Two Americas Side by Side
The distance from Virginia to New York is 472.6 miles. Eight and a half hours by car, barring the inevitable traffic jams and road work. It is only eight and a half hours from the austere columns of the Virginia Capitol building to the high romanesque roofs of the building in Albany where just over a week ago they passed a bill to legalize same-gender marriage in Americas third largest state.
Somehow that distance seems farther today. It seems like just under 500 miles from here, is another America.
But let us travel even further away--not in location but in time--to when my mother was a little girl in the 1950s, living in a cramped apartment with her single mother and grandparents in Brooklyn. She didn't know it yet, but her future husband was 757 miles away in Louisville, Kentucky and their lives could not have been more different.
Let me preface by saying this, many people would want to equate the black civil rights movement to our current struggles, many others would take offense at that notion. The other week at the Equality for All Festival in Richmond a brilliant poet and musician, Gaye Adegbalola, spoke to just this issue saying (and I'm quoting from memory) "they are different, very different, but there are many similarities as well. The battle to be treated like a person stays much the same." God willing, nothing will ever come close to replicating the struggle that African-Americans had, and continue to have in this country. However there are obvious lessons to be learned in the ongoing struggle for civil rights ('civil', like there is anything polite about inequality and oppression).
My mother did not have to wait for Brown v. Board of Education. In her grade school class, she was one of the few children who wasn't a 'minority'. Meanwhile my father grew up very close with his nanny and housekeeper, she was a part of his family. But those two states could not have been more different institutionally. There were in practical fact, still two Americas. One that accepted all people legally, if not yet socially, and one where flagrant oppression was law if not always practice.
There were many good people in Kentucky in the 1950s, I'd like to think my father and his family were among them. Just as today there are many good people in Virginia. In New York, gay marriage has long been an overwhelming institutional reality, as the expected $142 million dollar windfall projected because of the new law attests, as the recent massive gay pride attests, as the new law itself attests.
A very fine southern bell of a drag queen once told me, "We may not let you go marching down the street in leather chaps, but God help the person who messes with our hairstylist, or the nice two ladies that live together at the end of the block, or 'funny' uncle Bob."
We still live in two Americas, one that more and more institutionally accepts us, and ones like Virginia. I was born in New York, and raised in Richmond. I am terribly proud of my birth place, in that other America, but I am also hopeful for my home state, that one day we will join that new, and ever so slightly better America. And that day will not be so very far off, whether through the courts or from that austere white columned hall in down town Richmond, we will have our own New York day.
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