Another Vow to Keep: Beyond Marriage Equality

Long ago, at the tender age of 21, I was a bleeding-heart lesbian activist going to college and living in Oregon. I didn't shave my armpits and I was engaged to the cheerleader of my dreams. We wore matching diamond rings we financed through Sears.

We didn't belong together.

I was into bondage and discipline, she was into furniture sets and reproduction. Me not being able to marry her back then was probably the only good thing about Oregon's ban on same-sex marriage.

But even though I needed to not marry my same-sex partner at the time, I campaigned hard for my queer brethren to have the right to wed. If straight people can marry too young to someone they are fundamentally incompatible with, then by God, queer people should have that right too.

Under the reign of George W. Bush, it seemed almost impossible that we'd see federal legalization of same-sex marriage in our lifetimes.

But last month, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the right to marry, it felt like a shot was heard around the world.

Like the moon landing, or President Barack Obama's election, a generation will remember exactly where it was when it heard the news.

I was flashing my tits to a streaming webcam inside the studios of New York City's WPAT 93.1 FM morning show.

In the midst of silly voices, jingles, prank calls, and interview questions, one of the hosts paused for breaking news about the Supreme Court decision, and the tone shifted to something more serious.

Back home, San Francisco was kicking off what would be the largest Pride celebration in its history. The dream of marriage equality was finally real.

Later that day, I took the subway to the West Village so I could touch the red bricks of the Stonewall Inn, where the gay liberation movement is said to have begun in the 1960s when queers inside the bar fought back against a police raid.

A growing crowd of newlyweds, reporters, and activists surrounded the bar, snapping photos and beaming about the victory.

Marriage equality is certainly a triumph, but I somehow doubt that our queer foremothers and forefathers would have had it at the tip-top of their list of demands after they'd been kicked in the face and arrested. Many don't realize or remember that the brave queers who fought back against the cops during the Stonewall riots included transgender women, people of color, and, yes, sex workers.

In the West Village in the 1960s, gay clubs like Stonewall were more than just bars. They were homes for queer hustlers, hos, and homeless youths who sought refuge from racism, homophobia, and law enforcement.

While white, gay America has gained mainstream acceptance as of late, the communities that were on the front lines of the Stonewall riots continue to face the same types of oppression they faced four decades ago: poverty, lack of access to health care, systematic violence, and police brutality. And it's still perfectly legal in most places to fire or evict someone based on gender presentation or for being a sex worker.

There may be a transgender woman on the cover of Vanity Fair this year, but we've also seen transgender women brutally murdered and the emergence of bigoted “bathroom bills” targeting transgender people's ability to use a public restroom that matches their gender identity.

Marriage equality is almost a moot point when so many of our community still face such crippling adversity.

Transgender queers of color and sex workers are still relegated to the fringes and told to wait their turn while historically gay neighborhoods like the Village and the Castro fill up with white, upper-class gay men; straight teenagers become the most dominant demographic at Pride festivities around the world; and giant corporate lobbying organizations funnel their money and resources into the needs of the upper crust.

Maybe now that marriage equality is finally a reality, mainstream LGBT activists can finally prioritize the communities on whose backs the movement was built.

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