Op/Ed: How 1979 Prepared Me for 2024
I suddenly find myself in Boston, leaving the Public Garden after the Pride March. I meet a young lesbian in her twenties. She has very short brown hair, is wearing old blue jeans and a t-shirt that says “Women Hold Up Half the Sky” with a small round button on her shirt that simply reads “dyke.” She’s holding a record album, Lavender Jane Loves Women, and is humming a song with the refrain “Lesbian, lesbian, any woman can be a lesbian.”
She is my 23-year-old self and she is meeting me, her 58-year-old self.
She reminds me that she lives in a city with three lesbian bars, all within walking distance of one another. She prefers the most radical of the three, where men are turned away, and where she can play pinball. In her community there are three feminist newspapers and one gay and lesbian newspaper, GCN, where she is a writer. She buys books at either the women’s or gay bookstores. She attends large concerts, where hundreds of women fill auditoriums to hear lesbian artists like Cris Williamson, Meg Christian and Linda Tillery.
My younger self tells me that she is careful about coming out because you can lose your job if you’re gay. In fact, she’s been writing for the gay newspaper under a pseudonym.
To her, lesbians are revolutionaries. They are Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich. They are Barbara and Beverly Smith and Alix Dobkin. Cultural and political warriors.Cindy Rizzo
Back in the present, I wonder what we have gained over these last decades and what we have lost.
Where do we find ourselves today?
To paraphrase Dickens, “It is the best of times and it is the worst of times.”
It is a time when the New York City Marriage Bureau’s hallways are filled with same-sex couples, but also a time when the Christopher Street Piers are filled with homeless LGBTQ youth.
It is a time when an openly gay woman has the most popular daytime talk show and also when a Ugandan newspaper has invited violence against LGBTQ people by publishing their names and photos.
It is a time when there is a vital and growing global trans movement but it is also a time when the murders of trans women of color are almost a daily occurrence and the stubborn and oppressive “womyn born womyn intention” of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival–an iconic institution built by women of my generation–is still being used to divide and shame.
It is a time when an gay African American football player can proudly come out as he faces the NFL draft, but also a time when the right to vote of African Americans is once again in jeopardy.
I have a 22-year-old gay son and wonder what kind of world he would hear about if he were to meet himself in ten years.
My son and I, along with countless LGBTQ Americans across the country have the chance to glimpse that future through #My2024, a national online dialogue that challenges all of us to imagine and positively shape the next decade.
The future we create could return us to the sheltered bubble of my 1979, with its dynamic but separate world of lesbian feminism enclosed within a hostile mainstream culture. Or we could still be wrestling with the Tale of Two Cities of today, in which breakthroughs on LGBTQ rights, unimaginable to my 23-year-old self, occur in a world that is still so far from the just society we envisioned in my young adulthood.
Back then, the young lesbians I knew never separated our struggle from those who fought daily against racism, poverty and other forms of inequality and injustice. Solidarity was not only a principle, but also something put into practice.
My 2024 needs to embody the best of the past and of the present but reject the narrow-mindedness that has afflicted both eras. We must recreate that fervent, revolutionary and creative spirit of 1979, but eschew the stifling conformity that forced many of us to hide our authentic selves.
Of course, we must maintain the important, but fragile, legal rights we have recently gained, but not declare victory and go home. Instead we must build on this hopeful foundation so that no young, queer or trans person is sleeping on the street; so that the freedoms we have gained are shared by LGBTQ people in every country on the map; and so that we live that truth that no one is free until we are all free.
The past and the present show us two very imperfect visions of our 2024. My wish for us all of us is to care enough to do better. I invite you to join a robust conversation to help set our personal and collective priorities at www.my2024.us.
#My2024 is an online game, a national conversation, and a giant party for 10 days in October 2014 asking LGBTQ people across the United States how our lives and communities could change in the year 2024.