A Call for Integrity
Lobel, Kerry, The Humanist
When I announced December 3, 1999, that I would be stepping down as executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, I had the opportunity to reflect on how our movement has changed since I joined NGLTF six years ago--and how much work we still have to accomplish.
There are two ways to measure our progress. The first--the easy way--is to examine how many advances we've made while working in the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender movement. We can look back on 1999, for example, and feel proud that for the first time in history pro-GLBT bills filed in state legislatures across the country outnumbered anti-GLBT bills. We can look at the current presidential race and watch the two Democratic candidates compete vigorously for the GLBT vote. We can look at the recent Vermont Supreme Court decision and clap with one hand at the fact that the court seemed to give us all of the rights, responsibilities, and benefits of marriage except for marriage itself.
I choose today to venture down a different road, well traveled by many of us who view our lives and our work as about social change and transformation.
I came out of the closet twenty-seven years ago--ironically, the very same year that the task force was moving from an idea to an organization. (Back then we were called the National Gay Task Force. The word lesbian was not added to the title until years later, and it would be almost another quarter of a century before we added the words bisexual and transgender to our mission statement.)
As a young dyke all of nineteen years of age I was blessed to come out in a community that valued honesty, that valued respect, and that valued consensus. One place I called home was the Women's Resource Center at the University of California at Los Angeles. In 1972 that center was an amazing place. It was my home, a safe place, and a place where I was challenged and nurtured. It was a place where for the first time in my life my experience as a young person and as a lesbian was respected and embraced.
In gay-straight dialogue with my lesbian, straight, and bisexual sisters I learned about the power of telling our stories and the power of taking risks. In coalition with African American, Latino, and Jewish students we held on to the newspapers that reported on the realities of our lives and worked for women's and ethnic studies programs that would reflect our histories. I learned the personal was political and that real politics spoke the truth about our lives.
It was only years later that I realized that some really special staff members at the center laid their jobs on the line to provide a space where women like me could find a home regardless of our age, our sexual orientation, and our race.
I learned there that sometimes it was those with the most to lose who were leading the way and that there were those willing to put their privilege on the line to create change. Together, these two forces were insurmountable. Together, they could and did make lasting change.
My passion for social change was nurtured by straight white women who had a vision for a world where all people could bring their full selves to the table. Although they could have stayed safe with the privilege that their race and sexual orientation brought them, they knew in some fundamental way that they could use their privilege to bring women together. They knew that, in coming together, we could change the world--a lesson that serves us equally well today.
Our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community has made enormous gains culturally. Our cultural visibility and a calculated effort by the extreme right wing to convince the people of the United States that the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community seeks "special rights" has made even GLBT people believe that we have made political progress. Each day gay people call our office to find out where they may legally marry. …