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And so but wow, what an amazing few years we’ve been through, right?
That sounds a bit flip — well, more than a bit — but it really is hard to quantify the emotions of what it feels like to win. After the “we love you but” years of the ’90’s when we were happy just to be nominated, followed by the “just say no” years of the ’00’s when we were happy just not to be shipped overseas, these can feel like strange days.
A year later and sometimes you can still excuse yourself for needing to be pinched to remember that the Supreme Court actually overturned the key part of the Defense of Marriage Act and we suddenly have states like Kentucky — Kentucky! — finding legal cause to allow some same-sex marriages. Plus, gay, lesbian and bisexual soldiers are working across the globe and Armageddon has declined to come.
The arc of justice for gay people took a sudden curve for the better. Which means many wonder: Now that we’ve won, what else is there to do?
To state the obvious, we haven’t won yet. There remain a number of things on the infamous “gay agenda” that we have not yet achieved, not the least of which is the final, nationwide victory on marriage equality. We still have to guarantee that LGBT people can work without fear of being fired for who they are. We have far too much to do simply teaching Americans what it means to be transgender, let alone conquer their hostility.
We’re getting there, in ways that have defied the expectations of both us and those who’ve fought so hard against us. Really, who hasn’t wished that Jesse Helms’s still-bitter heart were still beating so he could see this moment in history?
But it’s not a time for triumphalism, nor is it a time for apathy. While we may find growing and broad acceptance more quickly than we could have imagined, our nation’s history shows that even a great change is never absolute. We’ve long been a country that proclaims racial harmony while harboring pockets of racism that influence and harm the lives of others.
The same will be true for LGBT people. The path for those who hold deep-seated opposition and hate for us will be long and difficult.
And it won’t be easy for us. Where our nation’s racial and ethnic minorities are almost guaranteed to grow up in families and close communities who share their status, as LGBT people we are almost guaranteed not to. It’s the thing that makes us unique and will continue to do so for decades.
That’s why I decided to move forward with the Next Generation Leadership Foundation. We need to create the space for success for all LGBT young people, regardless of their race or religion or income or region. We need to provide the networks and mentors and experience that they’re not guaranteed to find on their own.
My dream isn’t to hold up the specter of discrimination and inequality as inevitable. As others more famous than I have said, it gets better. That simple phrase resonates because its true — but it’s true because we as a community make it true. My dream is to build on the success that has given me a life I never conceived to give young LGBT people the life they deserve.
Next week as we celebrate the sixth annual Next Generation Awards, honoring four outstanding LGBT leaders under 30, I hope you’ll join us.
The sixth annual Next Generation Awards, presented by Metro Weekly, will be presented on Friday, May 16, at Beacon Bar & Grill, at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are available for a $20 donation at NGLF.org. Donations are tax deductible. The Next Generation Award winners will be announced in the May 15 issue of Metro Weekly.
Sean Bugg is the president and executive director of the Next Generation Leadership Foundation, as well as editor emeritus of Metro Weekly.