In my lifetime I have seen a great deal of change. I watched as New York made national headlines when they suffered the terrorist attacks of 9/11. I witnessed George W. Bush’s Presidency and War on Terror. I proudly watched as our nation elected our first black president, and with his time in office, I saw the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Most recently, June 29, 2015 I received a text from my mother bright and early, beyond thrilled, that love was finally declared legal and equal by the Supreme Court.
The night before they handed down their decision, I stood in front of the capital here in Austin and watched as drag queens danced on the steps and read firsthand accounts of the Stonewall Riot. I listened to the voices of a half-century of history detailing their struggle and their fight for freedom. The evening was ended by the audience joining them on steps as they danced to “We Are Family” and “Born This Way.” I watched as individuals from the local community greeted one another, teenagers mingled, drag queens teetered around in killer shoes, and no one batted an eyelash as a boy with scars fresh from top surgery ran by shirtless and proud. There were flags flying on behalf of every variation of the term LGBTQ – no one was left unrepresented.
Had I known at age 16 that in six years this is where we would be, I would have said it was ludicrous. At that age, I was entranced by my school’s Gay Straight Alliance, amazed at their freedom and self-expression, envious that they were so freely able to be themselves, when I was too terrified to even show up at their meetings alone. I watched at club rush as they glitter bombed everyone with rainbow sparkles – fan or critic alike. I was never more thankful for a group of people; they accepted me as I was – ally or family, it didn’t matter. In knowing these people, I was introduced to Rainbow’s Festival, Phoenix Gay Pride Festival, and the Rocky Horror Picture Show. After the first gay-friendly event I attended (Rainbows Festival of 2009) I went home and cried as I told my mother how cool it was. I had never seen so many people who didn’t fit the cultural norm at once, and I had never felt so validated in my weirdness. It’s difficult realizing you’re different from the kids you grew up with. It’s even more difficult when they realize it, too.
In school I was called a dyke. I was told I was going to hell. Some days I even had to walk some of my friends to class because they feared for their safety. At these events, the community comes out in force and bonds are formed that give you hope for the future. This is a practice we can never give up and
I simply cannot express how important these groups, events, and festivals are for the generations coming. I had so many fantastic interactions with older members of the gay community of Phoenix; they wanted us to know that they were there fighting not only for their rights, but ours as well. They fought for our future and it’s on us now to continue.
Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.