Better Days Are Comin’

Dear Virtual Editor:

DairToMaryThe most infectiously optimistic person I have known was the lowest ranking crew member of a tank I commanded on the “border of the free world” in Germany. To make sure that the 3d Armored Div. was ready to do battle with the commie invaders, our generals called “alerts.” A siren would sound at 1 a.m. or later in the dead of winter. We were to drag ourselves from bed, gasthaus, or wherever and have the first tank on the move no more than 30 min. later. My loader, a draftee from Tennessee, would show up, sometimes already fully loaded (with beer), but always with a big smile, saying “Better days are comin, Lieutenant. Better days are comin”.

It is sometimes difficult these days for those of my ilk to visualize those better days. In Canada, we are suffering through the equivalent of a George W. Bush third term in the person of Prime Minister Harper. In the US, the Democrats are lame and the Republicans are crazy. But there is great hope for better days on one front, thanks to the work of the LGBT community.

My friend Dair, her partner Mary, their two children and their dog paid us a visit this week, from the US.  Dair and Mary have been together for years, but while they were in Canada they decided to take advantage of our same sex marriage laws and formally wed. It was our privilege to celebrate with them a few days later and provide the cake you see pictured.

Dair and Mary and family remind us that things are also improving in the US, albeit slowly.  There is a long way to go, but the tide has turned in the direction of equality. I asked my law students at the University of Alabama, yes Alabama, if they saw marriage equality as a civil rights issue. They all agreed that it is, and some will work in the profession to make it a reality there.

What gives me hope on other matters that are not going well, and reminds me of that young draftee, is reflecting on how bleak the future must have looked to gays and lesbians only a few years ago. The current progress has not come about because a mysterious outbreak of tolerance and compassion suddenly struck the general public in either country.  It is the result of the courage, persistence, suffering and educational hard work of gays and lesbians. Only forty three years ago, at the time of the Stonewall Uprising in New York, being gay was branded a crime as well as a mental defect that sometimes resulted in lobotomy. The process for my Top Secret security clearance up on the “border of the free world” included a question about whether I was gay—on the assumption that if I was, enemy agents might use that to blackmail me into revealing classified information. (In the words of the immortal Dave Barry, I am not making this up.)

The patrons of the Stonewall bar decided they had had enough and a movement was born that has not looked back. The progress of that movement is inspiring to those who seek to advance social justice on other issues because, bad as things are, they cannot be as dour as the scene was  for gays in the pre-Stonewall era.  The movement is also inspiring because, like other progressive movements,  it has its problems, divisions, arguments over priorities, etc. But it keeps on moving. That is what movements do.

“Better days are comin, Lieutenant. Better days are comin.”

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