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    Legal vs. Lived Equality

    By Brett Andrews–

    As we celebrate Pride, it is hard to believe how far the LGBTQ movement has come since the Stonewall riots in 1969. Then, conditions on the ground were quite unfavorable, if not outright hostile: police brutality, unfair laws and a broad swath of society that was unapologetically unaccepting of gays, their fight for freedom and their desire to fully self-express. Beyond that, there was social unrest around the Vietnam War, and the civil rights movement was on the back end of a decades-long struggle for equal rights and federal protections. Over the next 50 years, the LGBTQ movement would experience some of the highest of highs and lowest of lows. 

    AIDS, one of the most devastating, existential threats of our time, reared its head in the 1980s and tore through our communities, laying waste to multitudes of individuals whose full life promise was never able to be realized. We later experienced the extraordinary medical advancements that have led to the reclassification of HIV/AIDS to a chronic illness. Similarly, on the legal front, the LGBTQ movement suffered significant losses and numerous setbacks, countered by a set of landmark rulings that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, which paved a way for many LGBTQ persons to enjoy the full benefits of marriage.

    In most all cases involving civil rights, resulting legislation was enacted in an effort to help rectify the atrocities of inequality and unfair treatment of the past, along with built-in protections to mitigate harm on an ongoing basis—at least in theory. This brings me to the constant struggle of reconciliation between legal equality and lived equality. 

    As a 54-year old African American gay man, I have experienced, first-hand, the disconnection between what civil rights legislation intended, and how it actually plays out on a daily basis. Let me also hasten to say that I have benefited greatly from the collective advocacy of so many courageous individuals who were willing to hold the line, never back down, and stand in harm’s way. 

    It is incumbent upon all of us—yes, even those who feel that their lives are not directly impacted—not just to reflect on the past and to celebrate our achievements, but also to challenge ourselves to look more closely at the many remaining ways in which our legal successes are not matching up to their lived promise. 

    So, this year, as you partake in the festivities of Pride, I encourage you to hold your head high, take pride in all that you and your community have accomplished, and represent in your world the future change that we still need. Never be too far from your commitment to taking up the work that still needs to be done. Remember, there is a deserving face tied to every advancement that we make!

    Happy Pride! Be safe & caring.

    Leading PRC since 2003, Brett Andrews has overseen PRC’s evolution from a small HIV/AIDS legal service agency to an integrated social and behavioral health provider bent on fighting poverty, stigma and isolation by uplifting marginalized adults and affecting the social conditions of health. He holds an M.A. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from George Washington University, received the San Francisco Pride Celebration’s Heritage Award for 10+ years of service in 2017, and was appointed to the San Francisco Mayor’s Methamphetamine Task Force.