Thirty years ago, a group of LGBT individuals formed what is now known as the Arlington Gay & Lesbian Alliance (AGLA). At first, most AGLA gatherings took place in members' homes, and some of its founders tell stories of how they would park several blocks away so as to not be identified as attending a "gay event."
But 30 years later AGLA is a visible fixture in Arlington.
This year marks not only the 30th anniversary of our alliance, but also the 20th anniversary of our tri-partite mission – social activities, community service and nonpartisan political activities – and the 10th anniversary of the AGLA scholarship.
Five years ago, when I moved here from Jefferson City, Mo., I had only been completely out of the closet for about four years. I had served as president of the Mid-Missouri LGBT Coalition and as chair of Mid-Missouri PrideFest, so I was not a virgin to LGBT activism. When I landed in Arlington I started exploring the area and came across Freddie's Beach Bar & Restaurant in Crystal City, where I met Cheryl Spector. Cheryl was taken from our community far too soon, but I was blessed to know her. She encouraged me to get involved in AGLA, and I am thankful for her encouragement.
In Missouri, I found myself in an area where few organizations or individuals were on the front lines fighting for equality. In Arlington, we are blessed to live in an overwhelmingly supportive community with numerous elected officials, organizations, businesses and neighbors who are champions of equality. However, things were not always like this, and we have even more progress to make.
Now in my fourth term as president of AGLA, I have an even greater appreciation for AGLA's role in making Arlington what it is. Our long-standing commitment to providing a variety of safe and fun social events, conducting community service activities alongside our straight Arlington neighbors, and providing nonpartisan political awareness has helped to move us closer to our ultimate goal of full equality.
Among AGLA's many accomplishments is its work in the early 1990s that led to the Arlington County Board adding enforceable prohibitions against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Since then, AGLA has continued its work by supporting anti-bullying efforts and providing scholarships to Arlington high school seniors with a demonstrated commitment to diversity and equality.
Over the years, AGLA has given much back to the Arlington community and it will continue to do so until equality for all is a reality and not just a goal. Just as AGLA has worked in the past to help establish similar organizations in other counties, we as a community must continue to work to advance equality throughout the commonwealth.
For me, AGLA and its mission are a labor of love. Having grown up in a relatively conservative part of our nation as the son of a Southern Baptist deacon, I spent my early years wondering if I would ever be fully loved or accepted. Thanks to the hard work of equality activists who have paved the way thus far, I live in a great community and enjoy a greater level of equality than those who worked for my rights. As things have turned out, my family is supportive and in Arlington I met the love of my life. Together Patrick and I serve on the board of AGLA to give back to the community that has given so much to us.
Daniel L. Hays is local activist and president of the Arlington Gay & Lesbian Alliance. He can be reached at email@example.com.