Editor: Writer Bessy Reyna was invited to be one of the speakers at the Hartford Gay Pride Rally to celebrate the anniversary of the first rally in Hartford. Reyna, had attended that rally and, as an opinion columnist and community activist, has advocated for LGBT rights in Connecticut and elsewhere. The following is the talk she presented at the rally on June 26 at the Old State House.
GOOD AFTERNOON !!! BUENAS TARDES!!! On June 26 in 1982, when we came together as a group for the first time, telling everyone “We are queer, we are here, get used to it!” we didn’t care if our bosses and co-workers saw our faces on the TV nightly news. That day we became a group with one goal, forcing people to look at us. Look at us! because we are your children, your friends, your neighbors. We are the same people whom you counted on in an emergency. Sadly, while we lived our lives quietly, many of the same people we cared about or helped, would go to church and prayed for our extinction, called us names. That day in 1982, each of us who attended that first rally became warriors, willing to be on the frontline of a war against hatred and ignorance. That day, we were no longer willing to become accomplices in our own oppression.
When I became an opinion columnist for the Courant, my very first column was about the murders of Matthew Sheppard and James Byrd Jr., both assassinated because of sexual orientation and race. That column, and the many gay-related columns I wrote in the following 9 years I was a columnist, often prompted the most vicious attacks in the form of anonymous calls and letters. Many coming from well-meaning religious zealots, at the ready to remind me that I was going to hell. But it was that hatred and ignorance, their arrogance that fueled my activism, to remind people than in Connecticut and elsewhere many parents were willing to throw their children into the streets simply because they were gay, lesbian or transgender, because those children would not hide who they really were.
While we gather here today celebrating that first rally and the supreme court’s decision on same-sex marriage, a few blocks away and only 33 years later at the Bushnell Center for the performing arts, there are men in high heels and beautiful costumes who will be singing and dancing before thousands of people, in the show Kinky Boots, a wonderful celebration of living our lives being true to ourselves. I am very proud to have been at that first rally with my then partner, now spouse Susan, proud of the work so many have done in CT to help us achieve our rights. But, while I look at your faces in the crowd, I know there is much work to be done, because changing a law is only the first step, now we have to change the hearts and minds of so many people who will continue to reject us simply for who we are and who we are.
I encourage all of you to stay on the battlefield until there is no gay teen who feels it necessary to commit suicide, or until every a trans girl or boy can walk proudly, arm in arm with their date at their Prom, and be embraced by their peers. In the words of President Obama this morning “Small steady efforts (have been) rewarded with justice.” Let’s celebrate today but make sure we do not forget there is still much work to be done, many steps to be taken, and let’s make sure we are ready to take them.