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    Acting Up and Fighting Back in 2023

    By John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney–

    Imagine: A politically conservative Christian television station applies to the City of San Francisco for a permit to use Civic Center Plaza for a Christian youth concert on the last of weekend in June, which just so happens, of course, to be the date of San Francisco Pride. And imagine further that despite Pride being held for years on those dates, San Francisco grants the permit to the television station.

    Fortunately, that scenario seems very far-fetched, but sadly it’s exactly what happened in Seoul, South Korea. There, the city government granted the South Korean Christian Television System the right to use the plaza in front of Seoul City Hall for a Christian youth concert, instead of this year’s Seoul Pride, which had taken place there since 2014. The Seoul government’s actions are emblematic of the many challenges LGBTIQ activists face in their struggle for equality in South Korea. But, make no mistake, the Korean LGBTIQ community did not give up for a moment, and Seoul Pride will go on at a different location in the city.

    Seoul Queer Pride

    Imagine: The San Francisco LGBT Center is forced to shut down under pressure from the U.S. government because it serves the queer community. Fortunately, that would be unthinkable today. Yet, that’s exactly what happened last month when the Beijing LGBT Center, which had provided vital services to LGBTIQ people all across China for 15 years, was forced to close its doors as part of the Chinese government’s anti-LGBTIQ crackdown. But Chinese LGBTIQ activists have far from given up.

    This year, at San Francisco Pride, we think of the countless LGBTIQ activists, whose courage and perseverance inspire us. Of course, they include fearless South Korean and Chinese activists as well as those in Uganda, who are waging a fight for their survival against incalculable odds.

    We also salute the conviction and tenacity of Nebraska State Senators Megan Hunt and Machaela Cavanaugh, who together engaged in a months-long filibuster to prevent passage of legislation banning gender-affirming medical care for trans youth in the state. Sadly, the bill eventually passed, but Hunt, who herself has a transgender son, revealed on the Senate floor that another trans youth had told her that they had attempted suicide during the legislative session. Hunt reported to her fellow state legislators what she told the trans youth: “’Do not let one of these trash people who I work with be the reason that you’re not here. They don’t matter. The potential you have for the rest of your life is so much bigger than the damage any of these trash people can do in their little four-year or eight-year term.’”

    And we draw inspiration from transgender Montana state legislator Zooey Zephyr, who during floor debate on a bill to ban gender-affirming medical care in her state told her fellow legislators that if they voted in favor of the legislation: “I hope the next time there’s an invocation, when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands.”
    The bill passed and was enacted into law, the Montana House of Representatives censured Zephyr for her words, and the Speaker of the Montana House of Representatives asked her to apologize. But Zephyr did not back down for a second. She told Democracy Now that the Speaker “is asking me to be complicit in this Legislature’s eradication of our community. And I refuse to do so, and I will always refuse to do so.”

    Today these bold leaders continue to fulfill that call of AIDS activists nearly forty years ago: “Act Up. Fight Back.” And this year in San Francisco, the LGBITQ community will march and gather together just as we’ve done for each of the last 53 years:  “Looking Back and Moving Forward.”

    John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, together for over three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. Their leadership in the grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA contributed in 2015 to making same-sex marriage legal nationwide.

    626 and Beyond
    Published on June 22, 2023