Months ago, the e-mail invitation arrived. "Are you guys planning to come to D.C. for the Millennium March?," my friend's electronic note asked.
A dear high school friend and her girlfriend had recently moved to Washington. They were excited to have the opportunity to play host to friends from across the country who they hoped would be coming to town the last weekend in April to take part in the Millennium March on Washington for Equality.
Normally, I would have jumped at the opportunity. The trip from New York to Washington is a few easy hours on the train. The prospect of a weekend away, a free place to stay and the company of good friends would only be made better by the possibility of spending the weekend in our nation's capital surrounded by thousands of my gay and lesbian bothers and sisters.
The last time our community marched on Washington — March 1993 — you couldn't have kept me home. I'd been out of the closet a only few years, and the idea of hitting the streets to demand my rights was exhilarating and empowering. In fact, a picture of the same dear friend and I, both freshly out of the closet, standing in front of the White House gates will always remind me of that event and what it meant to me as a gay man and to the fight for gay and lesbian rights.
Now, seven years later, things are very different for gay people. The more I thought about it, the idea of marching on Washington in the year 2000 made no sense to me. We have no trouble attracting media attention. The public at large not only is aware of our existence, they're well aware of our issues. And wouldn't the millions of dollars spent on producing the march, not to mention the 18 or more events such as the star-studded Equality Rocks concert, be better spent on getting more openly gay or gay-friendly leaders elected? Or how about spending those dollars to fight all the state laws banning gay marriage?
After a long personal debate, I decided to stay home.
Now, if you knew me personally, you'd know that one of my defining personality traits is that I hate to feel like I've missed anything. So, while I didn't attend the march, there couldn't be any harm in watching it on C-Span, could there? With that, I spent a six-hour chunk of last Sunday afternoon on the couch. And, surprisingly enough, it was there on my couch in my apartment that I had my feelings validated by none other than Martina Navratilova.
She took that stage to wild cheering from the crowd and spoke about her many careers and the high-profile work that she's done on behalf of the community. But as she came to the end of her comments, she said something that really resonated with me.
In talking about how the community can continue the fight for equality, Navratilova urged us all to "go home," to return to the city where we grew up, reconnect with the straight people — teachers, ministers, coaches, parents and friends — who played important roles in our lives and speak honestly and openly about our lives as gay men and lesbians.
"It's the power of one, baby," she said.
At a time when gay and lesbian visibility has reached unprecedented national and even international levels, we seem to have lost sight of this profound grassroots power. Presidential candidates are actively courting the gay vote, but gay teachers in many school districts around the country are forced to teach from the closet. We can watch a growing number of gay and lesbian characters on prime time television shows, but communities like our own hometown still bristle when a play with a frankly gay or lesbian storyline comes to town. When we contemplate moving the fight for gay and lesbian rights forward, we need to get back to our roots.
While I'd be lying if I didn't say I feel a little pang of jealousy when I hear friends talk about the experiences they had in D.C. last weekend, I'm happy I didn't go. Instead, I'll focus my activist energies close to home.
And with the money I saved this weekend, I'll be making a trip back home to Cincinnati. It's the power of one, baby.