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Memories are the sorts of things that get easily tangled with the passage of time. Over the past few years, I’ve spent more time going over some of the bigger memories of my own past with my sister and mother and other family members because I’ve found that some things that I recall with such clarity are actually dimmer than I thought in hindsight.
These are generally harmless enough in and of themselves — the world doesn’t hinge on the fact that I forgot my sister was with me the day I accidentally let my uncle’s cattle escape into the cornfields. Either way, a lot of my family spent an entire day flushing cows out of corn rows.
But it does point to the fact that memory is imperfect, which makes attention to the memories of many different people of great importance if we hope to understand our own history. Telling the stories of our own lives and, just as importantly, listening to the stories of others makes it easier for our history to influence our future. It’s one of the reasons I’m glad we’ve focused so much at Metro Weekly on long-form interviews with the people who make up our community. It’s part of the record of our lives.
This is one of the reasons that, with LGBT History Month just around the corner in October, I’ve been proud to publish Chris Geidner’s multi-part history of the Defense of Marriage Act coinciding with the 15th anniversary of the federal law that sought to ”protect” marriage by defining our relationships out of existence. The final installment this week covers what seemed at the time to be an unavoidable end-game as Republicans in Congress drove a wedge between the gay community and the White House as President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law.
So many of our current efforts at LGBT equality are focused on the aftermath of the 1990s: the passage of DOMA; the enshrinement of ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” into law; the failure by a single vote to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). After much nail-biting political drama, we’ve finally seen the repeal of DADT. The Obama administration has now declared the heart of DOMA to be unconstitutional, declining to defend it in court even as legal challenges to the laws barring same-sex marriage mount in number and persuasiveness.
Only ENDA, now stalled in a hostile Congress, seems unlikely to make progress soon, which makes that near-passage of it 15 years ago all the more frustrating. Yet even if it had passed then, it wouldn’t have included protections for transgender workers — another reason why it pays to consider our history through more than our own personal lens.
It’s important to document and remember how we got here. Not because we simply have to pass along the stories to younger generations who weren’t there to experience it, even if that should be one of the paramount goals of our shared LGBT culture. It’s important because all the clichés about self-knowledge and history happen to be true. You can’t understand where you are if you don’t know where you come from. If you don’t learn why things have failed in the past, you are more likely to repeat those same failures.
We need to know our past in order to reach our future.