OpEd: History on our Doorstep

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In a year that has already been historic for the LGBT community, Time magazine this week delivered a stunning topper.

On its cover is Laverne Cox, a TV star for the Netflix original show, “Orange is the New Black.” She is one of an estimated 1.5 million Americans who identify themselves as transgender individuals.

The front page feature is titled “The Transgender Tipping Point: America’s next civil rights frontier.”

Just a few years ago, we were fighting for domestic partnerships and civil unions. Today, we are hearing every week that federal courts are saying same-sex marriages are a civil right.

Today, we not only have gays and lesbians lawfully serving in the military, we are in positions of command and authority.

Transparency and honesty serve us well. Sunlight is a disinfectant. Truth is a serum, society learns from and should yearn for. As Cox told Time, the transgender community is speaking up, coming forth, and saying, “This is who I am.”

What our world is learning is that being transgender is no more being part of the Rocky Horror Picture Show than being gay meant you were a drag queen. We are learning that transgender people are not deviant or disordered or deformed. We are learning they are a part of our community, not apart from it.

The fact is even within the LGBT community transgender persons were and still are the target of condescending comments and unjust criticism. In Huntington Beach, Cali., though, a trans girl was named this year’s homecoming queen. Can you imagine that even being a possibility a decade ago?

Still, it’s not an easy road. As the Time magazine piece points out, a study by the National Transgender Discrimination Survey indicates that nearly 80 percent of young trans people have experienced harassment at their schools. More startling, 90 percent of trans people experience discrimination even at work, where theoretically, adults should be more mature.

Communities are taking modest steps to turn the tide. For example, at least a dozen states have initiated guidelines insuring that students who play on athletic teams may participate based on the gender identity they align with. Still, legal obstacles abound and social disconnects are so prevalent everywhere. Even within our limited LGBT community, we all have so much learning still to do.

We can all be certain of this: our gay community is as diverse as the rainbow that mirrors our lives. We are Dolphin Democrats in shirts and ties, but we are also the 5,000 men who took over the Marriott Hotel on Wacker Street in downtown Chicago last week for the International Male Leather Convention.

We are the Aqua Girls hosting a party on South Beach, and the cowboys at the gay rodeo. We are seniors active in a gay environment, and choruses of men and women, singing at rallies for HIV advocacy on World AIDS Day. We all have a story that led us down a path society did not approve of. We got here anyway, and are stronger for it. We lived in the shadows, and now we are in the sunlight.

Last week, one of my best friends, Paul Hugo, and I were standing outside his club at the Manor on Wilton Drive. Hundreds and hundreds of young kids were lining up to get in for the under-21 nights.
“Look at all these young people,” I remarked, “coming out of the closet so openly and so young.”

Paul replied, “It’s not a closet anymore. It’s just a soft curtain, and they push it aside.” He is right. It is the new world order.

As John Stuart Mill wrote in his epic treatise on individualism, “We all have something in common in that we are all unique.”

Within our own lives, let’s never lose the spark that makes us caring, maintains our commitment, and gives us a conscience. Let’s work to build bridges and tear down walls.

As you create your life, and carve out your career, look around and about you for those whose paths go a different way. Like your own journey, these roads count just as much. Their struggles are as valid as your own.

Isn’t Gay Days this weekend? The transgender community is teaching America something Disney has been preaching on one of its rides for decades: “It’s a small world, after all….”


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