And when Barack Obama was at last declared the victor, balloons fell, confetti flew, and we laughed and cried. For a man of my age (60), all of that giddiness can produce dire after-effects, especially when subverted by the shock of truly bad news.
The steady drumbeat of defeats in the ballot initiatives in Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, and California assaulted me once again with the enormity of prejudice. When I checked the California results at 3 a.m., black clouds covered my heart. I was certain that actual physical pain would greet me in the morning.
But it didn’t. Although I wasn’t as fresh as the first buds of spring, I felt, well, OK . . . considering. For one thing, the words of Winston Churchill played incessantly in my mind: “Never, never, never give up.” For another, I was uplifted by memories of successes in the Land of . . . Obama.
Five years ago, Char and I met Barack Obama at an Equality Illinois gala. He was running for the senate and roving through the crowd to shake hands. We talked for at least five minutes, and Char and I were impressed by his keen mind and palpable decency. I later met him again while I was lobbying for the Illinois “gay rights” bill, which covered gender identity as well as sexual orientation. Obama was a strong supporter of the bill.
For more than thirty years, Equality Illinois, PFLAG, and other organizations and individuals had worked tirelessly to pass that bill. By continually reaching across the aisle and appealing to the better angels of the people of Illinois, we finally succeeded in January 2005. Recognizing that a majority of Illinoisans wanted to end discrimination, Democratic representatives and senators were joined by many Republicans in voting for it.
From the pain, frustrations, and final success of that long campaign, I learned that such victories require patience, persistence, and broad-based support. Though we failed several times, we kept trying, and because of our work, the number of allies supporting us steadily grew. Later, we called upon these same allies to help us keep a marriage-inequality initiative off the ballot. Now, we have a civil unions bill close to passage.
So, am I devastated by our defeats in Arizona, Arkansas, California, and Florida? No, I’m disappointed. That’s all. How can I be depressed when I know we’ve exercised our muscles and built up larger and stronger numbers of supporters? Steadfastly placed on the right side of history, justice, and morality, we’ll ultimately prevail. Consider the power of having a president and Congress more committed to equality and supportive of our efforts to repeal "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" and pass a trans-inclusive ENDA. Consider the affirming words that will now come from Washington. Consider the power we have in this wonderful organization to compound those gains through Straight for Equality, our Safe Schools initiative, Welcoming Faith Communities, and our other programs. As we create a more positive cultural climate, more and more Americans will join us in moving equality forward.
Last Sunday at our local PFLAG chapter meeting, Bob Minor, who has written extensively about erasing homophobia, urged us to dream big dreams. According to Bob, big dreams are those which require more than a lifetime to achieve. Securing civil and cultural equality for LGBT individuals in America and throughout the world is a big dream.
Together, we’re dreaming that big dream for my son John, for your sons and daughters, for your family members and friends, and for all other LGBT people, and we’ll follow that dream until it is a reality.
My heart goes out to those of you who dreamed and worked so hard in Arizona, Arkansas, California, and Florida. As PFLAG board member Sam Thoron says, you need time to dry your tears, soothe your pain, and heal. You fought the good fight, and you’ll rise to fight again even more energetically and effectively. When I think about California and Sam and his wife Julia’s eloquent statement on marriage equality and their deeply moving television ad, and when I consider the monumental efforts of PFLAG chapter members and national staff, I know we have the talent, brains, and commitment we need to make our dream a reality. We didn’t win this time, but we’re coming closer and closer to victory.
Never, never, never give up. These words worked for Churchill, and they’ll work for us.
Dream big dreams.
- John R. Cepek
PFLAG National President