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A few months ago, I had occasion to take issue on these pages with an action of my hometown city council, which voted against a measure to codify an ordinance that would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
I was disappointed then, but not surprised — to me, it was more unexpected that the governing body in Burlington, Iowa, would even consider an anti-bias law than it was to learn that they had voted against the law. Their move fit my expectations, yet still my hopes were dashed — no matter how well we know our roots, there will always be elements of our past, even as they’re manifest in the present, that let us down.
Last week, my hometown city council did surprise me. Just four months on the heels of the decision to vote down the anti-bias ordinance, the Burlington council voted unanimously to pass a resolution urging Iowa’s legislature to pass a statewide anti-bias law covering gay men and lesbians.
I’d just spent the weekend in Burlington and left the day before their vote. As always, I spent some time reminiscing and driving past my old hangouts. I spent some time marveling at the new developments — including a visit to the 24-hour Super Wal-Mart, by now a mainstay in Burlington but a still miracle to me nonetheless.
(You can buy a computer or a garden hose at 3 a.m. in Burlington if you want. That beats the offerings we had when I was a kid. Imagine the trouble my friends and I might have gotten into at the Super Wal-Mart if it had been open in the mid-80s.)
During that weekend, my partner and I joked about buying this giant house on Garfield Avenue, literally around the corner from the house where my brother and his wife are raising my adorable year-old niece. This Garfield Avenue manse has been for sale the past few times I’ve been in town — it’d be a great little place to stay when we visit, we chuckled.
As the words filled the wintry air around us, I had no idea that progress was just around the figurative corner.
For years, I’ve been professing my love of my home state while settling in on the East Coast and learning to call Maryland home. Now, as Marylanders are forced to call some Republican guy governor and my hometown dabbles with progressive politics, I am reminded of where I came from.
I’m also reminded of the number of times I’ve lamented the political landscape in Iowa and the sometimes-chilly climate for people who don’t fit the heterosexual mold. I’ve declared, on occasion, how much I would love to be able to raise my family there, if only the legal reality would accommodate me.
Burlington and I have a long history of showing our love for each other. At the end of high school, I wrote an essay for the graduation section of the local daily paper, The Hawk Eye, about how sad it was for me that I had to grow up and move on — at that time, my destination was Des Moines. I wrote about how I would have loved to stay in my little town forever, but that I’d outgrown it. I described how grateful I was that no matter how far I went or how long I stayed away, I’d always have a place to come back to.
In August 2000, I petitioned that same newspaper to run a notice announcing the ceremony my partner and I were planning for November of that year. That paper, which had also employed me as a stringer a couple of summers during college, accepted our announcement, on the condition that we jump through a legal hoop to document our relationship.
They even ran a big story to explain their action and debated whether they should put the story on the front page of the Sunday paper, but ultimately decided not to draw so much attention to the policy change, and instead ran the story on A2.
But now, still, the online form to submit engagement announcements asks for “woman to be married ” and “man to be married. ” The wedding announcement form asks for “bride’s name ” and “groom’s name ” — and adds, “Be sure to put bride’s name on the e-mail! ” Oh, to travel back to simpler days, when all a nice lesbian couple had to do to be included on the engagements page was get a sworn affidavit.
Regardless, it’s nice to know that the option is there for the next brave same-sex couple who wants to circumvent the forms and see their news published. In that way and others, we continue to prove the strength of our bond, my hometown and I. It’s certainly tempting to call it home again.
But before I go packing my bags and renting a one-way U-haul, there’s still work to be done back home. Not to mention the work to be done in my current home — although I sent around listings from Realtor.com last week flaunting the incredible housing deals in Burlington, I don’t think my closest loved ones are ready to settle in on the prairie with me.
Instead, I will settle for my frequent visits and the images of modern-day superheroes back in Burlington, like a woman who was quoted in the newspaper expressing her concern that she could be fired for being a lesbian. She spoke alongside a man who ranted about “god-fearing ” property owners and employers in Burlington who could be discriminated against if the anti-bias law included sexual orientation.
Another PFLAG member, another modern-day superhero, e-mailed me to let me know about the council vote last week.
“I was there when the council voted, ” she told me. “It was awesome. ”
Kristina Campbell is especially proud to call herself an Iowan this month. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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