October 15, 2012
Magnus placed his paw on my arm, pushed down firmly and gave me “the look”. This is his way of communicating to me that he needs to go out. It was time for our nightly walk and he had business to take care of, and like, right now.
Being the devoted doggy dad that I am, I obliged.
As we exited our flat, the crisp air hit me. It felt good to be out. I’d been cooped up inside all day, spending most of my day discussing the McCaskill situation with other Deafqueers and allies via text, Facebook and gchat. I had been feeling heartbroken about all that had transpired and needed to clear my head.
The Mission District is usually a hotbed of activity and tonight was no exception. It’s one of the things I love about living in this area and this City that I have called home for over two decades.
Something happened tonight that I must write about. As Magnus and I walked down our block and turned onto another street, a couple holding hands walked past us. I was taken by surprise when I realized they were a gay Latino couple. They appeared to be in their early 20’s, in love and oblivious to the world.
My heart swelled as it often does when I see gay or lesbian couples holding hands in public; it is such a beautiful sight. I couldn’t help smiling.
As we walked on, I noticed the stars were beginning to appear in full force; it was getting dark. I realized just then that we weren’t on Valencia Street or one of the northern trendy streets of the Mission District that have become overrun by white hipsters. We were in the very heart of La Misión.
As Magnus and I continued to walk on, a few paces behind the couple, I realized that no one was stopping to stare or challenge this couple’s right to hold hands or be who they were. I had the urge to run up to them and tell them how brave and beautiful they were. A gay Latino couple holding hands in the ultra macho and conservative Latino district, and at night no less! This was something I had never seen in all the years I had lived in this neighborhood.
A flood of memories began to wash over me as we continued to walk down this Street that has had so much meaning to me since moving to the Bay Area… I remember how unsafe it felt just 15 years ago to hold my girlfriend’s hand in broad daylight anywhere outside of the Castro, and especially in the Mission back when I identified as a lesbian… and how 8 years prior to that how afraid I was to be in the Castro because homophobes were getting in their cars, driving to the area and beating and sometimes killing our people with baseball bats for sport… I remember walking along College Avenue near the UC Berkeley campus when I was a student, holding my girlfriend’s hand as we walked and constantly being verbally abused and spat upon… I remember being asked to leave a restaurant because holding my girlfriend’s hand over the table was making the other customers uncomfortable… I remember volunteering for immigration rights and being told my efforts were no longer welcome because I made the other volunteers uncomfortable after mentioning I had a girlfriend… I remember the same thing happening again when volunteering for a homeless rights organization after bringing my girlfriend to a fundraiser… I remember vividly the bullying and harassment that began at age 5 because I was gender non-conforming… I remember being sent to a Christian home in Georgia and being beaten to the point where I could not walk for nearly a week because they wanted to “get the (lesbian) devil out of me”…. I remember being denied a job that I was highly qualified for because I was “too masculine”… I remember being at the 1987 March on Washington and being filled with an overwhelming sense of pride as LGBT people of all races, ages, abilities, and faiths marched together in unity demanding the right to be who we were without discrimination… I remember when I first heard about the idea that we should unite and fight for the right to legally marry so that what happened to Sharon Kowalski and Karen Thompson would not happen to us; marriage equality seemed like an impossible dream that we would not see achieved in our lifetime…
I remember when…
As the images continued to flow in rapid succession, taking me back in time, I teared up. The pain from wounds long healed and forgotten manifested.
Achieving LGBTQ equality has been a long and painful journey for many of us. Since before the days of Stonewall, LGBTQ people have fought to be treated as human beings with respect and dignity and be afforded the same basic human rights that all people deserve.
Twenty years ago, this gay Latino couple would not have been able to walk freely holding hands in my neighborhood as they did tonight without being verbally harassed, bashed or killed. In many parts of the country, it is still unsafe and dangerous to simply be who we are.
We have come a long way in this battle for equality. We are a resilient people whose spirit will not be broken. And while we may not achieve equality in all things today, tomorrow, and likely not in my lifetime… one day we will.
Yes, we will, dammit.
Drago Renteria is a long-time Deaf Chicano heteroqueer LGBTQ/Social Justice activist. He lives in San Francisco with his amazing partner Jennifer, and their canine genius, Magnus. He is originally from El Paso, Texas.