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Passing on the Torch: Reflections from the National Equality March

Sunday October 11, 2009, was the most glorious day imaginable. Temperatures right around 70 degrees, a light breeze, a perfect blend of sun and clouds, even a rainbow overhead in the early afternoon. As many people said, it was clear that God was smiling on the National Equality March for LGBTQ Rights. Early doubts about the feasibility of the March and Rally disappeared as bus after bus pulled alongside the march route and discharged their passengers. The sidewalks, parks, streets and Metro system in DC filled to capacity with cheering and cheerful activists sporting sloganbearing T-shirts amidst Equality flags, signs, and banners.

The Dignity contingent gathered near McPherson Square: first Washington, DC, then Integrity/Dignity Madison (WI), Northern Virginia, Buffalo (NY), New York, Chicago, Suffolk (Long Island, NY) — even a member from Los Angeles. Former Dignity- USA national Presidents John Hager, Jim Bussen, and Bob Miailovich shared memories of past marches. First-timers attempted to take it all in. Cameras tried to capture quintessential images

Washington, DC Chapter President Ray Panas and I had been invited to represent Dignity during the Invocation at the start of the Rally. With over half the marchers still en-route, we took to the stage and heard gratifying applause and shouts from the crowd when DignityUSA was announced. LGBTQ people of faith finally had a place up front in our social justice movement!

Following the Invocation, I milled around the stage for a while greeting other religious leaders and, yes, even meeting a couple of celebrities. Mostly, I enjoyed being close enough to both see and hear the parade of young leaders who were, for me, the highlight of the event. As I listened to speakers in their late teens and twenties who identified as lesbian, bi, gay, transgender, queer, questioning, straight, or who refused labels, whose ethnic backgrounds spanned the entire globe, who made easy connections between our movement and those of immigrants, women, the differently-abled, the impoverished, I was elated. These young people are articulate, experienced, insightful, passionate leaders, more aware of our history than I expected them to be, and totally confident in their vision of future equality. They knew what had been done to create a society in which they could be out and proud early in their lives, where there were resources to help them find safety when needed, and to support them in realizing their potential. Many had overcome tremendous obstacles, but to a person every speaker I heard pointed forward with assurance.

While listening, I experienced one of those moments of spiritual clarity that are rare gifts in a lifetime. Suddenly, I understood to my core why Moses could not enter the Promised Land with the people he had led to freedom and through so many trials. He, and by association, his entire generation, carried the wounds of enslavement so deep within them that they would have to bring that experience with them into the New World. They had been robbed of the capacity to truly know freedom, to be entirely free of fear, to know themselves as fully empowered. Any society or structures they would create would be limited by the damage wrought upon their bodies, souls, and spirits back in Egypt. The development of the new land had to be done by people whose psyches were not rooted in slavery.

Many of us have expressed that it’s hard to believe that we are truly on the verge of civil marriage equality in many places across our land. Our dreams for ourselves and our movement have been limited by the tremendous inequities, silences, and pain we experienced throughout our childhood, adolescence and, often, much of our adulthood. While we thrill to the new possibilities before us, excitement battles with anxiety. In the rhetoric of our emerging leaders, possibility is certainty, and the unimagined is the expected. In addition, there is absolute clarity that our social justice movement is intrinsically linked with those of others currently marginalized in our country and globally.

I’m not quite ready to hand off the torch of leadership completely, and I don’t think that’s what this March asks of the founding generation of the LGBT liberation movement. However, I am very excited to share the torch-bearing for the next leg of the journey with those 20, 25 or even 30 years younger than me. I want to hear their dreams, and how they think they can realize them, and I want to tell them about the great achievements of the past 40 years. I want to reinterpret my experiences as a white, Catholic, lesbian mom through lenses young adults can show me, and get a glimpse of what the future might be like for my daughters. I want these future leaders to know of my gratitude that they are committed to equality, and of my confidence in their path.

After the National Equality March, I’ve found I’m really OK with the idea of resting on a hillside outside the Promised Land, and letting those who have grown up in the desert lead the way in. They will create a community of promise, rather than one that defends against past harm. And that is how it should be.

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