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Thursday, August 28, 2008

I have a dream...

Yesterday was the day that Barack Obama became the first African-American ever nominated for president by a mainstream political party (with all due respect to the historic efforts of Shirley Chisholm and Rev. Jesse Jackson).

Yesterday was also the day that one of the world's most important gay and lesbian rights activists, Del Martin, died in San Francisco at the age of 87, just a few months after finally being able to marry her partner of 55 years, Phyllis Lyon.

I cried alot yesterday.

And tonight, the night that Barack Obama will accept the Democratic Party's nomination for President, the night that he will become the first large scale African-American Presidential candidate, is the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech.

Del Martin was born in 1921, eight years before Dr. King. Like Dr. King, she grew up in a world where she was not able to exercise the rights that others around her could; like Dr. King, she experienced oppression and discrimination that was not based on the 'quality of her character.' And like Dr. King, she refused to be silenced, she refused to accept that just because this was how things were, this was how things should be. And like Dr. King, she led a movement, and a people, to fight for equality, respect and justice.

Her groundbreaking activism began in 1953, when she and her lover Phyllis moved in together in San Francisco's Castro district. It is not an overstatement to say that Del and Phyllis are in large part responsible for many of the rights that queers today have gained--campaigning on a national level for non-discrimination policies against gays and lesbians, starting the lesbian activist group Daughters of Bilitis in 1955 (!!), and spearheading the movement to get the American Psychiatric Association to stop labeling homosexuality as a mental disorder. And Del and Phyllis were among the first same-sex couples legally married in California this past June. A sweet victory, almost too long in coming.

It is no coincidence that Mr. Obama chose to accept the nomination on this most symbolic of nights. Surely he will reference Dr. King, and he will talk of all that the incredible struggles of civil rights activists has accomplished. Surely he will speak of all the work that has yet to be done. And of course he will point to Dr King as one of the people who has made his very nomination possible.

And I will remember, even if it goes unspoken tonight, the great work that Del Martin has accomplished, the legacy she has left, and all of the work that still needs to be done. And that just because a black man can be President, and just because gays and lesbians can marry, that doesn't mean that the struggle is over, that the fighting is done, that the oppression has ended.

And I will know that, even if Del Martin is not recognized tonight in Denver for her amazing history of activism, like Dr. King, she will be looked back upon as one of the people who fought proudly--even when no one else was fighting, even when no one thought it mattered--and won.

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