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    Planting Seeds in an LGBT Garden


    SFBT_MarriageEquality_1At last week’s Democratic National Convention, Hillary Clinton urged Americans to aspire to what she viewed to be the highest of human intentions: “the selfless passion to build something better for all who follow.” Although at first blush this call may appear sentimental or idealistic, throughout our decades of participation in the LGBT community we have been struck by how this aspiration is woven—sometimes overtly, other times subtly—through the best of our movement and community.

    In countering Donald Trump’s rhetoric, Clinton wisely observed in her speech: “None of us can raise a family, build a business, heal a community or lift a country totally alone.” No one knows this better than LGBT people. Making sure that no LGBT person grows up thinking they are the only one, fearing they are all alone, is foundational to our community.

    Creating a world where LGBT people can live openly and proudly is central to everything else that follows in our movement. Facing the scourge of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, fighting breast cancer and supporting those affected by the disease, achieving marriage equality and other civil rights victories, and ensuring safety and dignity for transgender people—these are just a few examples of things our community has done, and continues to do together, which simply cannot be done alone. The connection born of shared life experience and the unique alchemy that can arise when LGBT come together are treasures of being LGBT that, by definition, can only be experienced in community.

    Time after time, LGBT people have been motivated to work together to ensure that those who follow do not have to live through the challenges or suffering that we ourselves have faced. We want LGBT youth to be able to come out to an embracing world.  We want no young people to live through anything resembling the horrors of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s and 90s. We want to identify and eliminate environmental causes of breast cancer and find effective treatments so that ultimately the disease afflicts no more women. We want people to be able to find connection, community, and belonging.

    Like-minded motivations were on display at the Democratic Convention last week. In a previous column, we described the urgent plea to end hatred and ban assault weapons that Christine Leinonen, mother of Christopher “Drew” Leinonen, one of the 49 victims of the Orlando massacre, made on live television as she desperately sought word on the fate of her son just hours after the shootings. Last week, Christine addressed the convention and the nation, joined by two of Drew’s close LGBT friends, advocating “common-sense gun policy” so that no other parent goes through what she did.

    Sarah McBride became the first openly transgender person ever to address a major party convention. She spoke about the fears she confronted when she came out as transgender as student body president of her college and the sadness she experienced when her spouse, who was also transgender, died of cancer just four days after they married. But Sarah used these experiences to inspire herself to help make change. She said her husband’s death taught her that “every day matters when it comes to building a world where every person can live their life to the fullest… . Today, in America, LGBTQ people are targeted by hate that lives in both laws and hearts. Many still struggle just to get by. But I believe tomorrow can be different. Tomorrow, we can be respected and protected … .”

    Long-time LGBT ally and trailblazer, California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, devoted much of his convention speech to illuminating discrimination against LGBT people. He lambasted Trump for selecting Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate. He described Pence as “America’s most anti-LGBT governor,” and explained how Pence “supported overt discrimination” and “advocated for diverting taxpayer dollars to so-called conversion therapy.” Newsom was emphatic: “Make no mistake. Conversion therapy is not about praying away the gay. It’s torture against our most innocent citizens, our children, telling them that to live they must lie about who they are and who they love. That is fundamentally un-American.”
    As Clinton famously wrote, “it takes a village.” We and our allies are an LGBT village. As Clinton paraphrased the Broadway musical Hamilton last week, “we may not live to see the glory,” but “[l]et our legacy be about planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.”

    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 nationwide grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA contributed in 2015 to making same-sex marriage legal nationwide.