The most influential figure in my young life was a prairie-born woman named Jenny Fern Jenson. "Fernie," as we called her, played the role of my grandmother in the tiny, official ghost town of Myton, Utah, where her little white house hosted "the ladies." They were Fernie's best friends "from town," who would drive for upwards of an hour from their own neighboring cities to taste Fernie's homemade rolls and play bridge.
As a young gay boy watching the parade of ladies and hand-sewn table cloths placed perfectly every Wednesday for 15 years, I learned a social grace so many young people are forgetting: the grace of saying "thank you." More than once during my upbringing Fernie would shake her finger at me, saying, "Don't you dare let more than a week pass after a kindness has been extended you, little man, before you send a proper thank-you note." Sure enough, not more than seven days passed after each of Fernie's bridge parties than we would see neatly written and sealed thank-you notes arrive at box 193 in Myton, Utah, addressed to my grandma.
Today we mark one week since one of the greatest and kindest social movements our world has seen in decades bore the great fruits of freedom and equality. One week ago today, DOMA heard its death knell, and Proposition 8 died forever. And in the week since that morning, when I lay in bed with my three kids and my partner of nearly a decade to hear the Supreme Court's findings, I have been full of gratitude. Today, following the good graces of Fernie, I pen my thank-you note.
While I could fill pages and pages with names of those I've seen fight for equality, I'd like to focus my gratitude on my friend Dustin Lance Black. The reason I send thanks his way is that he's been a humble and gracious symbol of the thousands who deserve my thanks at this point in history. In thanking him, I'm thanking those he often acts for in proxy.
Lance and I got to know each other during the making of our 2010 Sundance documentary 8: The Mormon Propo$ition. I was just a local TV reporter in Miami armed with insider documents proving the Mormon Church's historic anti-gay crusade during Proposition 8 and other measures like it. He was a lofty Oscar winner whose call I never expected to receive after I asked him to narrate the film. But he did return the call. And he had a much larger role in the completion and direction and writing of 8TMP than he's ever gotten credit for.
Not accepting or asking for as much as a penny, Lance attended to our little fast-tracked documentary with words, flights and late-night phone calls, guiding the process every step of the way. The film was on deadline for delivery to Sundance, so Lance slept on a cot while my co-director Steven Greenstreet cut and recut the film. In those days, Lance the Oscar winner ate out of Styrofoam containers and ended up in an Instacare waiting room with a raging fever.
When our film premiered at Sundance, it was welcomed with sold-out audiences, standing ovations and extended runs. Thousands got a voice and, yes, some vindication. But that January, as the lightbulbs flashed and the cameras rolled, Dustin Lance Black sat quietly in the audience, asking for no acclaim. No credit. His reward was knowing that the exposure the film brought to the issue and the considerable blowback from thousands of protesters and equality warriors' pleadings would result in arguably the single largest opponent to gay rights and marriage equality, the Mormon Church, pulling its money and missionaries out of the anti-LGBT fight. History will show that that was a major part of what worked.
While many are skeptical that Mormons (my own faith community) will ever completely back away from influencing anti-LGBT strivings entirely, I have it on good and high authority that the inflow of millions of dollars for fighting LGBT people's rights evaporated within only months of the blowback that came from the knowledge of Mormon involvement in this historic political effort. I didn't do that. Lance and the scores of people he inspires did that. And he did it in the name of the young people he spoke of in his Oscar acceptance speech for Milk.
In the years after our Sundance whirlwind, I've watched Lance quietly stand behind other herculean equality fights, never taking credit, never revealing his considerable influence in the AFER court action that bore the fruit of equality last week. I've watched him criss-cross the globe to countless rallies, speaking events and stage plays in a culture conversion of sorts, holding up the stories of LGBT citizens with an eye to humanizing the plight of people like me. Finally, last week, when Rachel Maddow dedicated her show to the marriages of the Prop. 8 plaintiffs, Lance could be seen along with his other humble partners of the AFER and HRC army standing in the background, smiling.
I know he doesn't need my thanks, and I know he doesn't even want it. I'm still the humble journalist, and he's still the Hollywood A-lister. But in the name of the young people he speaks of in his stirring speeches, I say thank you, Mr. Black. You are the model of what all good, humble foot soldiers for a more decent world must become if we are to have a kind existence on this planet.
And Fernie would be really pissed off if I let more than a week pass without thanking you and those like you -- for your kindness.
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