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    Giving Thanks to Our Elder Agents of Change

    By Andrea Shorter–

    The San Francisco Bay Area is rich and abundant with the struggles and histories of legions of people who dedicated their time and energy to nearly every necessary civil and human rights movement of the twentieth century. The gravitational pull to the region boasts Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and Marin as epicenters for generations of travelers, rebel rousers, bohemians, resistors, peace warriors, hippies, free lovers, free thinkers, laborers, exiles, outcasts, romanticists, realists, surrealists, poets, reformers, womanists, feminists, grey panthers, black panthers, grandstanders, ecologists, environmentalists, innovators, and out, loud and proud queers of every stripe under and over the rainbow.

    No movement has existed in isolation. Each push toward inclusion, equality, voice, and dignity for a particular group is enriched and enabled by the tapestry of lessons learned and carried by warriors rooted in other related battles for freedom and liberation. Cross currents between the civil rights, women’s rights, and gay liberation movements alone have made for richer soil upon which other movements have grown and extended over realms thought beyond reach just mere decades ago. The current youth movement for gun control—led by students, including openly queer youth of color—stands on both the shoulders of the successes of these movements as well as on the lessons learned from the failures of the generations before to demand real change.

    From Stonewall to HIV/AIDS to marriage equality and beyond, the elder warriors that laid the groundwork and carved a way forward through rocky, resistant and turbulent paths toward fuller and rightful inclusion are, and should forever be, heralded as greater angels amongst us. That league of angels most certainly includes Dr. Marcy Adelman.

    It is an incredible honor to be a fellow San Francisco Bay Times columnist along with Dr. Adelman in this dynamic publication. Dr. Adelman’s groundbreaking work as a psychotherapist, researcher, advocate, and innovator to meet the unique challenges of aging in our community is simply incomparable. In 2016, it was a privilege to honor and celebrate her as a fierce champion for women and LGBT rights from my post on the Commission on the Status of Women. It is further befitting that she is now seated on the California Commission on Aging as a longtime needed—and pioneering—representative of LGBT experiences. Elsewhere throughout these pages, more eloquent accounts of the importance and impacts of Dr. Adelman’s work are presented. I am just humbled to be among the chorus singing her much deserved praises.

    Recently I had a conversation with a new elder friend in my apartment building about how fortunate we are to have in our lives so many living and thriving legends of liberation movements as friends, colleagues, mentors, and neighbors. He isn’t famous per se, and as one of several aging survivors of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in our residence, he is too humble to consider his own contributions, as he puts it, as “anything special.” I think he’s pretty cool, though. I enjoy his stories of some of the people he has met and the events (aka history) he has experienced along the way over the past 50 years or so since he landed in San Francisco from down south. We both enjoy being witness to the stories of friends chronicled in books, television series, documentaries, and historical societies.

    Last year’s broadcast of Dustin Lance Black’s docudrama miniseries When We Rise—telling the journey of Cleve Jones, Roma Guy, Diane Jones, Ken Jones, Cecilia Chung, the late Gilbert Baker and others through the perilous 1980’s HIV/AIDS crisis spanning the better part of 45 years towards marriage equality—was not just a must-see moment for our ever evolving LGBT community, but was also a must-see for anyone inspired by the perseverance, heart, and courage it takes to elevate the experiences of the marginalized, outlawed, and outcast. Still thriving, we are grateful for these now or near elder warriors as they continue in the fight for social justice, providing guidance, wisdom, and clear mindedness to the next generations of resistors and warriors.

    In the 1990s, that same brand of nerves of steel persistence and perseverance for LGBT equality was offered by a powerful sisterhood of out and proud lesbian California legislators: Sheila Kuehl, Carole Migden, Jackie Goldberg and Christine Kehoe. Revisiting the film documentary Political Animals, now available on Amazon Prime and other internet streams, is a memorable experience.

    Witnessing these women on the floor of the California Assembly Legislature, making the case to protect and create the rights for LGBT families, is a remarkable sight to behold. They helped to bring the movement from the streets into the corridors and chambers of power. The film shows them in intense debate as they literally forged the legislative path upon which marriage equality, transgender rights, workplace protections, and nearly all else LGBT liberation-related were built. The film rightfully shows that coalitions involving people of color, women, and straight allies were needed to help lift up the advocacy of these talented legislators.

    Each has since journeyed into new life chapters, with the women respectively becoming public servants, environmentalists, and civil rights advocates. The story of this elder quartet, however, continues to demonstrate that through trial and tribulation, persistence at any age in the fight for social justice can lead to positive change and a better world for all.

    In this semi-post silence=death era, if we are lucky, we will all live to a ripe old age. At a time when the lives of too many of our brothers and sisters were cut short by HIV/AIDS and the willful neglect of critical response to save those lives, that “fierce urgency of now,” as Dr. King once spoke of, fueled and spurred agents of change to lead movements and action upon which we continue to build and evolve towards further change.

    My 92-year-old grandmother’s most sage advice is “age ain’t nothing but a number, baby. It’s what you do with your time that matters most.” For the struggles, trials, tribulations, courage, and gumption gifted to us by our now or near elder warriors, resistors, and agents of change that have brought us this far, thank you. Thank you for your time so very well spent, and for the times ahead that your wisdom, truth and love will continue to help guide and light the way forward.

    Andrea Shorter is President of the historic San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women. She is a longtime advocate for criminal and juvenile justice reform, voter rights, and marriage equality. A Co-founder of the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition, she was a 2009 David Bohnett LGBT Leadership Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.