This month Laura (aka Ledcat) and I celebrate 11 years of togetherness. Like many LGBTQ couples who (until recently) had no access to marriage, we've used our first date as our anniversary. Thanks to smart planning on my part, we moved in together almost two years to the day later. This minimizes anniversary dilemmas.
A few weeks ago Ledcat made the mistake of washing (and drying) her wallet. She was unhappy that the wallet itself didn't survive, but even more so that she lost what she termed "small papers that were important to me." I know that's a bummer, so I helped her piece things together the best that we could. I was putting some of that laundry load away when I found a partial piece of a business card.
When I flipped it over, I saw my own handwriting with the address and phone number from the place where I was living when we met. I'd given that card to her the second time that we met. Our "meet cute" story was very lesbian. I wrote about it last year.
She had kept my "digits" in her wallet for 11 years.
Eleven years. She'd slid that wallet into her pocket and opened and closed it more than 4,000 times knowing that this small piece of our story was tucked inside. I had no idea she'd done that. I knew she kept actual cards and other memorabilia, but to be so close to her heart every single day? Wow, that just took my breath away.
She takes my breath away.
I don't have any such memorabilia, but I've tried to capture so many moments here on my blog with photos and stories and fragments of our adventures. I do that because our love story is much like yours, but also unique. And her willingness to let me share our story is another gift, another way to help build a better tomorrow for young LGBTQ folks whose stories might hopefully reflect more mundane details and less harassment and intolerance.
But make no mistake: Our love story is bound up in our shared experience of oppression as much as in the privileges and gifts. This past week we had dinner with someone who tracks right-wing hate groups and spent hours discussing everything from protests at Pridefest to how Lyft/Uber might fit into the nullification movement. That's a weird thing to find exciting, but it is both intellectually stimulating and hopeful to know that at least someone is on our side.
Even this anniversary is ensnared by the chaotic march toward equality. Questions abound as to when or if we'll get married. But when I try to explain why it is not that simple a decision, I'm shut down, ignored and dismissed, my own story -- our own lives -- dismissed because it doesn't fit the narrative of marriage-equality victory.
Even after negotiating 11 years as a same-sex couple in political and legal structures that disregarded our relationship, we are not deemed qualified to have input into the process of navigating those same systems with partial equality. Rich Fitzgerald's inexplicable choice to eliminate domestic-partner recognition in Allegheny County about five weeks after the Pennsylvania marriage-equality decision, although "softened" with an extension, reflects this deep misunderstanding of equality.
The harsh reality is that those in authority will take advice from "quietly gay" white male employees over the lived experiences of people bold and courageous enough to be out. Perhaps they should be asking themselves, "Why are my employees unwilling to be out in my administration?" and take it from there. They aren't inherently bad people or even inherently cowardly people, but they aren't reflective of the lived experiences of people like me, like us. With a decent public employee paycheck and a good benefits package, they also aren't reflective of the average LGBTQ person in this region, especially those who live in an area without nondiscrimination protections.
I wish I had confidence that the City and County administrations had solid, informed input on best practices on municipal equality so that they could make decisions about things like employee benefits with solid information rather than opinions. While I appreciate that the Human Relations Commission weighed in, that's not the same thing.
Ledcat still has my number, so she is fully aware that I would turn this simple tale of a symbol of love into an activist cry for justice and fairness.
Just like you don't want your employer telling you whether or not you can use birth control, I don't want Laura's employer telling us when we are equal enough to get married. That's not their decision. I'd rather that they invest their time and energy into creating more municipal equality to support us as employees and residents. I understand that benefits are their prerogative, but I also know that without the participation of openly LGBTQ people in decision-making and leadership roles, the City and County will always be at a disadvantage. That's an entire chunk of the Richard Florida cosmology, after all -- LGBTQ people, not "quietly gay" white men. What's the point of a creative class that is discreet and quiet and unobtrusive, after all? That's like a season of Bewitched with all Darrin and no Uncle Arthur.
Ledcat is an openly LGBTQ employee, as are many other smart, competent folks. I can give you their numbers if you want to get some informed input.
The chips will fall where they may. After 11 years I'm surprised that we have marriage equality. I'm just more surprised that we stand to lose the municipal equality that we had 11 years ago. That's not really progress. But then again, no one promised that equality would be a smooth path, or that we'd all arrive together.