This June will be the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion that ignited the Gay Civil Rights movement of the latter half of the 20th century. The significance of this event is demonstrated by the fact that before Stonewall there were less than 20 homosexual organizations in the United States, and none in Utah. However, within five years, there were at least that many in this state alone.
I have spent my entire life as part of the Stonewall generation. I moved to Utah in 1973 when I was 21 years old. I have witnessed, over my lifetime, a change seemingly almost impossible when I was a younger man. Now that AARP would gladly number me within its ranks, I firmly believe that within the next few years, or sooner, the societal change ignited at the Stonewall Inn will finally illuminate the long darkness we, as gay people, have been cloaked for so long.
Nearly half a century of steady progress has taken us to this point where we are beginning to see Red States’ anti-marriage equality laws fall like dominoes. This is possible because of the nearly 50 years it’s taken to change and educate the hearts and minds of a generation of younger people, almost all of whom were born after the Stonewall riot.
However, nothing comes easy, even today. Entrenched ideologies erode only slowly, if erased at all. The Gay Civil Rights movement has been mostly nonviolent, and even when violence occurs the anger has been against property not people. Civil disobedience has been the fountain of our strength. We get beaten but we don’t beat back. We are discriminated against and yet we don’t discriminate ourselves as a movement. We get arrested for civil disobedience and yet we don’t hate the oppressor.
The life of a gay person is a life of struggle. We struggle with coming out. We struggle with hate, prejudice and lies; sometimes even within our own families. So we make new families. Love finds a way.
It takes time and courage and perseverance to make significant change. Each of us who have come out and struggled along side their gay brothers and sisters are like millions of raindrops falling from a rainbow which is wearing down the stony hearts, calcified by fear and malice.
There’s a dichotomy in Utah which lends itself to a parable. Utah is a harsh place and yet majestic. Desert and mountain. First and foremost, Utah is a desert, unforgiving, relenting its resources only to a spirit stronger than itself. The rose may bloom but at an incredible cost.
The desert is, however, surrounded by towering, ancient lofty mountains, life-sustaining mountains, soul-nurturing mountains. The Wasatch beckons us to climb, to grasp and move upward toward higher ground; where one can view vistas unimaginable in the desert below.
Within this desert there some people who were tired of the harshness. They began to look toward the mountains. The mountains seemed to be offering protection. These few visionaries encouraged others to come, to climb, but most people were so use to living in the desert they could not imagine being anywhere else. Soon these dreamers realized the others had to taught there was a better place. They had to be taught they had the strength to climb.
The mountain dreamers found others like themselves who were willing to help the desert people prepare for an exodus. It was not easy. Older desert people found it difficult to believe that living anywhere else was possible or practical. They asked “Why move to the mountains?”
No one seems to know why, but they agreed they were tired of the desert. But to the older desert dwellers, the idea of climbing a mountain seemed very radical. They wanted no part of it.
Eventually, the mountain climbing commenced one step at a time, soon one hill at a time. It was very arduous. There were no paths and no maps. Just the desire to climb. But there was a sense of safety in numbers. Nevertheless, many people, sensing danger, turned back to the desert. They were saddened but comfortable.
But still, most others continued up, blazing trails, establishing routes, and marveling at the vistas that could be seen from the foothills of the mountain across the desert below. They had no idea of the beauty and wonder of looking over their travels.
Every journey has risks, trials and tribulations. As more and more people were trailing up the path, one day a terrible rock slide created an avalanche of monumental portions, which decimated many of the strongest and most adamant mountaineers. The terrible landslide swept away hundreds from the mountain paths, as well as cascading down to the desert, burying people there. It was a terrible blow. Many desert people said it was a sign from God to stay off the mountain. Those already on the mountain, however, were determined to stay and care for the sick and dying, and mourn their dead.
The desert people then thought of themselves as mountain people and said they would never go back to the desert. However, they were determined to be more careful and warn those coming up the mountain of rock slides and other perils.
While they rested and mourned, other desert people cursed them and threw rocks at them and reviled them so harshly that they had no choice but to climb. Some desert people, witnessing how they were being treated, realized they must climb or perish. They climbed, following the paths, although most reluctantly.
After the avalanche the pathfinders were tired. Many were old now. Most were exhausted, some were ill, however they could see the top of the mountain which gladdened their hearts, but they were too weary to lead.
Coming up from behind, there appeared among the trekkers a younger group of professional mapmakers and geologists who encouraged the people who were half way up the mountain, but floundering without the trailblazers. Though the mountain top was in site, the people knew the path was still treacherous. Reassured by the mapmakers and geologists, the people climbed higher and higher. Soon the climbers were led by the mapmakers and geologists, who expected to be paid for their hire. The weary pathfinders grumbled but none enlisted.
Eventually, a second generation of people were on the mountain who had never known life off the mountain. They had always seen waterfalls, and ponds, and rivers, and lakes and could not imagine what life must have been like in the desert. So further up the mountain the people went.
Refreshed by the life-giving mountains, rejuvenated by the smell of freedom, the second generation wantoned for their own path up the mountain. They felt they didn’t want to follow a mapmaker’s charted path. They knew mapmakers and geologists knew no more than they how to reach the summit.
This second generation, unencumbered by the desert people, intuitively knew their own internal compass would guide them upward to where the light touches the top of the mountain. High on a mountaintop a rainbow is unfurled. There our light should attract the gays of all the world in latter days.
Here in Utah, we are so close to “Mount Equality.” We can almost taste it. We want to run because it’s almost in our grasp. We are almost there. The trailblazers and dreamers have done their jobs.