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    Combine Politics with Pride

    SFBT_DoAskDoTell_1Happy Pride Month! June is my favor­ite time of year. I love seeing the col­orful pride flags up and down Market Street, catching new flicks at the Fra­meline Film Festival, and joining the tens of thousands of women (and men) who attend the Dyke March. And that is the tip of the iceberg of all the many celebrations and events going on this month in San Francisco.

    If you are local and have lived here for several years, it is easy to take this all for granted and forget the transfor­mative power of Pride. It has played a critical role in my own personal growth and political awakening, just as it has for millions over the past 44 years. It may be old hat to us, but for many youth and those who travel here from remote corners of the coun­try and globe, it is often a major life experience.

    My first Pride Parade was 1993. In January of that year, I had just “come out” publicly as a lesbian naval offi­cer, at a political rally directed at then President-elect Clinton, demanding him to fulfill his campaign pledge to lift the ban on gay military service. As recently as two years prior, I had been deeply closeted, fearing that dis­covery of my sexual orientation would result in losing my military career.

    That June day in 1993, I marched with the Alexander Hamilton Post 448 of the American Legion. For those of you not familiar with this group, they are the only American Legion post whose membership is predominantly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered. Organized in 1984, the post is recognized locally, statewide and nationally for its activ­ism pertaining to the welfare of all veterans and, especially, its efforts to end LGBT discrimination in the United States Military. I was proud to march alongside these activists and veterans, some of whom had served as far back as WWII.

    We each have our own journey as we learn to embrace all that we are, and feel pride and not shame in it. It be­gins with a personal realization, even­tually moving to sharing the news with our friends and family, to even­tually co-workers and even strangers. Most of these interactions are on a personal or small group level and, if we are lucky, we get more positive than negative reactions and become more comfortable in our own skin.

    But there is nothing that compares to marching down the center of Market Street and having throngs of people, strangers really, cheering you on and celebrating you! It sounds cliché, but the sheer energy of the crowd dur­ing my first Pride Parade was instru­mental in my political awakening and gave me the courage to continue my activism toward ending the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. If you have not actually marched in a Parade con­tingent, I highly recommend it. The experience is totally different than watching from the sidelines.

    As I remember the 20+ years of Pride weekends I’ve attended in San Fran­cisco, I am struck by the dual role the Parade plays in bringing visibility to current day injustices while also cel­ebrating our successes. We still have far to go in immigration rights, trans­gender rights, international LGBT rights, and finding a cure for HIV/ AIDS. Yet, we have come so far—es­pecially in the past four years—with the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, the increased LGBT visibility in the media, and the grow­ing number of out LGBT elected of­ficials across the country.

    Rewinding again to 1993, I am re­minded of Maya Angelou’s famous inaugural reading, her poem “On the Pulse of Morning.” One of its prime messages is how our country has ter­rible scars from our past and mistakes made too often, but each day is a new day. We must look forward, learn from those lessons and start anew.

    Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need For this bright morning dawning for you. History, despite its wrenching pain Cannot be unlived, but if faced With courage, need not be lived again.

    These words inspire me to recognize the pain our community has faced these past 44 years (and beyond)— discrimination, assault, neglect, lies, even death—and work to apply those lessons to secure equality as we move forward. Like the Parade itself, we must acknowledge our past, both the good and the bad, and move forward so that others that follow will not re­live that discrimination.

    One way to help move forward is to get active politically. If you want to combine politics with Pride, there is no better way than the Alice B. Tok­las LGBT Democratic Club’s annual Pride Breakfast. The event typically brings over 600 people together to celebrate Pride with a huge breakfast featuring some of the state’s most in­fluential elected officials and candi­dates.

    In past years, the breakfast has fea­tured Congressmen Mike Honda and Mark Takano, Senator John Ed­wards’ wife Elizabeth Edwards, State Attorney General Kamala Harris, Mayors Gavin Newsom and Ed Lee, and dozens of other local and state officials. This year, Alice’s featured guest is CA State Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins. The first lesbian to hold this important position, she will be joining Alice to kick off the Sunday Pride Parade.

    Happy Pride everyone—I hope to see you there, to celebrate our past and inspire us to create our future!

    Zoe Dunning is a retired Navy Commander and was a lead activist in the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. She currently serves as the 1st Vice Chair of the San Francisco Demo­cratic Party and is Co-Chair of the Board of Directors for the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club.