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Donna Red Wing Headshot

From Both Sides Now

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Last week, I had the privilege of traveling across Western Iowa for a tour with the entire One Iowa staff and YouTube sensation Zach Wahls. We hit the road for our Why Marriage Matters tour to talk about the importance of Iowa's marriage equality law to families like Zach's and to engage in the meaningful conversations that really move this issue forward.

In just four days we heard incredible stories from gay and lesbian couples, from parents of LGBT children, from transgender Iowans, from clergy, and even from Evangelical Christians. And for the most part the feedback has been positive. We're hearing what we knew all along -- that bringing Zach's message of "love makes a family" to homes and churches and town halls is incredibly powerful.

We have also heard from some folks that showcasing Zach as an ally shouldn't be our priority -- that we need to be bringing the voices of LGBT people forward instead. I disagree and I think it's important to address this. I have been fighting for LGBT equality for nearly three decades and this issue has always come up. What do we do with our allies? What role should they play?

The battle for visibility is an important part of our history. In the '70s, '80s and even the '90s, we needed to put a face to what it meant to be gay men and lesbians or a person living with HIV and AIDS; lesbians, gay men, transgender people and bisexual men and women came out to prove that our community did exist and that this claim by some that "they didn't know any gay people" was simply not true. We needed to show Americans that we were a community of individuals who lived in their neighborhoods, shopped in the local grocery store and worshiped in churches and temples. We stood with pride and said, "This is who I am!"

We have come a long way. LGBT equality is now a major political issue, and polling shows that more Americans support marriage for gay and lesbian couples than oppose it. Equality is a major party platform for the Democrats, we have high-ranking Republicans standing up in support of marriage, we have celebrities advocating against bullying, and we have hit TV shows featuring LGBT families. There are laws in some states that protect against employment discrimination, and we have marriage equality in Iowa -- in Iowa!

In this struggle, we have never been alone. We have made it this far because we have stood up and refused to be silenced, and because we have had our allied friends, family, and neighbors stand with us.

We have heroes in this movement who are the faces of LGBT equality -- but we also have Judy Shepard, President Obama, Lady Gaga, Colin Powell, Anne Hathaway, Zach Wahls, Judith Light and countless other allies who have had the courage to stand with us and who can begin to reach audiences we haven't yet touched.

Without the help of parents, friends, neighbors, coworkers, fellow congregants and complete strangers, I cannot even begin to imagine how far behind we would be in this struggle.

In 1972, three years after Stonewall, Jeanne Manford marched with her son Morty in New York's Christopher Street Liberation Day parade. That sparked a chain of events -- parents and friends of LGBT people began meeting in homes and churches and in safe spaces to talk about their children and how they could work towards the day when their children would be treated with respect. Today, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) is one of the most important advocacy and public education groups out there fighting for full equality. What could be more powerful than a mother fighting for her child?

My friend Marge Work-Lunan, celebrating her 91st birthday this month, was one of PFLAG's pioneers who fought our opposition in Oregon and helped to start the PFLAG chapter in Independence, Iowa. She stood with me as we fought anti-equality legislation and elections, violence, and harassment in the early '90s. I realized then, as I do now, the extraordinary worth of our friends and families.

Let me be clear. I am not downplaying the voices of our LGBT community, of my community. I have mourned the deaths of those murdered in this movement. I have watched mothers bury their children. My family has been the focus of attacks by white supremacists and neo-Nazis. I have stood against radically conservative mega-church leaders who called for our annihilation and policy-makers who tried to erase us in their legislation. I know what kind of courage is at play in the LGBT communities.

I also know in my heart that we would never be where we are without our straight friends. Some of them serve on our Board of Directors, others on our staff. We have volunteers who come in after work to make phone calls and to stuff envelopes. And we have donors who invest in equality for all. We are truly One Iowa.

It is our PFLAG Moms and Dads, and it is young allies who bring a voice to the struggle that cannot be ignored. They walk through doors that I cannot open. When they talk about why equality matters, their voices resonate in a way that mine cannot. And it is with great respect and with great pride that I invite them into our work, into our lives and into our movement. Thank you Zach Wahls. Thank you Marge Work-Lunan. Thank you to the staff and board and volunteers at One Iowa who are allies and colleagues.

Thank you.