As a child, I remember hearing and watching stories about love. A man and a woman would fall in love. They get married. They live happily ever after. Though a lot of us hear these sorts of stories when we're young, I never believed it could happen to me. Men didn't marry other men. Gay men didn't live happily ever after.
About a year ago, I logged into my Facebook and saw the news.
The Supreme Court had ruled that it would be unconstitutional to deny gay couples the right to marry. I wish I could tell you that this was some big, dramatic moment for me and my community. It wasn't. This decision came after decades of the gay community organizing countless efforts to protect our rights.
The night that I marched to celebrate Obama's 2008 victory was the same night that I learned my state (California) had rejected a proposal to legalize same-sex marriage. A mere eight years ago, one of the most liberal states in the US couldn't bring themselves to extend full recognition under the law to me and my family. We fought many battles and tasted defeat more times than we won. By the time we heard the news, we were tired and ready for it all to be over.
There was a struggle that had been brewing in the gay community for quite some time; a struggle that I had thought a lot about.
I'm not just a gay man. I'm a gay man married to a transgender man.
Photo: Biff Chaplow
We were afraid that our transgender brothers and sisters, who had fought by our side for years, would be left in the dust. We were afraid that their struggle would be forgotten. People told us we were crazy. That transgender issues would naturally get taken care of. Sadly, recent history provides evidence of the transgender community being forgotten.
Transgender people were often left out of the "gay narrative" in an effort to make the gay rights movement more palatable to the public. It's only been recently that we've seen actual transgender people in the media. See, decades before the Supreme Court's ruling, gay men like me had hit shows like Will and Grace. Those shows, of course, were only willing to portray a very limited part of the LGBT community — white gay men. As the tide started to change, we saw that people were willing to accept gays and lesbians, but their acceptance often did not extend to transgender people. This was very scary for me and my family because it meant that the liberation we and our ancestors had fought for might be limited, and may not affect as many people as we had hoped.
A year after the historic ruling, I'm happy to report that my fears have simply not come true.
That ruling became a stepping stone towards liberation for all types of people. In the past few years, we've seen people like Laverne Coxrise to fame and draw attention to the struggle of transgender women of color. The recent rise in anti-transgender "bathroom bills" has not been met with acceptance; rather, we've seen leaders across the political and business world condemn them. The Attorney General of the United States, Loretta Lynch, recently gave a speech in which she spoke directly to the transgender community and promised them the protection of the United States government.
The achievement of gay marriage was not a nail in the coffin, but rather a foot in the door.
However, while these are amazing times we are living in, many people in the transgender community continue to face hardships that they should never have to face. Their lives are difficult and they are not safe. Transgender women of color are murdered every month in this country, with impunity. Murdered. Personally, I still feel afraid for my partner when we're at the doctor or traveling. I'm still afraid that one day we might come across the wrong people and we will not be safe. We've got a long way to go, but that doesn't mean we haven't come a great distance. Our culture is talking about these issues. We are working to get others to understand these issues. Most importantly, we did not forget the struggles of our communities, and all we've been through. We set the stage for progress.
As I write this, I am sitting in my house enjoying the silence as my children sleep. I am legally married to the man I love, and we care for children who are legally ours. The Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling has given my family safety. I have medical insurance through my husband. Our tax burden is lessened. Our kids will not be taken away should something happen to one of us.
These freedoms are not to be taken lightly. They are serious, real privileges now afforded to many. The gay marriage ruling was not only a victory, but also a cultural marker pointing us to the larger issue of equality and liberation for all people. Let us not forget the monumental achievement that was gay marriage.
And let us not forget the people still living in struggle.
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Biff Chaplow is a social justice activist and stay-at-home parent. Check out more of his work at biffandi.com.
Photos courtesy of Biff Chaplow.