It's been almost 11 years since I packed up my car, cashed my last paycheck from the Tulsa World and set off to Boston for a new life and a fresh perspective. I had met my very first girlfriend, Barrett, in Tulsa, where I was working as a cub reporter, trying to get over the fact that I was this irreversible thing called "lesbian" and scrambling between the closet and the clubs -- the only places that accepted me. Barrett, a college student in New Hampshire who was open to possibility, accepting of her orientation and filled with optimism about the future had changed my life.
But so did my second girlfriend -- the antithesis of the first.
Carrie and I met in Provincetown on Labor Day weekend in 1999. She had ditched her friends mid-Cape to hang out at a lesbian club, to explore the possibility that she was gay. We started clandestinely dating not too long afterward, but Carrie had come to the conclusion that she could never "come out" and be open about her homosexuality. The only daughter of a rigorously Catholic family in Western Massachusetts, she felt she had no choice but to live up to their expectations of her as a daughter, a sister and an upstanding member of society.
Carrie turned me into a fighter.
If Carrie would refuse to be openly gay, I would be openly gay for the both of us. I started freelance writing for an LGBT newspaper; I put her picture on my desk at work; I told office colleagues, friends and sometimes casual acquaintances about our weekends together; and I coaxed her into coming within a block of the Boston Gay Pride parade in June of 2000, where I snapped a picture: Carrie leaning up against a doorway, arms crossed, coolly looking out on the crowd, a mixture of wonder and disdain in her crooked smile.
Carrie and I have since long parted -- she's married to a woman now, with twins born late last year. In no way can I take credit for her gradual acceptance; that's a job for each and every one of us to do in our own time. However, I will give myself credit for taking up arms in the daily battle to win not just tolerance, but acceptance in a climate that has shifted from stares on the streets while I hold hands with whomever I'm dating, to nods of recognition -- and even an occasional "thumbs up" sign -- by passers-by.
On Friday night, I inadvertently wandered into The Stonewall Inn for a Pride party and stayed as the bar filled with one person after another, eyes glued to the television set to watch the New York State Senate pass gay marriage into law. Despite my typically cynical nature, I cheered with the others, high-fived, hugged and thanked all the people who had been in Albany for the past two weeks advocating and pushing this legislation through, holding Governor Andrew Cuomo accountable to his campaign promise.
I gave myself a pat on the back, as well. As New York Times reporter Frank Bruni so eloquently wrote in his op-ed "To Know Us Is to Let Us Love" on Saturday, "an even bigger reason (for marriage support) is how common it now is for Americans to realize that they know and love people who are gay."
Chronicling the prominent Republicans, including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser and donor Paul E. Singer, who spoke in favor of gay marriage in the past week, Bruni wrote, "To reckon with the gay people right in front of you is to re-examine your qualms."
Barrett, my first girlfriend, helped me realize this years ago, and Carrie only reinforced it. I have long believed the theater has shifted from the streets to our inner sanctums -- the places where it is the most difficult to come forward and say, "this is who I am and this is the person I love." A 2010 CBS News poll found that 77 percent of Americans now say they know someone who is gay or lesbian -- an increase of 35 percentage points since 1992, when a majority of Americans said they did not. And more than six in 10 Americans say they have a close friend, work colleague or relative who is gay or lesbian.
The past two weeks have marked a momentous step forward for LGBT people. Not only did New York enact same-sex marriage, but also the United Nations adopted the Resolution on the Human Rights of Gay Persons, which set an internationally backed standard against the discrimination of LGBT people and begins the discussion of protecting them from repression and violence across the globe.
As the activist groups have pointed out, marriage is just another step toward full equality, however. We still have 44 states to go. The immigration bill now before the U.S. Senate must include protections for bi-national couples -- as it stands, gay marriage does not prevent a foreign same-sex partner from facing deportation. Finally, politicians, such as Barack Obama, who swept into office with a mandate from the people, have not adjusted that mandate to reflect the growing number of constituents who are LGBT.
This is now a call for LGBT New Yorkers to put their wedding pictures on their desks, on their mantles, and in their iPhones, Facebook profiles and wallets. Two weeks ago, we could coolly look at the other states marching forward with gay civil rights, but we're all foot soldiers in the campaign for full equality now.