Ethan McNamee is a LGBT activist. He got started because he overheard some gay slurs among his friends and because he found out a gay couple who lived in his neighborhood couldn’t get married. So, because he felt it was important to stand up for equality, he organized a rally for marriage equality in his hometown of Denver, Colorado. His only hangup was that he had to have someone else officially file the permit for the rally, because at nine years old, it wasn’t legal for him to do so.
What I love most about this story is that it’s very unlikely that this young man is able to fully identify his own sexuality yet, which means that this is much more about doing what he feels is right than protecting a peer group. If you listen to his speech, you’ll hear him speak of police brutality against gays, and he asks how he is supposed to trust police officers if he knows that they can do this to a group. Yes, he has some nine year-old reasoning and arguments in his speech, but it isn’t what he says that is so powerful; it’s that he is so young and so moved to speak at all.
In part because of how we have raised her, our daughter is already a fierce marriage equality advocate. She has a One Iowa t-shirt which she wears proudly (usually to bed because it’s a bit oversized at this point), and if she hears I am attending a rally or volunteering for One Iowa, she asks to go. She was very disappointed when she went with me to the last hours of our shift at the Story County Recorder’s office on Marriage Day and no couples came through for her to welcome. When I told her that we had a picnic date with two of the “moms” who picked up licenses that day and their children, you would have thought I told her we would be dining with celebrities. To Anna, LGBT rights should be granted without question. To Anna and many of her peers, it is difficult to grasp even why LGBT persons would be shut out from the law.
Ethan and Anna are of a generation which will grow up for at least for years with an African American President of the United States. They have been told this is a significant step, but to them, it will simply be normal. For a minimum of four more years, marriage equality will be the law in Iowa. In four years Ethan McNamee and my daughter will be thirteen and eleven, respectively. They will both be on the cusp or leading edge of puberty, and regardless of what their own sexualities might be, they will be discovering, by pure law of statistics, that some of their friends are or might be LGBT. They will have seen more and more LGBT couples and stories about them. For them, unless adults tell them otherwise, it will seem very odd that people who have been marrying since they were in elementary school suddenly can’t, if anyone tries to push such an amendment. Children who are eleven and thirteen now will, in four years, be finishing high school and beginning college. They will be very near to voting age as well, and will have seen even more clearly how normal and natural LGBT persons are, and how very many they number among their peers. It will seem even stranger to them to deny their friends rights that they had witnessed in their culture all through middle school and high school.
On May 30th, One Iowa is hosting a Grassroots Power Summit in Des Moines. Once again, One Iowa is leading the way with positive, proactive education and information, not to wage a war against “the enemy” but to continue to build a bridge of understanding between the LGBT community and all Iowans. I’ve already put in my reservation to be there, and I hope you will, too. I want to help continue to make Iowa the leader in civil rights and equality. I want to help keep Iowa a place where all the Ethans and Annas, regardless of their orientation, can be not just proud, but safe, to be whoever they need to be. I think it’s wonderful that Ethan McNamee feels so passionate about equality, and his actions hearten me. But as the adult that comes before him, it only makes me want to work harder so that when, in nine years, he becomes a fully legal adult in our society, he and all his friends find that they are full and legal citizens of the United States, free to love and marry whomever their heart tells them is right.