Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
Years ago, a close friend gave me a card with this quote. It has been tacked somewhere close to my desk ever since. For the past 24 years, that desk was at the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR). As I celebrate Pride this month and make plans to step down from my role as Executive Director of NCLR at the end of this year, that quote takes on poignant meaning. In my 24 years at NCLR, 22 as Executive Director, I was lucky enough to tread a path laid by others. Pride month always offers a time to reflect on the path we have walked as a community of LGBTQ people and our allies. Some of those community leaders and fiercest allies are my colleagues on the Board of Directors of The California Endowment and its staff and multiple groundbreaking partners. What we have witnessed and fought for together has led to breathtaking change.
When I first came to NCLR, in 1994, I was shocked at the harm and damage done to far too many LGBTQ people in this country. Coming from Utah, where I grew up Mormon, I believed I had seen the worst. Not even close. From losing jobs, custody of kids, family acceptance, self-worth, religious community, hope, we heard from dozens of LGBTQ people every day who struggled against what felt like a tidal wave of homophobia and stigma.
Now, within the lifetime of a college graduate, we have witnessed a sea change. From out celebrities, openly LGBTQ elected officials, fierce and unbowed allies, legal and policy wins, the place of LGBTQ individuals and families is cemented in our culture. We still see the lethality of anti-LGBTQ bigotry, but the ethos in our nation is that such bigotry is wrong and unacceptable. More importantly, WE know it is wrong and unacceptable. There is nothing wrong with us. We do not need to be fixed. We are beautiful, gifted and worthy. All this. In 24 years. It is breathtaking.
I know that this moment seems particularly perilous, and I am not sanguine about the threat posed by this most venal and cruel Administration. Even as we mark how far we have come, we must have the vigilance and engagement demanded to protect our hard won gains and to assure that the most vulnerable in our community suffer as little as possible.
But, by any measure, what we’ve witnessed in the past two decades is nothing short of extraordinary. All of us share the privilege of being such a witness. We all, in our own way, blazed a path and fought for a day when every LGBTQ person could wake up knowing that who they were and who they loved did not limit either their opportunities or their dreams. That day, while still distant, is within sight. The fact that we can imagine such a day, is a virtual miracle given where we were when I first crossed the threshold of NCLR.
As I celebrate Pride this month, I’m thinking a lot about when I will walk past the threshold of my office for the last time as Executive Director of NCLR at the end of the year. I am bursting with gratitude that I got to do this work and be part of bending that legendary arch of the moral universe. Now someone else gets to walk this path. Lucky them. Happy Pride my friends.