This was almost 20 years ago, when I was executive director of what was then the Indiana Civil Liberties Union. The ICLU, on behalf of several couples, had filed suit challenging Indiana’s ban on same-sex marriage.
The suit provoked consternation on all sides.
Social conservatives were furious. I remember one discussion with a thought leader on the right. He was so indignant at the thought of same-sex unions that he trembled while he talked. He almost looked as if he were going to pass out.
Even proponents of same-sex marriage were concerned. They worried that the timing wasn’t right. That the suit would provoke a backlash. That it would make things even worse.
That’s what led to the meeting.
It was a gathering of leaders and activists advocating for LGBTQ rights. They wanted to know why the ICLU had filed the suit and they wanted to express their concerns.
I was aware that feelings were running high before I arrived at the meeting. I wasn’t aware how high until I walked into the room.
After I explained why the ICLU had filed the suit — in short, because we believed some citizens’ rights had been violated and the ACLU exists to defend people’s rights — we opened things up for discussion.
Some people snapped their questions or comments. Others yelled.
One woman who sat on the floor in front of where I stood hissed at me again and again, too upset to even speak.
It was an education.
As a straight white male from middle America, I had been insulated from many of the indignities, abuses and outrages heaped upon my fellow LGBTQ citizens. I had friends who were LGBTQ, of course, but I was in my 30s before many of them started coming out.
I had little idea of all they had to resent about our society.
All they had to resist.
All they had to fear.
That night, I learned a lot.
The feelings ran so high in that room because there were so many feelings — and so many of them were complicated. There was fear of continuing oppression and of betrayal. There was anger that so many people had to fight for rights that most people simply took for granted. There was worry that, somehow, someone would make a mistake that would cast away hard-fought and hard-won gains.
And there was just frustration that they ordinary, decent people — had to put up with all of this. That they had to devote substantial pieces of their lives to gaining what should have been theirs at birth.
That night, after the meeting was over, I recounted what had happened to my wife. For a time, neither of us said anything.
Then I said:
“It’s not right. No one should have to go through that and work that hard just to be who they are.”
Flash forward nearly 20 years.
The other night, my wife and I went to dinner. It was our anniversary. We chose a nice restaurant in Indianapolis, a place where we could sit outside and enjoy the evening.
Not long before our entrees arrived, two men walked in. They were holding hands. Each had a wedding band. They were smiling.
When they sat down, they ordered a nice bottle of wine. They toasted. Clearly, they were celebrating something. I’d like to think it was their anniversary, but it might just have been some other happy event.
As I watched them laugh and talk over dinner, I remembered that long-ago meeting. I recalled all the high feelings — the palpable anxiety in the room — as I saw these two men who just seemed to be alive and together.
And I thought: Progress is possible.
This month is Pride Month. It’s supposed to be a time of affirmation and self-affirmation for LGBTQ people.
It’s a good thing.
I know we still have a lot of ground to cover before we live in a truly just world. We will cover that ground — crawling, stumbling, walking or running — because justice demands it.
And because people shouldn’t have to work that hard just to be who they are.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. Send comments to [email protected].