Thursday, November 6, 2008

Dream Big Dreams: A Message from John Cepek

I thought I’d wake up with a hangover the morning after election day. (No, I didn’t drink much at Sidetrack, Chicago’s preeminent gay bar, where Char and I followed the election returns with supporters of Equality Illinois and hundreds of residents of “Boys Town,” but the atmosphere was heady as cheers arose every time CNN called another state for the president-elect, who is a longtime friend of the LGBT community.)

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


Cyndi Richards said...


It was truly a pleasure to share the election night insanity with you, the always lovely Char, and your very cool son at Sidetrack (we love those guys!), and I can personally vouch for your commendable moderation in the beverage department.

I should be so temperate. TEE-HEE

Your point about "big dreams" is well taken.

As a fairly active trans-woman in the pursuit of equal (NOT special) rights, I would submit that PFLAG and the entire LGBT community would be well-served by confining their expectations to the reality of what predictably lies ahead for the "new and improved" Obama administration.

If we don't expect too much, too fast, we won't be too let down.

With the as-yet unendingly futile occupation of the mid-east, our national economy in such dire straits, and our world image at an all-time low, it is painfully clear that our attention-deficit affected Congress will have quite a few "bigger fish to fry" before any serious (keyword) attention will be paid to our long-unheeded pleas for a trans-inclusive ENDA, federally sanctioned same-sex unions, etc.

It could be argued that fine organizations like PFLAG, as well as my own state group, Illinois Gender Advocates, and others like us, must learn the very real value of pragmatism and patience (not necessarily in that order), and fervently practice those virtues as we continue to lay the grassroots foundation for the next big push forward in our struggle.

To use a common metaphor (or is it an analogy?): there's not much point in rearranging the deck chairs while the ship is sinking, is there?

When our once-great nation is finally pointed back in the right direction, it is reasonable to assume that our collective efforts towards equality will be more likely to be rewarded.

Until then, we might wish to continue to network and build necessary bridges with other allies from "outside the bubble" in preparation of the long road ahead.

I would concur with your wise observation that we must NEVER GIVE UP.

Be the one in touch, and give my love to Char and John.

>>> Cyndi Richards, chair - Illinois Gender Advocates

Carolyn Wagner said...

Hello Mr John, in Arkansas, we were most disappointed in how the vote came about on foster/adoption but the overwhelming victory for our now Mr. President-elect made the loss not as painful as renewed hope has filled me old bones.

With the help of ACLU we sued the state over the last policy of banning lgbt/hetero parents of lgbt as foster parents. We won and that made it possible for the hatemongers to not use terms such as "homosexual" in this latest attack on our families. While we sue again and during that interim, folks will forge on to care for the children of this state who need us the most.
Bill and I have now taken in over 100 children in the past 12 years and they still find their way to our home. With my Wagner cast iron frying pan in me hand, I will keep me boots on and with other good folks (such as those here) equality will land in this southern state and our nation most permanent.
My frying skillet is what I use to fry the behavior and actions of those who use such to harm others. As always, I season such with compassion, empathy and education. Sometimes I have to add some attitude adjusting seasoning as well.
Good Luck to all in our work that remains to be done!
Carolyn Wagner

Damian Bathory said...

That is exactly what all the economists and best forex brokers should aim for. It now only comes down to how much determination and resolve they show in reaching that goal.