As much as I tell myself that it doesn’t matter what others think of me, seeing the Supreme Court join President Obama and a majority of Americans in supporting gay peoples’ right to marry had me trembling and near tears. When I came out, as a 15-year-old in Texas, I never dreamed that one day I would be able to legally marry a man I loved and that our marriage would be recognized by the federal government.
I am nowhere close to marrying, but seeing the Supreme Court announce decisions yesterday overturning a key piece of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and restoring marriage to California was an incredibly emotional moment that only those of us who have been excluded from America’s full promise can understand. I know that we have a long way to go before we reach full equality for LGBT people, but we moved a big step forward yesterday that shows it really does get better.
It’s a good thing, too, because when I came out at 15, telling my family that I was gay didn’t go so well.
We had attended the same black Baptist church in Houston since before I was born. The church had a tremendous impact on our lives and shaped many of the views my family had. As with many black churches, there was a “don’t ask, don’t tell, but we will condemn you from the pulpit” kind of mentality about gay people. My father, who continues to be an evangelical Christian, believes that LGBT people are condemned to hell because of our “lifestyle.” My mother, who died seven years ago, was suspicious that I was a little “funny” before I came out and had no idea how to deal with it.
My coming out and my parents’ reaction made a tense situation even worse. Simple disagreements became shouting matches that ended with me angry, confused and hating myself. The one saving grace in my family was my grandmother. Also a committed Christian, she was the one person who didn’t judge me, even if she didn’t understand me.
When the situation with my parents became unbearable, I went to live with my grandmother, and that made all the difference in the world. It would be dishonest to say that all of my problems disappeared, but living with her did give me a place where, for once, I felt safe as a scared gay kid. I didn’t feel like I was being judged or blamed for being who I was.
My grandmother is 94 years old now, and her support and love for me has only grown. As states began to legalize marriage between gay couples, her most frequently asked question went from “Are you eating enough?” to “When are you going to get married?”
The Supreme Court’s decisions yesterday were a big step forward, but we have a lot of work to do before we have the freedom to marry nationwide. Gay couples can marry in only 13 states and the District of Columbia, and while the Defense of Marriage Act has been seriously crippled, it has not been completely repealed. That is among the work we must do now.
So as I celebrate the Supreme Court decisions and LGBT Pride Month, I will be celebrating what we are accomplishing to make life better for future generations of LGBT kids so they never have to know a time when they were not considered full and equal citizens.
Looking back on the scared gay kid I once was, I can’t believe that I’ve grown up to be the proud gay man that I am. Back then, I never would have dreamed that I would see full equality for LGBT people in my lifetime. Now, I do.
Michael Crawford leads digital strategy at Freedom to Marry, the campaign to win marriage nationwide. He has a wide range of experience in political advocacy, digital media, and grassroots organizing. He led the successful campaign to win marriage in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter at @dmcrawford.