep end. Truth is I have. See, I cliffjump occasionally and there’s this feeling you get as your feet leave rock and enter air and then water, a feeling of freedom. Of reckless abandon to trading in all the “approved-of” responses of what we’re ‘supposed’ to say for an enthusiastic “Amen!” to constant exploration and “yes!” to life meeting mess at the exact moment it collides with it’s counterpart, joy. Of “yes” to a life that is constantly being remade, evolved, as we grow stronger and wilder everyday into the full and abundant life that is out there, if you want it.

History is being made.

We are writing it in ballot check marks,
forming it with held hands, tight embraces,
coloring it with flags of every hue, 
speaking it into existence with our very hearts.
And one day as we gather around the table, recalling this story, I will hold the dry pages, crinkled up at the edges from old tears, smile, and tell you the story of a night in Maryland when danced underneath a clear sky, shouting, “We are family…”

6 for Six

We are just under a month away from election day and, despite all the progress in achieving marriage equality in Maryland, it could just as easily be taken away depending on how Marylanders respond to question 6. Here are six reasons why I will emphatically vote YES for question 6 to support marriage equality:

 6) Because I don’t believe that I have the right to deny the marriage of two consenting adults who love each other.

5) Because the quicker marriage equality is achieved, the quicker we can get back to using our time, capital, and media attention to address poverty, peace-building, human trafficking, and other social justice issues.

4) Because I want to add our country to one of the eleven that recognizes marriage equality. At the very at least, I want to remain one of the six states that currently recognizes same sex marriage.

3) Because the law gives freedom— freedom for people to marry those they love and for faith based institutions to choose which marriages they wish to recognize. (It saddens me to have to phrase this in such a way as to insinuate that some faith based institutions will disregard a couple’s marriage simply because they are of the same gender —-while eagerly welcoming in a divorced couple, another supposed “no-no” in the Church—-, but for those who are not ready to observe marriage equality, you will not be forced to change your faith based institutions’ stances or beliefs).

2) When I found out that interracial marriage used to be illegal, I was appalled and astonished. I also wonder where the Church was at this time. Was it supporting equality, love, and freedom? Or was it fostering hatred, judgment, separation, and inequality? I want my children and grandchildren to be so shocked that marriage equality used to not exist (i.e. they’re so accustomed to it that they don’t understand what the big deal was). I want to know that I, along with other people of faith, were on the sidelines voicing for equality, equity, and justice.



                                                                                                                                          Is it any different today?

1) Because my life has been personally touched by men and women who are gay or lesbian. Marriage equality has a face and a story. If you haven’t already, get to know someone whose sexual orientation is different from your own. Your life just might be changed. For more voices and stories, check out Believers for Marriage Equality:

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