Many elections are bittersweet. 2008 was no exception. While celebrating Obama's historic election, California voters were dashing the dreams of LGBT children throughout the world. Today, they doubt voters will ever grant an LGBT candidate the same defining moment of acceptance.
When we're young, life is immeasurable and expansive. As we leave the coddled confines of our childhood, it is the equivalent of the snail emerging from its protective shell to explore all that exists in the grand garden of life...eager and idealistic...hopeful to a fault in the absence of unforeseen obstacles and disappointments...unaware of the protective nature of the domicile we depart.
My journey began in 1976 as I graduated from The Abbey School. Two years prior to my graduation, I made a decision I recall announcing in our kitchen to my mom, "I won't be the valedictorian of my class...that's not what's important to me...but I'm going to win the Sullivan Award". I can't even say exactly how she reacted though I believe it was part surprise and part puzzlement at such a specific pronouncement. Once she absorbed my statement, she observed that grades weren't everything and, by and large, left it at that.
The Sullivan Award was given at graduation to the high school student who contributed the most to student life during their four years of attendance. While an esoteric achievement, it fully symbolized my sense of community and my unyielding belief in the promise of humanity. On a warm summer day in front of the towering monastery...as a member of the esteemed 50th graduating class...in the centennial year of Colorado's statehood and the bicentennial year of this nations existence...I received the Sullivan Award...and all was well in my idyllic world. My dreams had come true.
In a few short months, while attending college, I cast my first vote for Jimmy Carter and life was my oyster. Much to my dismay, little else would measure up for many years to come. Aware of my homosexuality, but determined to suppress it, I decided to quit college after three years and return home to work with my dad and his brother.
On the surface, the decision had the appearance of a considered choice, but in retrospect, it was motivated by my fear that should I remain in college, the opportunities to pursue my orientation would overwhelm my hesitations and preclude the remainder of my smoldering dreams...not the least of which was the political arena and the fanciful notion that the presidency was within the realm of possibilities.
In hindsight, my actions had little to do with choice and everything to do with being a Catholic raised in a small community where the thought of being gay struck my psyche as nothing more than a perceived and fully unacceptable pathology...the kind that not only precludes one from social acceptability...but most certainly eliminates any fanciful ideas of the presidency.
Yes, the little boy of five (who vividly remembered every detail of the assassination of John Kennedy...including the faces of those he encountered as he entered Safeway with is father after having heard the news on the radio)...and the boy of 10 (who watched every speech and every primary in the candidacy of Robert Kennedy...including anxiously getting up early in the morning to see if he had finally been declared the winner of the California primary...only to realize he was dead)...and the teenage boy (who watched the Watergate hearings with an intensity reserved for a member of the prosecution...up to and including the moment when Richard Nixon...the antithesis of his idealism...finally boarded a helicopter and released the presidency from the egregious grip of corruption)...had by the age of 21 found himself feeling as if fate had stripped him of his dreams.
Four years later, following countless hours of contemplation and with the realization that I had now lived a lie for a quarter of a century...I met a man and fell in love. Soon after, I allowed myself to accept my sexuality, announced it to my family, and on the spur of the moment...on a summer afternoon...with my relationship with my family in ruins and all that remained of my seemingly shattered life hastily tossed in a pickup truck...I moved to Denver.
Ever the idealist, abundantly naïve, and convinced that acceptance...or at least some simulation thereof...would undoubtedly come by affiliating with other homosexuals...I jumped headfirst into being gay. Unfortunately, doing so while attaching oneself to a lover is apt to end up being little more than an act of misguided transference. Should one be unlucky enough to choose, in haste, the wrong partner or the wrong affiliations, the process of separating oneself and completing the task of attaining a sound and self-sufficient identity can appear to be an insurmountable struggle.
In retrospect, it's terribly saddening that gays...during the coming out process...the moment they most need support...are often required to summon a strength they most likely lack in order to accept and understand the rejection they encounter from those they love. Toss in the abject scorn that much of society heaps upon homosexuals and you have a rather rancid recipe unlikely to bake an ebullient and unencumbered identity.
Not to belabor my bad choices or appear to be seeking sympathy, suffice it to say that I spent the next eight plus years attempting to grow into the 25 I had missed. Emboldened by a new job and an expanded support system, I ended my relationship and began the process of becoming myself.
Living in Denver under the newly received protections afforded to those of my orientation, the trajectory of my life seemed to be in sync with my dreams...all be they far more modest than majestic. Sadly, such synchronicity was short-lived. In November of 1992, pleased by the promise of a potential Democratic presidency, the arrow identified as Amendment Two sat waiting in its quiver, poised to puncture my improving peace.
As election night approached, Shangri-La seemed within my grasp. Bill Clinton appeared a certain victor and the polls suggested Amendment Two was headed for a handy defeat. Sitting in front of my television, the trajectory of my evening was torn into two...split apart...one half buoyed by the good returns in the presidential race; the other sinking fast in the realization that the good voters of Colorado had unleashed their coy attack upon my civil rights while cowered in the confines of the ballot box.
Like an unhealed wound, the announcement that Amendment Two was projected to pass tore it open and left me in anguish, alone on the floor...bleeding tears. How could it be that I'd found myself again at that oh so familiar juncture...lulled into a sense of safety and security...clinging to my trust in the decency of the human spirit...only to be clobbered by that brazen beast I'd come to know as bigoted bias.
As I pondered the sudden sense that my good job and the comfort of my support system were seemingly insufficient, the television announced that it was cutting away to the Democratic Party's election watching headquarters where a group of gays had stormed the stage to protest the lack of support that had allowed Amendment Two to succeed. Soon word came that the police had been summoned...then word that prior to entering the venue to escort the intruders out, the police officers had stopped to don latex gloves...inferring their fear that the unruly crowd would most certainly be infected with the hideous HIV virus.
In short order, more and more gays arrived and the uncertainty of the moment escalated and the protest grew. In an instant, I grabbed my coat and ran out the door to join my brothers and sisters. With nothing to lose, I knew there would be comfort in the kinship I would find. By the time I arrived, the crowd had grown even larger. Soon word came that Mayor Webb had been notified and summoned to calm the crowd.
Not long after, the mayor arrived and spoke to the crowd...offering words of consolation and expressing his willingness to explore the options afforded to the city of Denver to fight the Amendment. In order to defuse the moment, he asked the protesters to follow him to the State Capital Building where we could continue to voice our anger. We did...but there was little relief to be found that night.
The battle to defeat Amendment Two ensued...culminating four years later when the U.S. Supreme Court struck it down. In truth, it took us four year to fully reclaim the ground we'd obtained in prior years. The victory was sweet, but the time was gone and the scars would fade, but never disappear.
Life moved forward and the plight of gays improved, though we've remained the object of derision for many...especially those on the religious right. In 2003, as we approached another election and the prospect of Supreme Court appointments that could well preclude the rights of gays for another generation, I grew weary of my career.
The passage of years served to remind me of the pace of progress...or the lack, thereof. Unsatisfied and unfulfilled, I began unwinding a 14-year career without a plan for the future. Instead of accepting the certainty of what was, I chose the uncertainty of what could be...though I had no idea what it was or where to find it. You see, try as one might, the absence of something is always known...no matter how full the cup.
Something told me it was time to look again. I informed my boss that I would be leaving the company once my house sold. Fate would have it that my departure would coincide with the 2004 election. I sold my house and the bulk of my belongings in late September...having decided to embark on a trip around the world. I scheduled my departure for November 5th, three days after the election.
At the time, I was guardedly hopeful that America would turn away from the politics of division and the scapegoating of gays. It turns out I was wrong, but I still felt invigorated by the prospects of the unknown. Absent any long-term plan, I packed my bags and left the shores of the United States. All I knew for certain was that my journey was limited to one year as a stipulation of the round the world ticket I'd purchased.
What I learned in my nearly four month trek was that the image of the United States had become increasingly tarnished and the reelection of George Bush had cast a doubt in the minds of many that his troubling presidency might well be indicative of the disquieting mindset of the average American...a development few of those I met wanted to conclude though they felt it seemed far more plausible given the November second results.
When I returned, the only thought that kept repeating in my head was that I had something to say and I needed to find the means to say it. Against the backdrop of fear for our future under GOP domination, the further faltering of this nation should that happen, and the festering fury being directed towards gays, I decided to launch a blog.
From my little corner of the world, I've disseminated my fair share of missives; ever hopeful I could exert some measure of influence in redirecting this country. All the while, I've had a sense that America was on the precipice of a pendulum swing away from the partisanship of "compassionate conservatism" (code words for the politics of theology) and ready to embrace the kind of real compassion that engenders moderation.
I had no idea that the man who spoke truth to me during the 2004 Democratic Convention would be the one to carry this torch of hope into the 2008 election. At the same time, I had no way of knowing that the 2008 California ballot would include a measure designed to remove the right of gays to marry (Proposition 8).
Last night, like clockwork, my next succinctly timed sixteen-year squall struck with little notice. While celebrating the fact that Barack Obama was elected president, an amendment was being passed in California to deny my gay brethren equality. From 1976 to 1992 to 2008, the vignettes of my life have brought both symmetry and sadness. In 1976, I celebrated my membership in the fiftieth class to graduate from The Abbey. In 2008, I celebrated my fiftieth birthday. At each juncture, my prevailing pursuit has been the unconditional acceptance of my identity as a homosexual. At each juncture, it has been denied.
On November 5, 2008, my dreams have been dashed and my hopes have been passed to another man of color. In 1992, Wellington Webb took my hand and led me towards inclusion on a cold and dark night...carrying a No On Two placard...carrying the weight of sixteen years of exclusion. In 2008, Barack Obama has been handed the torch as well as thirty-two years of my exclusion.
In the passage of this last sixteen years, those carrying my torch have succeeded in transforming the dreams of their fellow African Americans from the possibility of being the mayor of a major city to the reality of being elected to the presidency of the United States. Many times Barack Obama has spoken about the meaning and the message that would be imparted to black children should this nation see fit to elect an African American president.
It's too late for me to dream so big for myself...but it's not too late for those who may be sixteen or thirty-two years behind me. Today, I dream of the day when my gay brothers and sisters can place their hope in a gay candidate...one who carries the torch for them and speaks of the meaning and message that would be imparted to LGBT children should this nation see fit to elect a LGBT president.
As I await the next storm to appear upon the sea of my sixteen year horizon, I'm still waiting...I'm still seeking...I'm still hoping...I'm still dreaming...I'm still dying. On November 5th, 2008, in the wake of another election, I'm still on the outside looking in.
Tagged as: 2008 Election, Bill Clinton, California, Gay Marriage, Homophobia, Jimmy Carter, LGBT, Proposition 8, Racism, Same-Sex Marriage, The Abbey School
Daniel DiRito | November 5, 2008 | 6:00 PM |
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I've found myself puzzled by my own silence for the last few days...wondering if I'm paralyzed by the anxiety that comes with an important election or if something larger were at play. Then I watched the following video and the answer began to emerge.
This isn't a new video. I remember seeing it when the San Diego mayor first offered his support for gay marriage in 2007. However, watching it on the eve of the presidential election brought a clarity that comes when the promise of hope nears the moment when it achieves its historical affirmation.
Let me attempt an explanation. Last Sunday, at the last minute, I decided to attend the Obama rally in Civic Center Park in downtown Denver. Fortunately for me, the path I traveled to the venue put me at an entrance that placed me in the middle of a crowd estimated to be well over 100,000. In that location, I was at the back of the first wave of onlookers...just in front of a security walkway. A sea of faces stood lined up on the other side of the portable fence used to create it.
As I pondered the notion of thousands taking the time to listen to a speech they had likely heard before, on a beautiful fall Sunday, I wondered why they came. Standing there, waiting to see and hear Barack Obama...I found myself facing away from the stage...mesmerized by the sea of faces lined up behind me...and all of a sudden an answer emerged.
In those peaceful and diverse faces, I saw a hunger and a hope for a new direction...a belief that real and meaningful change could be more than an ethereal dream...a growing certainty that this potential might well be embodied in the unlikely candidacy of an African American.
The fact that thousands more stood behind them simply served to reinforce a shared assumption. The realization that a black man could succeed in bringing such a diverse crowd of Americans to the same conclusion underscored the collective spirit of this nation and the persistence of its humanity.
The sheer weight of that awareness put a lump in my throat. The subsequent sound of U2's song, Beautiful Day, blaring from the massive loudspeakers, led me to tears. In that instance, it was clear that we still possess the power to alter the future if we summon the will to embrace the transformational opportunities presented by such rare moments of magnitude.
A full week has now passed since I attended the Obama rally. With each day has come a sense of destiny accompanied by an abundance of anxious trepidation. It's akin to awaiting the brief instance at which one's reality intersects and aligns with one's dreams...providing a wondrous window through which one can jump...leaving the shackles of the past behind...taking that first certain step towards a friendlier future.
That brings me back to the above video. In watching the mayor of San Diego risk the ire of his constituents, in order to stand up for the rights of gays to marry, my weeklong journey had come full circle.
You see, it reminded me of the significance of Civic Center Park. For many years, this park has also played host to the annual LGBT Pride Day festivities. Each June, on a summer Sunday, it is filled with hopeful faces...faces that are also hungry for the moment when the windows align and they're able to jump away from the limitations of the past and towards the promise of a more accepting future.
As I wiped away my tears, I understood the connections between the faces I'd seen in Civic Center Park this past Sunday and the ones I encounter on those Sundays, each year, in June. Nonetheless, our faces are unable to reveal the entirety of our stories...or the unique complexities confronted by each constituent group and each individual.
While all of our journeys share a similar destination, some segments of our society are at different points along the path. For as long as I can remember, I've felt a kinship with those whose paths have been cluttered with unwarranted and excessive obstacles. My empathy for those forced to confront these added challenges continued to expand as I discovered and embraced my own homosexuality. On consecutive Sundays, the divergent distances yet to be traveled by some of these groups could not be missed.
As we approach the end of the 2008 election, one group appears poised to make the jump...and I couldn't be happier. As I've pondered the possibility that America will elect its first African American president, I've allowed myself to imagine the joy that will undoubtedly accompany such an amazing affirmation. The mere thought of it brings tears to my eyes.
It also brings clarity to my sense that this election is about something much larger. This is the moment at which the eloquent words of Martin Luther King, recited in his "I Have A Dream" speech, navigate a necessary journey. Through the willful act of an enlightened electorate, his hopes will no longer exist as unfulfilled abstractions. Instead, the essence of his dream, adopted by the acclamation of millions, will be reinforced and history will mark this as a defining moment in the affirmation of African Americans.
At the same time, the next step in the affirmation of my LGBT brothers and sisters is in the hands of the California electorate. The opposition, in the form of a proposition to ban same-sex marriage, is intense and the prospects of victory remain in doubt. Despite my disappointment with the potential for defeat, come Election Day I will steel myself for either outcome.
Should we win, I'll know that the LGBT community has taken another step in our long journey towards affirmation. Should we lose, I hope to be able to take consolation in the election of an African American president. If that happens, I'll be encouraged that Barack Obama's message of hope and change may bring us closer to that moment when a majority of Americans will look back and reach through the narrow window, grasp our hands, pull us through, and speak the words we long to hear, "Welcome, my fellow Americans...the journey's over...you've reached your destination."
Tagged as: 2008 Election, Barack Obama, California, Civic Center Park, Gay Marriage, Homophobia, LGBT, Proposition 8, Racism, Same-Sex Marriage
Daniel DiRito | November 2, 2008 | 11:38 PM |
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