For those who read this column or have kept up with my activities during the last year, you might feel, as I do, that it’s been a special year. In fact, for me it has been the best year of my life and, at 63, that’s saying something. I spent 45 of those years as a
gay activist, or what we might today call a fighter for equality. But a good deal of that great feeling of this past year comes not from my personal efforts but from those of many. Ah, that old line: It takes a village.
The top story for the LGBT community this past year was marriage. We started the year with marriage equality in just 17 states and the District of Columbia. Today, we’ve progressed to 35 — more than double, with more expected this month. The effort to get us there was one started in the late 1960s with the Rev. Troy Perry of Metropolitan Community Church. It went on to be taken up by such agencies as Lambda Legal and American Civil Liberties Union, Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders in Massachusetts. Then it was on to Proposition 8 in California, and in the background almost all the time was Evan Wolfson and Freedom to Marry. Add that to the efforts by Human Rights Campaign and the various state organizations and we as a community can say it was a unified effort.
Second on the list of LGBT issues in 2014 was Russian president Vladimir Putin and the Sochi Olympics. At first, the community attempted to put pressure on Russia’s vodka business, then went to Lukoil and then the broadcasters and the news media covering the Olympics. NBC had the contract for the event and did us proud by not backing down to Putin. In fact, NBC made it a point to send LGBT staff and reporters to the Olympics and continuously pointed out the homophobia in Russia. They did this cross-platform, on all their channels. While the situation made Americans and the outside world aware of the dire conditions of homophobia in Russia, it unfortunately did little for the LGBT Russian community once the games ended.
Third was a slight opening with the Catholic Church, led by Pope Francis. He still has opposition to his softer treatment of the LGBT community, women, those who have been abused and others, and the opposition is headed by figures such as Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput. Insight into where the church is headed might be gleaned when the pope visits Philadelphia in September for the World Council of Families.
Then there was the opening of the historic John C. Anderson LGBT-friendly senior affordable apartments, the nation’s largest LGBT building project, at close to $20 million. And it has been a success in more ways than we ever expected. JCAA is now fully occupied with a waiting list of more than 100, and has partnerships with three community organizations. And it is the first LGBT-friendly building to be built in the nation with not one cent from the community; instead, backer the Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld Fund has donated more than $200,000 into our community organizations.
Then there was PGN winning more awards than ever, and one of the highest awards possible in the journalism field: the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Award, which was given for our more-than 12 years of investigative reporting on the Nizah Morris case. We shared that award with the Wall Street Journal.
Putting all that together and making it personal, there’s a pure smile of joy on my face. Each of those issues touched me personally — and so much happened in just a two-week period.
In mid-June, PGN editor Jen Colletta, writer Tim Cwiek and I went to Washington, D.C., to accept the SPJ award. The following week, Jason and I were at the White House for the president’s Pride reception, which his staff urged me to attend since they had a surprise in store for me: As the president gave his remarks, a line was inserted into the speech about LGBT-friendly senior affordable housing. The staff patted me on the back, and Jason and I walked over to the portico entrance where the Marine band was playing and we danced.
One week later, on July 5, we married. It was the happiest day of my life, and almost immediately I began to see the differences that that piece of paper meant. Soon, I began to believe I was the happiest man alive. All my dreams, both personal and community, were a reality.
As to 2015, there will be challenges, but there is much excitement, and a few surprises ahead I expect. I’m very excited by its prospects. But looking back on 2014, the plan for success is obvious: Work as a united front and we can find success. Happy New Year, and a prosperous 2015.