Every June, members of the LGBTQIA+ community come together to celebrate Pride Month. This celebration of our identities, our past, and our ongoing reach for equality began after the Stonewall riots in 1969 and continues vibrantly today, even though the world is scary right now.
My spouse Kristy and I are approaching our 10-year wedding anniversary in July, during a year when more than 500 anti-LGBTQ pieces of legislation have been introduced across the country.
It’s safe to say that I am worried.
I first looked at our changing world in relation to Pride Month in 2020. One thing that I noticed then that remains true today is how quickly we forget just how recently certain things in the world have changed:
Eight years. Same-sex marriage has only been legalized in all 50 states for eight years.
Furthermore, homosexuality was criminalized in one form or another in New York until 1980, in Arizona until 2001, and in Missouri, the ways it was criminalized were never abolished by the state – instead, it was the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas that rendered laws banning consensual sexual activity unenforceable.
For me, there was no ah-ha moment about my sexuality. I never identified as gay or straight, I never thought about it because I just didn’t care about sex. I cared about talking with people who challenged my thoughts, and who would engage in compelling conversation with me. There was no mystical mallet that smacked me over the head and labeled me as one orientation or the other. Though sometime in my 20s, I realized the term for it was asexual.
When I made things official with my girlfriend in January 2003, we moved forward with the label because it felt right. It was a joke among some of our mutual friends that we were secretly together anyway, so why not?
We were living together in Missouri in August 2004, when same-sex marriage first hit the ballots there. 71% of voters ratified Amendment 2, restricting the validity and recognition of marriage to the union of one man and one woman.
At 18 years old, I settled with the idea that I would never actually get married. And I put the thought away. We were together, and we were happy; I didn’t need a paper to prove that to myself.
From the ages 18-27 things were rough. I lost friends because of my relationship. I dealt with an extremely homophobic boss who spread rumors through the workplace but couldn’t prove them when it was time to write me up. I also had an amazing boss who asked why I hadn’t sued my previous boss into oblivion (the answer: I was tired.) By the time I left that job I wanted to put it behind me. I heard family say it was "just a phase." I had people tell me that my life was a waste because I was in a same-sex relationship, and I had people afraid they would ‘catch’ being gay from me. The list could go on.
But I didn't let that stop me. In July 2013, Kristy and I were packing for a trip to New York. The state had passed the Marriage Equality Act just two years earlier. As we packed, I remember stopping while sitting in front of my suitcase and looking at her.
“You know, same-sex marriage is legal in New York.”
And we sat in silence packing for another minute before I spoke again, “Want to get married?”
That was the extent of my proposal and our engagement. We went, we saw, we conquered. And we’re still going strong.
Our marriage wasn’t legal or recognized in Missouri when we headed home. But in a turn of events, in November 2013 Missouri moved to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.
And why am I sharing this walk down memory lane?
Because the desire for equality has fueled my own journey as an advocate. The more I learn about our past, the more effectively I can speak for our future. If I have one wish for you this Pride month, it is this:
I hope you are inspired to speak up for a cause that is close to your heart. Together, we can change the world.
We don’t want special rights. We want human rights. We want to be safe. We want to do the things our straight and cisgender brothers and sisters have been able to do all along.
Speaking of advocacy, our Leaders for Inclusive Change course will be going live on July 12. This course provides affirming adults support, tools, and resources to start and/or develop GSAs, Rainbow or other diversity clubs in local schools or communities. Sign-up today!
About the Author
Charlie Neff (she/they) is a mixed media artist who uses the visual arts to comment on societal issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community and other underserved communities. She believes that visual storytelling can be one of the most honest and compelling ways to convey a message.
She works with nonprofit organizations across the country to leverage the impact they are making in their communities by exploring their stories of progress with a larger audience. She primarily focuses on human service organizations dedicated to improving the quality of life for the people they serve.