Today was a day of freedom.
As a gay man, I go to great lengths to know my history. Back in World War II, gays met each other through the military and then moved to urban areas near bases. In the 1950s, homosexuality was tied to pedophilia and communism: there was even a concept of the homintern, an international homosexual institution like communism. There was the Mattachine Society, which advocated for friendlier attitudes towards gays and lesbians as part of a so-called homophile movement. Some government studies were undertaken, that hinted at government tolerance of sodomy — and were ignored.
Then Stonewall happened. The Gay Liberation Front happened. Homosexuality being delisted as a mental illness happened. The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren happened. Harvey Milk happened. AIDS happened. Larry Kramer happened. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell happened. Matthew Shepherd happened. Will and Grace happened. Ellen Degeneres happened. Denmark happened. Illicit marriages in New Paltz, New York happened. George W. Bush happened. Barack Obama happened. Tyler Clementi happened. Edith Windsor happened.
And now we’re here, with full marriage equality across the entire United States.
There is still much to be done. Sure, if you are gay you can be married on Sunday. But, as a report from the Center for American Progress points out, you can be fired on Monday; be denied the right to adopt on Tuesday; have your daughter from your first marriage be legally expelled from college because of your being married on Wednesday; have your partner seriously beaten, as the perpetrator explicitly says “Die faggot!” and to have that not be treated as a hate crime on Thursday; and be unable to donate blood for him on Friday.
And this of course overlooks the huge hurdles that trans and genderqueer individuals must overcome to simply stay alive, because, while same-sex couples are now able to marry in the United States, according to the New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP) at least 12 transgender people of color were killed in 2014, New York State still doesn’t prevent job discrimination based on gender identity, and transgender people of color are more likely to experience police violence, physical violence, sexual violence, violence in public areas, discrimination, threats and intimidation, harassment, and are more likely to require medical attention as a result of hate violence.
But it’s ok to take stock of the good things that have happened, and to let them nourish your heart. It is also ok to identify as something.
In Buddhism, people often take the mark of “no self” to mean that they should not identify with anything and that they should be totally dispassionate: that dukkha is dukkha. I disagree. Like how you can change your breathing to be more comfortable, you can change your identity to be more comfortable. Indeed, if you don’t have an integral and sane base to start with, any attempts at insight will devolve into escapist fantasies that make you a burden on others.
When I was outside the Stonewall Inn today, I thought of the communities I grew up with, and how I felt safe and loved as a member of the LGBT community. Then my mind, for whatever reason, turned to thoughts of gunmen and someone carrying out an attack against New York City and the gay community. But then I realized that this fear was arising from one kind of identification, and the relief was arising from another kind of identification. Furthermore, I had a choice. I could nurture identities of myself that were soothing and empowering; and I could starve and drop identities of myself that were painful and destructive.
The changes that we as individuals can undergo as a result of mindfulness and discernment, parallel the changes that we as a country underwent with the gay rights movement. Through analysis and kindness, we realized that everyone wants to be happy just like us. And as time has passed, we have learned that we cannot always be torn in two. We are all in this together, and happiness grows in being shared. Of course there are parts of us that hold back, that want to see others suffer, that insist that there is only one way of seeing reality and that way is the way things have always been. But when kindly examined, and seen for what they are, they ultimately shrivel up and become bereft of authority.
On that note, I leave you all with this:
EDIT, July 3, 2015: Added statistics and findings from the New York City Anti-Violence Project and the Center for American Progress.