I know most tumblypoos aren’t old enough to remember with me, but when I was in high school, this was unimaginable. I mean that literally: I could not imagine it.
The President of the United States did not say the word AIDS in public until 1987, by which time more than 20,000 Americans had died. The chronic under-funding of AIDS research was driven primarily by systemic homophobia. The President himself privately remarked, “Maybe the Lord brought down this plague [because] illicit sex is against the ten commandments.”
References to homosexuality as a mental illness were not completely removed from the American Psychiatric Society’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Gay sex was a crime in most American states until 1989 (and in many until 2003).
Seventeen years ago, the year I graduated from high school, a classmate posted an anonymous open letter in my school’s paper saying that s/he was gay and found the homophobic language used by his/her classmates offensive. This is embarrassing to admit, but it had never occurred to me that constant use of the word “gay” in pejorative contexts would be offensive to someone I knew, because it never occurred to me that I knew any gay people.
And then for more than a decade, a long string of state constitutional amendments excluded LGBT people from legal marriage and the rights associated with it. It must have been very hurtful, to have voters in state after state after state decide to exclude you from the full rights and protections of citizenship in this country.
Well, change is coming. In 1986, the President thought AIDS was a scourge given to sinners. In 1995, I learned not to use the word “gay” as a pejorative adjective. And on Tuesday, a majority of voters in four very different states in very different parts of the country said NO to the hate, fear, bigotry, and exclusion that have shaped our policy on marital rights in this country.
I know that it’s still hard, that many LGBT people are threatened and bullied and dehumanized by their peers and denied rights by their governments. We have a long way to go. But the young anonymous gay person who wrote that open letter to my high school in 1995? She just oversaw a campaigns to bring marriage equality in Maine.
And she’s married.