The worst threat I ever faced was a measure brought before the Lafayette, Indiana city council.
I had been harassed and threatened since high school, but this assault was different. It proposed to sanction discrimination against gays and lesbians in the areas of housing and employment. It would make our mistreatment legal. The rationale given by the council was that the law was needed to protect business owners and landlords from “the gay agenda.”
Apparently, the giant real estate machine that owned my dilapidated campus apartment building was powerless against me and my friends. If they only knew what a threat we were: I was long-haired, extremely depressed, and pretty sure that sweater-dresses were a good look; my roommate, a rave DJ, spent her days in a darkened room slurping down cans of Ensure and jogging in place to endless techno beats; my best friend, a drag queen, frequently went to class dressed as Supergirl.
The paper reported that the measure would pass easily in our very conservative town, but I decided to speak at the council meeting anyway. As we entered City Hall, I examined the pro-discrimination camp. Who were these people who cared so much about taking away my rights that they would come here on a school night? Except for the hate-buttons, they looked like everybody else.
It turned out that the majority of speakers were against the measure and made reasonable arguments about civil rights. I used my moment at the mic to talk about my mom. She had every reason in the world to be proud of me, but instead she was up nights worrying that I would be assaulted and left for dead, hanging from a fence post somewhere in Tippecanoe county. I ended with a cheesy statement about the futility of the whole argument in a world with so many other problems. It’s still embarrassing. It’s also still true.
The miracle of the night was that the council heard our pleas. Two of the members switched their votes at the last minute, and the measure was voted down. The morning after the meeting, I was prominently featured on the front cover of the local paper. I wasn’t actually quoted, but there I was: long-hair, sweater-dress, unflattering wide-whaled corduroy pants, and an expression of complete joy smeared across my face. My faith in humanity had been temporarily restored by a bunch of conservative Republicans.
Unfortunately, the threat of losing my civil rights has stuck with me more than the victory. I frequently need to reassure myself that history has not been kind to those who try to take away the rights of others, that I will see the day when gays and lesbians are recognized as citizens of this nation in every sense of the word: a moment when there is no longer a valid argument against our right to exist, to work, to live, or to marry. This I (need to) believe.
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