I marched with my husband’s parents in their first pride parade last Saturday, in Portland, Maine. They weren’t quite sure what to expect, but were proud to show their support for the LGBT community, as we approached the one-year anniversary of the Obergefell v. Hodges marriage victory at the U.S. Supreme Court.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect either, after a difficult week following the Orlando shootings. What I saw was thousands and thousands of people, holding up a sea of powerful and colorful signs. Signs calling for courage over fear, defiance in the face of opposition, pride as an antidote to prejudice.
But my favorite sign was the one my mother-in-law proudly held: Love not hate.
As the Executive Director of GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), I’ve witnessed the power of those words. By demonstrating love in all its forms, whether for ourselves, our partners and families, or even our fiercest opponents, we have been able to overcome hatred time and time again. It’s how GLAD won the very first marriage case in the country, 13 years ago, in Massachusetts. And it’s how GLAD helped our movement cross the finish line last year, when GLAD’s attorney Mary Bonauto successfully argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court for the freedom to marry.
I remember walking out of the U.S. Supreme Court last year, after hearing Justice Kennedy declare the right of same-sex couples to marry, and seeing what looked like a world changed. Rainbow flags waved high, a church choir sang hymnals of love and liberation, and everywhere, young, queer people cheered, kissed, and held hands. One woman held a sign that read simply, “Dignity declared,” echoing Justice Kennedy’s words affirming the “equal dignity in the eyes of the law” of all LGBT people.
Yet, the reality is that while dignity may have been declared by the highest court in our land a year ago today, it is still denied for too many.
Even as we celebrate the one-year anniversary of an incredible milestone, we face an onslaught of legislation intended to whittle away the rights of married same-sex couples to be treated equally. Currently, there are over 100 bills across the country, targeted at taking our rights away – bills that would allow discrimination against LGBT people in: restaurants, businesses, adoption, government services, marriage licenses, bathrooms, health care, mental health counseling, homeless shelters, and the list goes on.
And while we have been able to defeat the vast majority of these bills, we still suffered a few devastating losses. For example, Mississippi passed one of the most sweeping anti-LGBT laws in the country under the rubric of religious liberty. It gives businesses with religious objections permission to deny wedding services to same-sex couples, and allows employers to use religion to justify workplace policies on dress code, grooming and bathroom and locker access.
Dignity is denied to our community, when violence is a daily reality for so many LGBT people. The mass shooting in Orlando is only the most recent and horrific tip of this iceberg. This year alone, we have already lost over a dozen transgender people, particularly transgender women of color in what is a crisis of violence against the transgender community.
And that violence is partly the product of a hostile and hateful climate created by politicians. Politicians like Representative Rick W. Allen of Georgia, who last month read the Romans verse that says of homosexuals “they which commit such things are worthy of death” as the House was about to vote on a gay rights amendment.
If we are to diffuse this hatred and ensure that dignity is a reality for everyone in our community, we must heed the words of my mother-in-law’s sign, and lead with love, even as we rightfully feel anger and fear. Hatred only begets hatred, and right now, compassion and empathy are painfully limited resources.
At Portland Pride, Mary Bonauto held her own sign, as she led the parade as this year’s grand marshal. Her sign read: “We are all in this together.” And it was translated into four languages: English, Spanish, Arabic, and Somali, given the large Somali refugee population in Portland. It made loud and clear that we would not let our opponents divide us.
These are the signs that will guide as we move forward: Love not hate. Dignity declared. We are all in this together. Whether it is for protections for LGBT youth and older adults, racial and economic justice for our community, or transgender rights, we have so much more to accomplish ahead, standing together. On this one-year anniversary, let us recommit ourselves to the fight for justice and create a future of true equality for all.
Janson Wu is the Executive Director of GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD).