This past weekend a group of queer and queer-friendly Williams students and faculty traveled to the nation’s capitol to attend the Millennium March on Washington D.C. Nearly 800,000 people attended the March from every part of the nation and all walks of life. This article is our reflection on that march and a record of what we took away from the event both as gay individuals and as a young, gay couple.
Although queer people constituted the majority of those at the Millennium March, we were struck by the number and enthusiasm of the straight men and women who came to show their support. We saw these people educating their children and themselves about the importance of the gay rights movement to the freedom of all people. We saw them actively creating a society that embraces diversity by teaching their children that queer people are not to be feared, but rather celebrated for their contribution to the fabric of this nation. But most inspiring to us was the support we felt from our own straight allies here at Williams, many of whom joined us at the March. While we, as gay men, had nothing to lose from attending the March, these straight supporters came in the face of the derision and suspicion that one risks by attending a queer event.
Their courage and character was a blessing and a gift. To our allies at Williams, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Yet even with the overwhelming support of these people, some events at the March served to remind us of the powerful homophobia that is still endemic in this country. We were forced to face groups of protestors carrying signs that said “Matthew Shepard Burns in Hell” and “Got AIDS Yet?” What an incredible experience it was to lock eyes with these protestors, to see the violent revulsion that they felt when they saw us and thousands of other queer couples holding hands. As they cried “Sick, sick, sick” and we cried “Shame, shame, shame” we felt both horrified and powerful in their presence. Witnessing such a display of homophobia made clear the importance of our activism at Williams: their extreme hatred originates from the same type of homophobic epithets and acts that we have fought against and will continue to fight against on this campus.
The March also reminded us that this is an election year. For queer people and for anyone who cares about a queer person this is the most crucial election year of our lifetimes. The next President of the United States will be charged with the enormous power and responsibility of appointing at least two Supreme Court Justices. The importance of the vote in November cannot be understated.
We cannot allow George W. Bush to become the president of this nation. Governor Bush has stated repeatedly that he does not support hate-crime legislation, that he is opposed to gay marriage and gay adoption and that he is averse to the idea of having openly gay people in his administration: all of this before he has even been elected, when he must be concerned about making extreme right-wing statements that might cost him votes. Like his father and President Ronald Reagan before him, he will have the freedom to appoint an administration that, if not virulently homophobic, will be deaf to the concerns and issues of queer people.
It is unconscionable that anyone who cares about an LGBT person would vote to elect such an administration. If you take anything away from this article, please let it be that you must vote in November and that your vote must reflect the fact that you find the homophobia that George W. Bush promises to be intolerable.
But the most powerful vision of the March affected us on a much more personal level. For 24 hours we lived in a world where queer couples were unafraid to show their love in public. For 24 hours we lived in a world where we could kiss on the street corner and not worry about people staring, a world where we could sit in a park holding each other without wondering if the footsteps behind us were those of gay basher. For 24 hours we lived in a world where we were free to love each other publicly, completely and without reservation.
For 24 hours, we glimpsed what we hope is the future of this society.
So it was that much more saddening when only hours later we found ourselves on a bus, rushing away from that world. As we watched the sun sink over Washington D.C., our jubilation was hollowed out and replaced with the anger and frustration of realizing that what we glimpsed was not the world we live in.
To the queer people reading this: love unafraid. If the only activism that you do in your life is to be proud of your love and to not be afraid to show your love in public, you will still have made an enormous contribution to our cause. If you dream about a world where you are free to love whoever you want, wherever you want, love whoever you want, wherever you want. Create that world now. Such a world does not create itself; it will only come about when queer men and women like yourselves find the courage to love visibly.
To the straight people reading this: be humbled by your freedom. Understand the enormity of your privilege and turn that understanding into the recognition that the fight for queer equality is not about special rights and not about forcing our lifestyle onto people who do not want to live it. It is about the freedom to express our love in a way that is all too easy to take for granted.
It is at once as simple and profound as that.