The Utah Delegation Goes to Washington
On Friday, I arrived at Baltimore-Washington International Airport at 4:30 p.m., but didn’t get to my hotel room until 7:00. It was warm so I took a quick shower, got all girly and walked to the TG Meet & Greet, hosted by National Transgender Advocacy Coalition at their national headquarters.
Saturday was a full day. I took the Metro and walked to Gallaudet University for the TG Caucus. It was organized by TG youth and hosted by San Franciscan David McElhatton. I ran into Jude, Di and Bonnie from the Pride Center. I also finally met in person many transgender activists that I have known online for years. It was brilliant.
When the caucus was done, Jude, Bonnie and Di convinced me that I should go to the Youth Speak Out next door. What a great Idea. I was able to relive my lost youth, make peace with that past part of me, and see the future of our queer community. Let me tell you that our future is in good hands. I have never seen such powerful speeches. Gallaudet University is the world leader in liberal education and career development for deaf and hard of hearing undergraduate students. Events were organized by the Gallaudet gay-straight alliance and our own Chloe Noble and Jill Hardman, who have been walking across the country to raise awareness of queer homeless youth since May. Three speeches were given by Gallaudet students, and it was amazing to see their passion and hear the passion of their words through the translator. I was moved to tears every time.
Saturday night, Eric Ethington and I went to the HRC National Gala, but it was sold out. So we settled for gathering footage and pictures of the protest outside. There were the usual Christians calling us to repentance and the hecklers who tried to silence them as well as a group of queer people protesting HRC. They were upset at HRC for spending more time and money on galas and kissing up to politicians, and wanted more inclusion for everyone. They were chanting that it is time to quit asking and time to start demanding.
Next, the police started setting up a safe perimeter for President Obama’s autocade. They lined up their motorcycles and started moving the crowd backward. The leader of the group shouted thorough his megaphone that they had a permit and refused to move. Almost as if rehearsed, the front line all sat down in unison. Eric and I were up close, right on top of them taking pictures. We really thought there was going to be a small riot or something. The police were taking control and the group was taking the sidewalk. I felt like I had been rushed back to the 70s anti-war protests. What an adrenaline rush! The police needed 20 more feet, but the group would not back up any further.
But cooler heads prevailed and everyone agreed to disagree. The police protected the president and the group respectfully gave more speeches.
On Sunday, it was time for the march. We went to the staging location very early, around 9:30 a.m. I spent a lot of time working my way through the crowd from start to finish, like a butterfly going from flower to flower, absorbing as much as possible. I wanted to experience with all six senses as many queer and queer affirming spirits as I could. At one time, I stood on a light pole in front of the White House for nearly an hour just taking pictures, smiling, laughing and crying. I would jump down occasionally to take pictures and then jump right back up for a bird’s eye view. Tears come to my eyes just remembering as I write. It was one of the most brilliant experiences of my life.
Marina Gomberg, Director of Development and Marketing at the Utah Pride Center
The world has always been a mysterious place for me, and especially before I realized I’m a big old lezzie. You see, I’ve always been skeptical (firmly believing at three years old that reading involved looking at pages, following little squiggly lines with one’s finger, and making up a story), but the whole “liking boys” phenomenon really had me in a quandary. My lack of butterflies when kissing boys lead me to believe one of two things must be happening: 1) Everyone was lying about the existence of romantic love, or 2) I was dead inside. Having thought before that reading was a lie and subsequently learning otherwise, I leaned towards the latter. It seemed simple. Discouraging, but simple.
Part and parcel of my skepticism has been my inherent disbelief in a higher power. The notions of deities in the sky, death and rebirth, a collective energy, or even karma have never resonated much with me. That is, until the National Equality March. Never before have I felt such power; never before have I felt so connected.
I realized our differences meant nothing as people from around the country converged into a raging river of humanity flowing down Pennsylvania Ave. to our nation’s capitol. We had all lined up with our respective groups waiting to step off, but it wasn’t long before the boundaries of our associations dissipated. The LGBTQ Jews were soon yelling trans chants and Utahns hollered the Spanish chants of our fellow Latino marchers.
We were peaceful, we were powerful, and we were one.
I’ve had ah-ha moments like this before when I learned the alphabet and when I first kissed a girl. I realized that those little squiggles on the page do mean something and that I’m not, in fact, dead inside. And because of the National Equality March, I now know that there _is_ a unique power in unity — one that transcends our individual efforts. Perhaps that doesn’t make me religious, per se, but can I get an amen?!
H. Rachelle Graham
“I don’t get it, why is this so important to you?” My dad narrowed his eyes. He was supportive of me, but being gay was something foreign to him. He wasn’t a Bible-thumping creationist but an atheist evolutionist. But he still had no idea what it was like for me growing up as a lesbian Mormon. “You’re not rich, you can’t be a worldwide traveler,” he added.
My journey to D.C. started the day I went to the Operation Shine event at the Utah Pride Center in July. Here I met two courageous women willing to sacrifice their cozy indoor dwellings to face a life on the streets. They suffered blisters, aching feet and starvation for forgotten, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender homeless teens, who had no night shelter to call home.
I resolved to help these youth. I wrote poetry and donated time and money and served as one of the leaders of the National Equality March youth team.
A few months later, I sat on the grass at the nation’s capital and listened to youth after youth speak about their hardships of coming out as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender in their homes and communities. Some were homeless, some struggled to stay alive, some had happier stories, but all were fighting for their lives. I was so moved. I faced my fears and held back my shakiness to face the podium where I spent most of my five minutes pretending to study the length of the grass. I spoke about my struggle with being a lesbian and Mormon, and how that struggle had led me to attempted suicide.
The mob of the National Equality March was a little more difficult for me. But I never felt more alive chanting and dancing with the youth. During the huge Sunday march, someone accidentally tripped me on. I ran face first into the gravel, skinning my knees and my hands. Later that day, I went to the airport with a frown on my face, tears of pain running down my cheeks and vomit on my shirt. My feet were aching so hard I had to ask for a wheelchair just to get to my gate.
My dad picked me up from the airport and noticed I had no luggage with me because it was stolen.
“Was it worth it?” he asked.
I threw my plastic sack on the ground and then tore off my shoes before answering, “Of course.”
It was delightful, and transformational. The entire experience. From waking up in a town of every shape, size and hue outside of the cookie cutter, white bread world of Salt Lake City; walking to the march past the HRC headquarters with cookie cutter queers outside scraping madly at the paint bombs plastered over their logo overnight, and on to the march. Standing in a sea of queers, surrounded by kin and allies, moving in step with dear, dear friends, surprised along the way by lovely, smart, sassy, angry, poignant, flippant, funny signs and people. Passing the White House with a mixture of disappointment and a dash of hope, and seeing the capitol building rising up before us as we marched forward, past pink gorillas, and furry chickens, and beautiful multi-racial straight couples holding signs saying, “Our marriage was once illegal, too.”
I had chills, and tears, and laughter, and I marched on forward to the hill of hooligans, and we had our moment. A moment of coalescing, of re-branding, of focusing, and lighting a fire under a new generation of fighters, And every moment was delicious. From hearing our newly adopted Cynthia Nixon on through to Scott McCoy, who made me so proud to be from a state that isn’t my native one, and on to the surprisingly pointed speech from Lady Gaga. It was a long, hot, fabulously wonderful day. It wrapped up with curry at the Station, and a satisfied, exhausted subway ride home, back to Dupont, to celebrate the day some more. I came home with a new fire. Anyone who claims that the march was a waste of space and time just wasn’t there. The value of lighting that fire under the old guard and the new was worth every dime, every moment the organizers put into making this march forward a reality. It was magnificent.