In the 21st Century, the Gay Experience is the American Experience

Michelle Obama addresses the DNC, bringing gay Americans into the fold of the American dream.

“…and if proud Americans can be who they are and boldly stand at the altar with who they love, then surely, surely, we can give everyone in this country a fair chance at that great American dream.”

After a series of equally moving assertions that paid tribute to how women, labor workers, immigrants, and African Americans have augmented the American experience, Michelle Obama finally brought LGBT people into the national fold with these words. Uttered by the First Lady during the 2012 Democratic National Convention, their inclusion in a prime-time address proved that the contributions of gay Americans have now become part of our public consciousness. It was an understated moment that capsized a history of our collective story unfolding in the shadows. In the 21st century, the gay experience is the American experience.

We are a renegade nation, set free by our own will from a regime that once oppressed the essence of who we are. When the thirteen colonies rebelled against England and fought the Revolutionary War, we established a precedent no one alive in 1776 could have begun to comprehend. In winning independence from our mother country, we unknowingly won the war on self-determination for all groups of people. Of course, the white, Angelo men of that time never dreamed that this feat would one day foster a nation where a black man would lead the free world only after dislodging a powerful, savvy woman as his primary competitor. Though immigrants themselves, our founders could not have fathomed that two centuries later we would be a multi-hued nation where people of all races and cultures inter-mingle, inter-marry, and melt together to form one united front. It goes without saying that this same group of men, many of whom helped author the original sodomy laws, would not have understood the concept of gay rights. There in lines the true American experience: the capability of a smart and determined people to evolve.

When we shift collectively, we allow for transformation individually. Though a student of American government and an active participant in the democratic process for well over a decade, I’ve never felt that I was part of that coveted American dream. Accepting the fact that I’m gay meant coming to terms with the reality that I’d be shortchanged the ability to have my own family. Sure, in a free society individuals can make whatever arrangements they want, but most honest gay people will tell you that legal equality and social acceptance are fundamental to basic feelings of self-worth. No one should ever believe that they need the approval of others to live their life; nobody should ever live knowing that their life in an anathema to the very fundamentals of their family or their community, though.

For too long, that was the gay experience. Being out meant you were an outsider. That basic American ideal that we can come from anywhere and build our own success—with the people want to share it with—has long eluded us. Legally it still does. Only six states offer marriage equality.  It’s legal to be fired from your job because of your sexual orientation or your gender identity in many locales.  Socially, though, America seems to be having a rendezvous with our own destiny when it comes to LGBT folks. There’s a reason Michelle said those words in her address: she knows they finally resonate.

Today, gay rights don’t just matter to people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. They matter to our parents, who watched us struggle to come to terms with who we are and just want us to be happy. They matter to our siblings, who want our families to be seen as equal to theirs. They matter to our grandparents, who might not understand everything about our lives, but who nonetheless understand the meaning of unconditional love. They matter to our co-workers, who value our talents and contributions and want us to have the same quality life they are afforded. And they matter to our friends, who choose to be in our life because they celebrate the unique sparkle that makes us who we are perhaps better than anyone else.

We are still very much in the troughs of this transformation. We have a long way to go before we are truly able to fully claim the American dream. We have, however, reached a critical point where that dream is within sight. I never believed I would have the chance to boldly stand at an altar with the person that I love. In fact, I never really believed I was worthy of love. When you aren’t included in the collective value of your community, it’s easy to downgrade yourself and your potential. That’s why collective shifts are so important; they can alter the tectonic platelets of individual’s psyches. Today, I look forward to one day standing at my own altar with pride.  I hope you do, too.

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