Celebrate pride, but be wary of backsliding on LGBT discrimination

A dear friend told me that when she was growing up she could have never imagined living the life she has. It’s a life like mine, with a happy marriage and two kids, with utterly ordinary tasks, celebrations and griefs. The only difference is that she has a wife and I have a husband.

In what is for social change a blink of an eye, so much changed. Yes, there’s still homophobia, but anti-gay stigma is far less severe, pervasive and institutionalized.

In the Lavender Scare of the late 1940s through 1960s, thousands of federal employees were purged, driven out for their sexuality. The 1993 compromise that was supposed to enable gay and lesbian people to serve in the military, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, required that they live in a closet, hiding who they loved.

Change didn’t just happen.

Participants take part in the 49th annual Pride Parade in West Hollywood, California on Sunday. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

Coming out was difficult and courageous. Some families rejected their gay children, throwing them out of their homes.

Activists and allies worked hard and made change happen, bit by bit, across the country and in Maine.

A half century ago, when New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar, the patrons fought back. The next year New Yorkers held the first Pride Parade.

The Maine Democratic Party narrowly passed a plank at its convention in 1974 calling for a law forbidding “discrimination on the basis of homosexuality.” This basic step was to take decades to achieve.

In 1993, both chambers of the Maine Legislature voted to prohibit discrimination. Then-Gov. John McKernan vetoed it and there weren’t enough votes to overturn it.

Three referendums were held on anti-discrimination laws. Only in 2005, after Maine people voted by a landslide to retain the law against discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, was the issue settled.

Ten years ago, the Maine Legislature passed and Gov. John Baldacci signed marriage equality into law. Then a referendum overturned the law 53 percent to 47 percent.

Mainers went out and collected signatures to put marriage back on the ballot in 2012. This was a campaign to remember.

Opponents of marriage equality used to claim, absurdly and without evidence, that the institution of marriage would be hurt if gay people could get married.

Supporters held long, substantial conversations with people at their doors and by phone, explaining that marriage was about love and commitment.

In one ad, Harlan Gardner, a Machias World War II veteran, was shown around the table with his family, including his lesbian granddaughter and her partner, saying “Marriage is too precious a thing not to share.” His wife of nearly 60 years, Dorothy Gardner, added, “In my lifetime I’d really like to see Katie and Alex get married legally.” Harlan concluded, “This isn’t about politics. It’s about family and about how we as people treat one another.”

Arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 for making marriage equality legal throughout the land, Maine attorney Mary Bonauto called marriage the “foundation of family life in our society.”

Justice Anthony Kennedy agreed, writing in an historic decision that, “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family.”

And regarding the gay men and lesbians petitioning the court for the right to marry, Kennedy observed, “It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves.”

As gay and lesbian people can now marry and serve openly in the military, Americans’ views have transformed from intolerant to supportive. Every age group has has become more positive.

Now more change is necessary. There is still no federal law against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Moreover, the Trump administration has moved backwards, particularly when it comes to the rights of transgender people.

But, given how far we’ve come, and how fast, all of us — gay and straight — should take pride in pride and go forward together.


Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.