LGBT WATERSHED MOMENTS
(written by Ed Oakley)
In horror, I watched the reality unfolding in Orlando just as the news carried this event to all points around the world. Tears came to my eyes as I realized this was not just another news cycle; the event had become personal. I saw Anderson Cooper lose his composure and cry as he read the 49 victims’ names and what little was known about each of them. The event became even more personal to me when I heard Patty Sheehan speak about the LGBT community in Orlando. Patty and I served as elected officials on committees at National League of Cities some 10 years ago.
In an attempt to fill airtime, reporters hurried to line up interviews with people having knowledge of the event, and they found ways to connect bits and pieces of information I thought unusual. One reporter referred to the vigil held at Stonewall Inn in New York City in 1969 and reminded the viewer that LGBT historians refer to the riots that followed the vigil as “Stonewall,” the beginning of the gay movement. The news anchor made a very poignant comparison: “At the Stonewall riot, law enforcement officers were dragging people out of the club to beat and arrest them for simply being present and being gay. In Orlando 47 years later, other law enforcement officers were dragging people out of the club to save their lives.” The comparison was how far the gay movement had come in less than half a century.
Prior to this event in Orlando, I had taped the HBO series “The 1980s” and watched the segment on HIV and AIDS. That caused me to think back to Stonewall—I was a junior in high school in 1969 and certainly not concerned with what was unfolding in New York. My only thought was to graduate and go to college. I came out at the age of 22 as a college senior in 1974. Five years had passed since Stonewall, and I had no understanding of the magnitude of that event. Caught up in the Disco era, I made friends easily, went to gay bars no longer hidden on back streets, and thought I was in the mainstream. In 1980 a fear took hold of the LGBT community—an unknown disease unlike any other in history was devastating the community’s men and women. In addition to having seen the HBO segment, I read a book and play titled “And the Band Played On.” It hit me in the gut to realize that I’d lost ALL of my friends to this disease.
In 1984 I moved to Dallas from Oklahoma City. The purpose: to escape the pain of having seen my friends become sick and die. In the new city, I worked and moved on with my life. One day in 1990 a politician—friend of the LGBT community—was pushing a change in the Dallas Zoning Code that was presented as a benign change. I begin to study this change. I came to realize that this was going to require dance clubs to obtain special zoning to exist. I perceived this to be an attack on the gay clubs that others were not aware of. I took up the fight for the LGBT community against this ordinance. I met a man—Alan Ross—for whom the Texas Freedom Parade is now named. He lived through the 1960 gay movement, the 1980s AIDS crisis, and the LGBT movement in Dallas. With his encouragement and help, I ran for Dallas City Council in 1993. Though unsuccessful in that attempt, I ran again in 2001, was elected, and served until 2007, at which time I ran for Mayor of Dallas, placing second in a field of 11. This made news around the world, the possibility of an openly gay man becoming mayor of a large city in America. I drew support from Republicans, Democrats, LGBT, conservative businesspersons, ministers, the Black community, the Latino community—a very diverse group in
We passed, for that time, the most sweeping nondiscrimination ordinance
of any city, and it still stands today.
I give all this history because I think it lends credibility to my prediction. Just like milestones in our LGBT history—The Stonewall Riots, AIDS, nondiscrimination ordinances, LGBT in the military, gay marriage, executive orders, human rights campaigns, to name a few—Orlando will become the turning point in politics in this country. This is a WATERSHED EVENT that will change the course of history for what has become the hate mongering by politicians. I believe this will begin the movement to purge all elected offices across the country of antigay, hate mongering bigots. When polls show that 70% of the general public is okay with gay marriage and the elected officials continue to use this as a rally point, the politicians don’t realize the horse has already left the gate and it’s not going back.
As I watched the news concerning Orlando pouring in from around the world, I witnessed grieving, compassion, help, concern, and condolences from very unlikely places. I heard hate speech from some of the likely places—ministers and politicians. I watched interviews of people trying to backpedal on their past records of antigay stance. The one interview that stands out most clearly in my mind is that of the Attorney General of Florida. She previously had fought all the way to the Supreme Court to uphold antigay laws in her state; now, in front of the news cameras, she portrayed herself as a champion of the LGBT community. As people sat in their living rooms, surely they looked at each other and said:
“Enough is enough. You know our grandson is gay, our granddaughter is lesbian. Yes, I know my boss is gay. My secretary married her partner. Well, I’ve always known my hairdresser is gay. The organist is a lesbian living with her partner, the church secretary. My plumber married his business partner, the city manager is gay . . . so is the police chief.”
In homes all over America people are realizing that what happened in Orlando could have happened to someone they know and care about. This could have happened to their own families. The antigay rhetoric needs to stop.
What our misguided political leaders are missing is this—Take a look at the 103 people we know died or suffered injury at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando. They represent a microcosm of this generation—the future voters in this country. For them, sexuality was, or is, not an issue. They accepted, still accept, people for who they are, not members of groups defined by archaic stereotypes. Just as what rose from Stonewall and from the AIDS crisis, this horrific catastrophe will give rise to a movement. It will begin with this presidential election and all upcoming elections. With the help of technology and electronic data, any politician’s derogatory, disparaging, and/or homophobic remarks leave an electronic footprint, and that information will be used against them. At some point in the future, I believe people will no longer tolerate homophobic words and deeds.
Just as Stonewall began the movement, and AIDS devastation forced politics on the LGBT community, and the 1990s refined the political movement, and the 2000s energized the political movement, I believe we’ll come to see the 2010s as a time during which our country witnesses a movement of understanding and acceptance of the LGBT community.