I attended my first Pride celebration in Minneapolis in 1992 just before starting law school at the University of Minnesota. Then, I thought of it more as an act of defiance than a celebration. I had just come out to my friends from college and my immediate family members in Ohio before moving to Minneapolis to start a new life with the intention that I would not hide my identity from anyone anymore. I marched in the Pride parade that year to be seen and to be counted. The event drew people from all over the Midwest. The City’s official crowd count was approximately 50,000 people, only a tenth the size of what it draws today, but still one of the largest in the nation at the time.
I rushed downstairs the next morning to see how it had been covered by the local paper. After flipping through page after page of large colorful photographs of the Swedish festival that had taken place that weekend (with only a small fraction of the number of people), I finally found it – a one-paragraph description next to a 2”x3” black & white photo captioned, “A drag queen hands out condoms at Pride.” I was furious. Yes, drag queens are absolutely an important part of our community and are in fact often credited with having ignited the LGBTQ+ movement itself, and yes, HIV awareness was even more important to our community in 1992 than perhaps it is today. But that small black & white photo at the very back of the cultural events section of the paper was the single representation the local paper chose to include? To say the least, the paper’s coverage of our enormously colorful and diverse community that had come together that weekend to show not just Minneapolis, but the entire nation that we exist, that we are your family members, your co-workers, your friends and your neighbors was woefully inadequate. I did not feel seen or counted.
If you had told me in 1992 that 23 years later, the U.S. Supreme Court would rule in favor of marriage equality, I would not have believed you. It was very near that time I attended an LGBTQ+ fundraiser for U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone during which, in response to a question about where he stood on same-sex marriage, he informed a room full of his LGBTQ+ supporters that he could not support it because he had been raised to believe that marriage was between a man and a woman, but that he nonetheless remained committed to fighting for our rights on the Senate floor. The reality, and most everyone in the room knew it, was that if Senator Wellstone had taken a different position, he wouldn’t have survived another election in Minnesota to be able to fight for anyone’s rights on the Senate floor. Members of the more senior gay and lesbian generation in the room were visibly irritated that the Senator was being put on the spot with such an obviously absurd question. They wanted federal legislation to protect our basic rights to be free from criminalization, discrimination in employment, housing, parental rights, etc. To them, marriage equality was a pipe dream that would only detract and get in the way of more important things while alienating our allies without whom we could not get anything done.
I don’t need to recount here all of the literally hundreds, if not thousands, of victories our community has achieved in the last thirty years. Suffice to say, we have come a very long way indeed since I took Constitutional Law at the University of Minnesota where my professor explained to the class why Bowers v. Hardwick had been correctly decided and was entirely consistent with Supreme Court precedent. We haven’t just won legal victories either. We are more visible now than at any other time in history. As a consequence, society is more supportive than ever before of our community and we have more allies than ever before. Still, we face some very serious challenges today from the forces of hate that would like to turn back the clock, silence our voices, keep us from being seen and keep us from being counted. That is nothing new. We’ve seen these tactics used before and we have always overcome them by coming together as a community and fighting not only for ourselves but for each other. That is what I am most proud of when I think about the LGBTQ+ community. It is the fact that we never quit, and even more importantly, we refuse to leave anyone behind. That is something we can all be proud of. It is also why I know that even though there may be setbacks, the victories ahead will be much greater than any of our losses.