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    The Once and Still Unrequited

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    By L. Julius M. Turman

    Recently, when I learned that my mother would shortly die, I came face to face with both reality and illusion. Knowing that you will soon lose the person you are closest to in the world, the questions of your own existence are naturally brought into focus. My mother understood this and she took the time, before the cancer claimed her life, to answer so many questions.

    We spoke once at 3:30 am, and she said over the phone: “I don’t want to leave anything left unsaid.” Over the next 3 months my mom and I put it all on the table, including our perspectives on topics such as sexuality, poverty, policing in the U.S., politics, family history, world history, love, marriage and death. When she died on March 24, there were no secrets and no omissions between us.

    We talked about bringing family to San Francisco for Pride, and she remarked that people should celebrate who they are and how me once being a Grand Marshal was an open expression of something so rarely spoken of in our family. I told her it meant the world to me that she understood. I also remarked that it showed our own progress that as Black Americans, for once, we were the unrequited. She looked me in the eyes and said, “Once, and still.”

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    With those three simple words, my mother brought me sharply back to the reality that as Black Americans, let alone, Gay Black Americans, we still do not enjoy the benefits of full equality. My mother was the first person to tell me that no oppressed group has ever learned the lesson from others. As they were treated, so do they still treat others. She pointed out that while some view the LGBT movement as successfully opening doors for its members, Black Americans were still struggling to gain improvements and changes in their everyday lives.

    “We should learn to lean on each other more. Not just Blacks and Gays, but all people,” is what she told me. “The common experience and the different perspectives should make us all stronger and not competitors.”

    My mother had been part of a generation that saw Black and Gay as polar opposites, but she had evolved into the person who stepped even beyond tolerance and acceptance and embraced true love and understanding. I was proud of her pioneering spirit, and her ability to leave behind the teachings of her childhood.

    “So mom, what do you think of tasers?” I once asked. She said, “I think the more important question is, ‘What do you think, Commissioner?’ I don’t know much about the subject, but it puts me in mind of police dogs, fire hoses, billy clubs, and Bull Conner. Growing up in Alabama, a kind word from someone of a different race was rare and unexpected. Don’t go back, son, move forward.”

    After hearing her words, I took seriously the notion that tasers were more often used against Black and Brown persons, and of the devastating effects on persons who were particularly vulnerable to life circumstances.

    She told me that she would have liked to have been invited to a same-sex wedding, and, to my surprise, she then expressed that it would have been a particular joy for her to have been at mine. When I replied that it was never too late, she smiled and said, “That’s right, you remember that it’s never too late.”

    I applaud the SF Pride Committee’s decision to choose “For Racial and Economic Justice” as their theme for the 2016 celebration. I never knew that my mother was such an activist at heart and a keen observer of the human condition. Looking back on the months that led up to her death, I see how lucky I was to have had her beloved spirit guiding me for so many years, and to have such a fine teacher and friend. This year’s Pride celebration will be extra special to me.

    1. Julius M. Turman is a partner in Reed Smith’s Labor and Employment Group. He is a former U.S. Assistant Attorney who, in addition to his law practice, counsels, writes about, and conducts training for employers on the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, the California Business and Professions Code, and the Family and Medical Leave Act.