For many of us, we are still suffering from what I call an Equality Hangover after the series of events that occurred the past few weeks. The extraordinary occasion began with the news that Exodus, International was closing their doors for good. One of the most beautiful signs of change was revealed while standing outside their former headquarters, guarded only by a For Sale sign and newspapers and periodicals piled in front of their locked doors. This was only the beginning.
The week that shook America began on Monday with rumors of pending decisions by the US Supreme Court. By 10:30 we realized it was only a false alarm, to be repeated on Tuesday. Tossing and turning Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, I finally arose at dawn, to the chagrin of my dogs, afraid of over sleeping and missing the 10 AM announcements. Seated securely at my desk, with one screen on SCOTUSBLOG, the other on Facebook, I, along with hundreds of thousands of other nervous observers, barely breathed. Even with someone walked into my office….I could not speak only holding up my hand to stop and go away. Finally United States V Windsor was announced. Realizing Kennedy had written for the majority was the sign of imminent victory.
Immediately, with tears welling in my eyes I posted on Facebook, in all caps that DOMA WAS DEAD. I was able to print out a copy of the decision (all 77 pages) while trying to take in all the comments by legal scholars who were scanning it for a final determination of what the court actually held. Then we had a long wait. It turned out that Justice Scalia, viciously upset at the ruling by the majority of his brethren and sisters, read his long dissent, delaying the announcement of the Prop 8 case. By now had been determined that Chief Justice Roberts would release the decision, which was a sign that the court was going to not rule on the merits but take the easy way out by declaring the appellants did not have standing to appeal the decision. A few minutes later such prediction was confirmed. Game. Set. Match. Double victory.
The next few hours were a blur….. Sending out Press Release. Numerous interviews on TV, paper and radio. Having the staff hang a giant sheet on front of the Center saying GOD BLESS THE SUPREME COURT. It was not until 9:30 that night that I was finally alone, sitting beside the pool with my dogs, looking up at the tranquil and serene dark sky. Then all the emotions of the day spilt out. My dogs were perplexed….. not knowing why there were tears on my face, which they gladly licked away. I reverently expressed my gratitude to God for such a phenomenal day – one that would remain with me the rest of my life. Never again would I experience such euphoria of emotions. As usual, I was wrong.
Back in March, shortly after the Town Hall Meeting that was held in conjunction with the oral arguments of the Windsor and Perry cases, a group of us talked about planning a celebration for when the Court issued rulings which we expected to be in our favor. And even if the ruling were against us, we still had plenty to celebrate victories that had occurred over the past few years – repeal of DADT, Hate Crimes Bill, Domestic Partner Registry, etc. So we formed a coalition consisting of the The Center, Come Out With Pride, ACLU, HRC and Equality Florida, with Watermark and Hot Spots serving as media sponsors. This was the first time all five major groups had worked together to put on an event, and the question was – could we Do it?
The groups met and after some discussions, we designated June 27th as R Day, Rally Day. It was a risk to choose such a date two months in advance because there was no guarantee when the decisions would be announced, nor the response of the community. We held several meetings, everyone being aware of how important this event was to Central Florida. It was truly a labor of love, and not a single person complained. Of course, as it turned out, we guessed correctly and were only one day off from the announcement by The Supreme Court.
Arriving at Lake Eola for the Rally, I was surrounded by constant activity from volunteers and members of the organizations. Signage was in place, luminaries were placed around Lake Eola, t-shirts were sold and distributed. All around the air was abuzz that something special was about to take place. And boy did it. Operating as traffic cop with our various speakers and group, I had the best seat in the house standing on the edge of the stage. Once the program began with the greeting from Commissioner Patty Sheehan I finally allowed myself a moment to look out into the audience and I actually gasped. All I could see was a sea of red in front of the stage, up onto the hillside, over to the north toward Robinson Street and Past Washington Square to the South. Where we had originally anticipated maybe 800 to attend when we started planning this event, it was apparent we had exceeded 5,000 in attendance. At that moment emcee and entertainer extraordinaire Blue Starr walked over to me and we held hands looking out over our friends, families, allies and complete strangers, with tears running down both cheeks. For this brief moment at dusk, surrounded by storm clouds on both sides of the park, not even daring to disturb out rally, Orlando was a City United.
The night was full of cheers and standing ovations. From hearing of the support of straight allies Scott and Susannah Randolph to correspondence from Congressman Grayson followed by Rep. Linda Stewart’s message of hope and then an emotional dispatch by Rob Dominco of tragedy converted into triumph, the air was full of celebration. The Orlando Gay Chorus brought everyone to their feet with the singing of “Do You Hear the People Sing” from Les Miserables followed by a stage full of parents and children as Tammy Humphrey and Michelle Binkewicz (joined by their beautiful daughter Kira) spoke on behalf of the Orlando Gay Parents group. Chief Val Demings brought the crowd to their feet on several occasions as she gave a speech that was as stirring and emotional as those given by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr a half century ago. The evening of speeches concluded with a look to the future by both Rep. Joe Saunders and Nadine Smith of Equality Florida.
Afterwards the crowd encircled Lake Eola, enjoying the 2500 luminaries , most of which had the names of the sponsors of each bag proudly displayed. DJ Ants entertained the crowd with variety of music . People were still cheering and waiving their banners. I finally found a quiet seat, under the shadows of the trees, taking in the events that had just preceded me. Those five minutes of solitude made me realize I had participated in an extraordinary event, one which may never be duplicated. For a brief shining moment, the LGBT Community and our allies were one. One in spirit…One in support. One in Hope for tomorrow.
NOTE: The Center and Come Out With Pride will be hosting an event to talk about how these extraordinary ruling will effect gay couples in Florida. The Event will be held July 17th at 7 PM at The Abbey….more info to come.