I wanted to take a moment to commend you and your team on the recent “Allies Edition” of the South Florida Gay News and to thank you for spotlighting the many straight friends, neighbors, and community members who continue to be integral resources for us all. As a result of the collective efforts of many of the people you showcased, we have the luxury of living in one of the most progressive places in the U.S. though we live in one of the most regressive states in the Union.
Next year I will celebrate my twentieth year with Compass. Ironically, this weekend is the twentieth anniversary introduction of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in the House of Representatives. Two decades and many, many wins for the LGBT community over the course of 20 years still haven’t quite erased the bitter ugliness of that time. People were losing their lives, their partners, their jobs, homes, insurance and financial security at the very same time our government was working to make sure our unions would never be recognized under the law.
I was working at the Center for Disease Control’s National AIDS Clearinghouse in Washington DC at the time. A cure for AIDS wasn’t imaginable and the treatment for the disease was nearly as painful and taxing as the disease. The stigma of HIV cast a cloud over our community that was so dark those who opposed us turned even our closest friends and families against us through campaigns fueled by hate. Being an ally at the time was a risk, and it wasn’t the most popular position for anyone.
As ugly and vile as those days were, and as terrible as it was to see state after state move to enshrine discrimination into their Constitutions, we still had champions. Where we could not represent ourselves, we had allies. We had people willing to take a stand, to speak on our behalf and make places for us at the table. We simply couldn’t have done it alone.
Twenty years ago Ellen DeGeneres wasn’t out. Will and Grace wasn’t must see TV. The few gay characters you could find at the time were often depicted as caricatures whose only purpose seemed to be to reinforce unflattering stereotypes and categorically mislead the masses.
As a community we objected.
Yet in 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006 and as late as 2008 in Florida – to the detriment of our community – politicians and motivated bigots continued to use fear tactics to suit a political agenda and ideology aimed at weakening our families or turning our friends and families against us.
It was our allies who put their careers on the line with us. It was our allies who reminded the people who loved us that they didn’t really want a reason to stop loving us or to turn us away. It was our allies who reminded people that we are sons and daughters and cousins and neighbors. Our allies fought with us so we could be teachers and counselors while others worked to keep us from being able to work at all.
Today, I am as inspired by our allies as I am by our youth. This brave new world is still in transition, and there will always be more work to do. But now WE are the ones fortunate enough to fight as allies along with our friends against economic injustice, for race and gender equality, to preserve reproductive rights and expand civil liberty for everyone.
It is a privilege to live in a world so far away from one that was once so comfortable denying citizens basic human dignity and protection.
Your issue is a proud reminder that we did not get where we are today alone and we will never have to worry about being alone because we have allies and always will.
Tony Plakas joined Compass in 1997 as the HIV Prevention Director. Shortly after he was named CEO and has been part of the Compass family since he moved to Florida.