Op-Ed: Be Who You Are

The celebration of gay pride in South Florida last month was testimony to the fortunes of our community. More than just a parade of floats, we witnessed a measure of our moment in history.

LGBT life in South Florida is celebrated by seniors who have been coupled for decades and young people just coming out of the closet. Both emerge in the sunlight, not from the shadows. As social acceptance of sexuality becomes the norm, fears of being gay are now abnormal.

It was not always so.

In decades past, men and women with gay histories were closeted. We know the stories of those who came out at great personal risk, of people who paid the ultimate price. One of those was Harvey Milk, a true American hero and champion of civil rights for all people.

Next month, on Milk’s birthday, the United States will issue a commemorative stamp in his honor. Assassinated by a political foe, the bullets of that false revenge did not tame time or history. From high schools named after him, to the foundation that honors him, Harvey Milk’s life is still celebrated.

In February, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force celebrated its annual hedonistic romp on South Beach. Gay Days in Orlando will be a tribute to equality for Disney and Mickey. The White Party sometimes has a dual meaning.

Yes, the gay community knows how to throw a party. Still, we have a duty to raise the bar. The gay community in 2014 has taken on a new meaning. We make news not in bathrooms but in executive boardrooms.

You matter. You can make a difference. Many of you wonder how. There are many ways and multiple moments that fall your way.

It is in courtrooms with couples fighting for marriage.

It is with soldiers who chained themselves to the White House to end ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’

It is with couples that adopted children in states like Florida where governors and legislators told you that you couldn’t.

It is with teens fighting bullying in classrooms and community centers so they don’t ever go to a college as a second-class citizen.

It is with HIV advocacy groups in minority communities saying they are empowered, careful and committed to making sure they are safe and secure.

It is with professional associations asserting their commitment to dignity and distinction in the community and government, from non-profits to corporate structures.

It is all of us treating each other with a higher level of dignity and respect, recognizing there is nothing so individually important that you sacrifice the collective good.

To be gay and lesbian in 2014 is to accept responsibility for who you are and to make a difference in the quality not only of your own life, but also for those who follow.

The LGBT community is more than parades and floats. We are the sons and daughters of America, and our rights should not be dependent on a zip code. Our goals should not be measured by what we have achieved, but what we still have to do.

There are the Harvey Milks who paved the way.

There are the Jason Collins and Michael Sams who learned that there are times you just have to stand up, to be willing to answer the call.

Your day may come when you least expect it, from a homophobic employer or discriminatory act. The only thing unforgivable is if you forgive the act that would perpetuate the injustice.

As long as you can open your eyes, there is beauty to see and a cause to fight for. What Boston taught us last week in the first marathon after 2013’s terror attack, is that you don’t need your legs or body parts to find ‘strong,’ It comes from your soul. New Yorkers experienced the same feelings a decade ago on 9/11.

The first president of the United States, George Washington, once told his troops, “Labor to always keep alive in your breasts that celestial spark of life we call Conscience.” So too should the gay community carry that message forward today.

No one can ever take your spirit away from you. Only you can let that fire burn out, and you never should. That is the enduring message of self-pride, gay pride, and your life.

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