Small Things, Big Moment

Commentary: Center Field

Greetings from the past: I am writing two days before the formal start of a new political era, for publication two days after. In the dying hours of the Bush era, the nation’s capital is a jumble of small things, from the prized swearing-in tickets that prompted my boyfriend, Patrick, to do a victory dance, to the souvenirs being hawked everywhere. Shopping at Pentagon City, we encountered three young men festooned with Obama buttons, pleading with us to take a closer look. (I might have done so, but I was with Patrick.)

By the time you read this, the ”Bush’s Last Day” countdown clock in my desk at the U.S. Department of Labor will have run down to zero. Friday afternoon, I helped take down the photos of President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary Chao from our office wall. For years I sneered back at Cheney. I wonder if the new administration will continue the tradition of ubiquitous Glorious Leader photos.

Cleansing is the order of the day. Comedian Kate Clinton even organized a ”Saging the White House” ceremony for Jan. 19 at the Dupont Circle fountain, led by a shaman. Saging is a traditional Native-American cleansing ritual. Kateclinton.com explained, ”The legacy of George Bush is ‘Clean up on aisle 5′ so join us in a joyous symbolic spectacle of cleansing to ready the White House for its new occupants.”

The new season began auspiciously for me. Patrick arrived at Washington Reagan National Airport from Atlanta two days before the start of the 111th Congress, and sitting across from him was Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), civil-rights hero and marriage-equality supporter. As we waited at baggage claim, I thanked Lewis for co-sponsoring the Uniting American Families Act, and he expressed excitement at the changes that lie ahead.

Friday evening, when Patrick and I stopped in Annie’s Paramount Steak House for a drink, we were soon surrounded by men in leather. By some mystical convergence, the opening festivities for Barack Obama’s inauguration coincided not only with the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, but also with Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend. We spotted no bare backsides in chaps, however, thanks to the outdoor temperature being about 15 degrees.

When Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington Director Jeff Buhrman got a call on Jan. 9 inviting the chorus to sing at the Lincoln Memorial concert on Jan. 18, he was in San Antonio at the GALA Choruses Managers and Directors Retreat. His colleagues reacted joyously despite knowing how crazy it is to sing outdoors in freezing weather. At the concert, the chorus sang backup to Josh Groban and Heather Headley in ”My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” but (like many other performers) was not announced. Openly gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson gave a stirring invocation, which was omitted from the HBO broadcast.

Naturally, not everyone was feeling the love. Dr. Gary Cass of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission called the Inauguration ”the most perverted in our nation’s history” before it even happened. He was horrified that the Lesbian and Gay Band Association would be marching in the Inaugural parade ”with millions of our nation’s children watching.” You might wonder what moral corruption could be caused by Sousa marches and Beethoven’s ”Ode to Joy,” but the band’s repertoire included ”A Brand New Day” from The Wiz. Hearing a number like that could make people uppity.

There is always an opposition, of course, but some are in determined flight from reality. Many Republicans seem convinced that they lost because they weren’t extreme enough. That might keep the Democrats in power long enough to grow a spine. But those who encourage people to be proud of their ignorance have not disappeared. With false Obama rumors a growth industry, for example, it might be worth bookmarking www.snopes.com/politics/obama to refute the ”forged birth certificate” and other disinformation.

The world will little note nor long remember who went to which party or got into which color-coded security area. But even if Obama’s oath to defend the Constitution, and his words summoning the nation to join in common purpose, will also be forgotten, they are as big a moment as America has had in a long time. As Luther Vandross wrote in ”A Brand New Day,” ”Everybody look up, and feel the hope that we’ve been waiting for.” It really happened, right?

Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist whose work has appeared on Salon.com and the Independent Gay Forum, www.indegayforum.org. He can be reached at rrosendall@starpower.net.

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