If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there’s shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going. – Harriet Tubman
It feels like just yesterday that same-sex sexual activity became legal nationwide. However, it was actually more than 14 years ago, on June 26, 2003, when the United States Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas that the government did not have the right to enter the bedroom of any American, thus permitting gays and lesbians across the country to (legally) have sex with anyone of their choosing. It was one of the first and most consequential anti-sodomy laws struck down by the high court. Freedom.
I had just completed my freshman year of college and I was still closeted. As I started to come to terms with my sexuality, I began studying the origins of the LGBT movement. I learned about Henry Gerber, who in 1924 founded the first recognized gay organization in the United States, the Society for Human Rights. I remember a single, solitary tear rolling down my face as I read about his brief committal to a mental institution in 1917 just because he was gay. I was inspired by the four lesbian couples who founded the Daughters of Bilitis in 1955, one of whom became the very first gay couple to marry during the historic San Francisco same-sex weddings in 2004. I was impressed by the bravery of the founders of the Mattachine Society, who started the group in 1950 in order to advocate for the rights of homosexuals and to provide the gay community with the opportunity to openly express their experiences and feelings through group discussions.
As I continued learning and studying, I empathized with the frustration that members of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and participants in the Stonewall Rebellion of 1969 felt towards a socially oppressive and intolerant American populous. Why were we having to fight for basic rights that should be inherent for every American? How is the infringement upon our rights not an encroachment on the rights of every American?
On June 26, 2015, I was babysitting my nephew and I was sitting in my sister’s basement watching the news. It was announced that the United States Supreme Court had ruled same-sex marriage legal in every state of the country. I sat in disbelief, tears streaming down my face. As a student of history, I was acutely aware of the timing: it was 12 years to the day that anti-sodomy laws were struck down in Lawrence v. Texas. I was overcome with emotion because the struggles of all the giants I had read about, had learned about, had studied for all those years was finally validated in the courts. This would improve the lives of my LGBTQ friends and family. And just this week, same-sex couples may now adopt children in all 50 states across the nation. Let freedom ring.
The problem going forward is that the goalpost feels as if it is always changing. First, we cannot marry, but we can be in a civil union. Then we can marry, but we cannot adopt. First, we cannot be in the military and be open about ourselves and who we are. Then, we can be in the military, but transgender individuals cannot. Infinitesimal, incremental progress. The rules regarding what is socially palatable and morally acceptable are constantly being written and amended by people outside of the LGBTQ community. We are simply expected to abide by them and be happy. The next logical question is: what is our next fight?
We will be ready regardless of the fight. We fought for decades to have heterosexuals understand that our struggle is their struggle; that our rights are inextricably linked. The restrictions on my basic rights as a gay man are an affront to the rights of straight men everywhere. If my rights can be taken away, so can theirs and the LGBTQ community would serve as precedent. Our basic rights and the basic rights of every human being should not be subject to the changing norms and whims of an evolving and often fickle society. We were never just fighting for ourselves. We have been fighting for everyone.
Now we have had a taste of freedom. Just like Harriet Tubman said: keep going.
Written By: Brett Zografos (@BrettZografos)