Op-Ed: 50 States, One Community

What prompted me to write “Our Gay History in 50 States”? To answer that, it’s important to know the context of the times.

California’s Proposition 8 passed in 2008 defining marriage as between “one man and one woman.” In 2012, Minnesota voters defeated Amendment 1, which would have banned same-sex marriage, by a four-point margin. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court, in United States v. Windsor, struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, ruling that legally married same-sex couples were entitled to federal benefits and to marry in all states. Local tensions fired up at the 2017 St. Patrick’s Day parade in Boston due to its exclusion of LGBTQ+ folx. 

These acts of defiance, protests, and shifts in policy framed the lens through which I started to conceive of this book.

On road trips from California back to Minnesota, crossing state line after state line, I began to reflect on what relevance each state had to LGBTQ+ history. In Wyoming, I immediately thought of Matthew Shepard. I tried to find the location where he was tortured, tied to a fence, and left for dead so I could lay flowers there in his honor, but the information wasn’t readily available. I thought to myself, “There should be a road trip guide for LGBTQ+ folks to significant places relating to our history.”

Fast-forward to November 2017. I spoke at Quorum’s National Coming Out Day luncheon alongside Judy Shepard. I was taken aback when Judy echoed some of my sentiments in her speech that the LGBTQ+ community needed to end the infighting and come together as one. I realized that she was speaking on the 19th anniversary of her last few days with her son, Matthew. I was heartbroken and knew that whatever I was doing wasn’t enough, given what Judy and Dennis Shepard were doing and going through for our community. Within weeks, I had a publisher and was writing the book. Judy even wrote the foreword.

During the writing process, I learned that our history stretches back to before our country’s founding. I began to see why it is hard for those who didn’t live through the AIDS crisis to fully understand its impact on our community. I was shocked to learn that the sheer number of transgender women of color who have been murdered is far greater than I’d ever imagined. My hope is that every reader finds at least one entry within the book that they can personally identify with. I want kids in rural states and counties to know that people from their neck of the woods have also contributed to our community’s history. 

If this book gives one young person hope, encourages one family to accept their child for who they are, or encourages one parent not to throw their child onto the street, I’ll feel this project was worthwhile.