On June 24th the New York State legislature passed a bill legalizing marriage for same sex couples. This was a momentous occasion for New Yorkers, of which I am one. The gay pride parade, held the next day, was the largest attended in its history, and everyone I spoke to agreed that the tone of the day was exuberant throughout.
On the day of the event, my mind took me back to another human rights advance in the City’s history – the passage of New York City’s gay and lesbian rights bill in 1986. The law protected gay and lesbian New Yorkers from discrimination for the first time in the city’s history.
I was a 19-year-old student at NYU. Our gay and lesbian student union was very involved in the issue. I remember we had been at an event the day before and stayed up late that night making posters for people attending the vote. The next morning, I was assigned to “person” the phone in the office. When I arrived I found that our officers had spent the night. So, I made them coffee and sent them on their way. I got the usual calls during the day – students asking about our programs or wanting to talk to someone about coming out. And, then I got the call: “We won!” It was so exciting. Even though I was in the office, I felt as though I was part of something really big. And, later that day the New York Times had a photo of the students from the NYU gay and lesbian union on the front cover of the paper.
I remember my parents talking about where they were when Kennedy was shot and what they were doing during other major events of their youth. For me, the passage of the NYC gay and lesbian rights bill was that event. I saw, first hand, the power of activism. My rights, and the rights of people like me mattered. And, it changed me. I felt a little prouder.
Yes, the passage of the same sex marriage bill in New York State is an important human rights victory. LGBT people deserve full equality under the law. The right to marry is an integral step in the promotion of equal rights for all.
But, it is also something more. It is a message to LGBT people everywhere that we matter. That the fight against homophobia in society, and the struggle that many of us must continue against the homophobia internalized within ourselves, is a worthy battle. Each step we take, whether it is a victory or a set-back, reminds us that we are worth fighting for.
People wished me “Happy Pride” all that week. And, I feel it. I am a little bit prouder, now.