In 2005 I met former executive director at Marriage Equality New York (MENY) and current co-president of Marriage Equality USA (MEUSA), Cathy Marino-Thomas and her beautiful wife Sheila at loveandpride.com's opening ceremony. In front of a large crowd, they exchanged wedding vows affirming their love and commitment to one another. I thought: this woman really knows how to make an entrance. Since then we've developed our relationship into a beautiful friendship that's also a powerful partnership advocating for marriage equality.
loveandpride's launch coincided with MENY's rise beyond New York politics and into the national arena. Cathy's and my mutual admiration led us to join forces and fight for what I believe is the main civil rights issue of our generation -- full LGBT equality.
In loveandpride's short history, we've been consistently active in fighting for the community on all fronts -- designing special jewelry pieces to raise awareness about LGBT discrimination in our military, the dangers of bullying, and replacing hate with tolerance -- and coordinating them with media-friendly stunts to maximize attention.
Our newest endeavor is a special Marriage Equality Pendant I designed specifically to represent MEUSA, and the struggle and beauty of our fight for equality. Two matching dog tags symbolize both our victory over Don't Ask Don't Tell, and how it takes two halves to make something whole. Couples can choose to engrave and share the tags between themselves. I designed the pendant to be simple, so it would appeal to different tastes. And, I made sure it was affordable too, so as many people as want to proudly wear it can.
The best part is: all proceeds go directly to MEUSA. One hundred percent. I'm making no money on it, and I only hope it raises a huge pile of cash for MEUSA. Let's face it -- besides hard workers, great volunteers and influential supporters, money is an essential ingredient for MEUSA to keep doing their vital work, helping overturn discriminatory anti-marriage laws in many states and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and promoting marriage equality at every level of government.
But there's another level to it, too -- one that gets me really excited to think about. If the pendant really catches on, and it becomes ubiquitous -- think of the effect that could have on the majority of straight people for whom marriage equality still isn't on their radar yet. I'm not talking about the haters, but the great many people in the middle. Imagine someone sees the pendant on the person sitting across from them on the subway. Twenty minutes later they notice it around the barista serving their latte at Starbucks. There it is again on the person right next to them in the elevator up to the office. Sooner or later, curiosity will get the best of that person, and they'll have to blurt out -- What the heck IS that thing, I've been seeing it everywhere all of a sudden!
I envision a powerful way for people who care about marriage equality to visibly display their support to friends, family and probably most importantly, strangers -- -in an election season, no less. This has the power to spark conversations, change minds -- and if enough people begin wearing it -- I believe it could really accelerate momentum towards marriage equality for everyone. Isn't that exciting?
Last month loveandpride held an event in THE OUT NYC, New York's new straight-friendly urban resort, to launch the Marriage Equality Pendant. There was one question every media outlet who interviewed me there asked: WHY? Why -- as a straight, married man with two children -- do you care so much about the LGBT community -- raising both money and awareness? WHY?
I decided to write my list of "whys" to put the issue to rest once and for all:
(WHY) Because I care... (WHY) Because I want to...(WHY) Because I believe in love... (WHY) Because I can... (WHY) Because it's wrong to deny human rights to anybody... (WHY) Because it's unjust... (WHY) Because it's important... (WHY) Because I have friends and family that are a part of the LGBT community... (WHY) Because it's the right thing to do... (WHY) Because it's important to me that my children learn about love and equality and protecting the rights of the minority... (WHY) Because it raises money, which LGBT groups need to manifest change in this country...(WHY) Because I believe I can reach out beyond the LGBT community to help.
I like to call myself the "F" in LGBTF -- for "Friends & Family" of the community. Only by reaching outside of the LGBT community to build more straight allies will we grow large enough and become strong enough to win this fight.
All the time, I find people questioning my motives because this struggle doesn't have a "direct effect" on me. I completely disagree with that statement. It does so have a direct effect on me. This is the world that I live in and raise my children in. I share experiences with and interact with people from all walks of life. When anyone is denied their right, I feel it, I see it, and I live it. Inequality is simply not an option.
Follow Udi Behr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/_LoveAndPride