Monday, October 12, 2009

That Was Then, but This Is Now

It was with ambivalent feelings that I missed the big National Equality March on Washington over the weekend. I was thrilled that President Obama came through by speaking at the Human Rights Campaign dinner on Saturday. Contrary to what some are saying, I don't believe he's done "nothing" for the LGBT population since taking office. (See: acknowledging us in his victory speech, lifting the HIV travel ban, appointing his first out gay ambassador, extending more benefits to federal employees, and championing the Matthew Shepard Act, which is about to become law.) Like Sarah Silverman, who was asked about Obama on "Real Time With Bill Maher" the other night, I continue to maintain my blind faith in our president (now I know how people who believe in God feel). And I believe in him when he pledges to end "don't ask, don't tell."

By no means has he done anything close to what he has promised yet. But it is only October. And if you're already getting impatient, I certainly don't judge you for letting your feelings be known.

Circa 1993: No one asked, no one needed to be told

Still, while I would not try to be a bitter, bitchy queen rain on anyone's parade march like Barney Frank did, I didn't feel compelled to be there in the flesh to press our case, the way I did when I was 25 and the first hint of acceptance was blowing out of the just-inaugurated Clinton White House. The fact that I was so willing to let the new guard (or, as The New York Times referred to them, Stonewall 2.0 or the Prop. 8 Generation) do the marching could very well have to do with age and life experience. (God, how long before I start widdling?)

When my friend Paul Samson and I marched in 1993, above, we were still living in constant fear of dying of AIDS. As roommates in Orange County back in the day, each hookup was followed by an excruciating replaying of events -- no matter how safely executed -- in which we convinced ourselves we had "caught it" and would be dead in less than six months.

The march in 1993 -- and several other big gay events I attended around the time I came out in the late '80s -- included many tears and many boxes of tissues around the AIDS Memorial Quilt, above, something I don't think I've seen since. (I was at the march in 2000 and don't recall seeing it.) It's not to say that the progress on treatments for HIV has softened my desire to fight (I think anyone who reads this blog knows I'm hellbent on FULL EQUALITY for LGBT people, on all counts). Or that there weren't many people my age or older at yesterday's march. (Many of my friends attended, including the guy whose pictures are at the top of this post. Thanks, Mike!) But the last-minute planning of the whole thing was an issue (most newspaper types have to plan all their vacation days in January, so getting a weekend off in October on short notice was impossible -- way to change your mind at the 11th hour, Cleve Jones!). More than anything, though, I feel I am in a better position at this stage of the game to help forward our cause through my contributions to candidates and organizations, my lobbying of various elected officials (letters, phone calls) and my blogging. I cheer those who participated over the weekend, and I encourage everyone to do whatever they can, week in and week out.

Progress does seem to come slowly. But when I think about the way things were in 1993 versus now, I don't think any of us attending our first Gay Rights March on Washington (below) could have in our wildest imagination thought that marriage would have even been on the table, let alone legal in a handful of states. While it's frustrating to see other countries make greater progress more quickly, I still believe our diligent efforts -- along with our pro-LGBT president and Dem-controlled Congress -- can make more of the next several years than all the time between the marches in '93 and '09 combined.

This boys on Q Street: Dave and Tory (mustache and red shirt) have two babies now
With Ken and Paul: I had just met Ken the week before. He's been one of my best friends for the 16 years since
With Paul, unknown in glasses, and Rich Covarrubias, a friend from Orange County I haven't seen since running into him at Club USA in Times Square in the mid-'90s!
With Bob and Paul (at Keith's house?)
With Reg, who died of AIDS a few years ago


cairnglen said...

Obama didn't appoint the first openly gay ambassador: Clinton did in appointing James Hormel to Luxembourg. Bush also appointed one: Michael Guest to Romania. Huebner is hardly a breakthrough.

Matthew said...

I agree with you on all of this (wow...we totally agree). I am getting more and more disheartened not by Obama's lack of movement, which is greatly exaggerated, but by one part of the gay movement's increasing desire to have results NOW, to paint Obama as not just slow on the draw but secretly homophobic and to now start attacking the rest of us who are not with them 100% in these beliefs. Now some group has vandalized the HRC HQ and I've read positive comments about this. I'm sorry, but while I respect all the people on our side, we're never getting any progress from radicalized groups. Progress, not being right, has to be the final goal.

Chuck said...

While you should certainly give President Obama his due credit, please don't give him credit he hasn't earned. President Bush appointed Michael Guest, a gay career member of the Foreign Service as an Ambassador in 2001 (wikipedia).

Patrick said...

Very nice photo essay. Puts a lot in perspective....

Kevin said...

I was also at the march in 1993. I was only 20 and there with LGBU from Kent state university. It was such a wonderful experience. I also got married in the mass wedding but that's a whole different story, lol.

Unknown said...

Kenneth..Thanks for your recap. I was in DC and wish you could have been there with us. Amazing energy and great things/new LGBT leaders will emerge out of this new movement. It's going to be an exciting time. So many young people where there that before prop 8 didn't have the need or tools to come together. The internet is changing that. Thanks for your part in the fight.

Kenneth M. Walsh said...

I meant "his first," not "the first." Thanks for the correction, guys! I'm the first to say it: EVERYONE needs an editor.


Doctor K said...

I saw the assembled AIDS quilt in 1996. Friends and I went to DC so we could see the panel we assembled for a dear friend who died in Spring of 1996. I've often wondered where that panel currently abides.

Anonymous said...

Once of your best posts ever.