On June 29, there will be a rally at the NYS Equal Rights Heritage Center in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Stonewall Riots and the beginning of the modern gay rights movement.
As a native son of Auburn, I am excited about the possibility that many of you will join me there to help celebrate LGBTQ Pride and to mark the beginning of a new chapter in the history of Auburn.
Many of you have already taken the opportunity to visit the newly opened equal rights center in downtown right across from Memorial City Hall. It’s remarkable that so much history happened right here in Auburn.
The center reminds of us of our shared heritage and brings us together to celebrate Auburn. It also provides us with an opportunity to be inspired about our future.
During my first tour, I was deeply moved to discover that the portrait of my ancestor Martha Coffin Wright, a co-author of the Women’s Bill of Rights, is hanging next to Marsha P. Johnson, a trans activist who stood with the crowds of protestors outside of Stonewall Inn on June 29, 1969.
The seemingly random pairing gave me pause. I was overcome with deep emotion, because it was clear to me that this apple had not fallen far from the tree. Fundraising for the American Foundation for AIDS Research while in college in the early 1980s and my criminal justice advocacy for the past 25 years is evidence that social justice issues are part of my DNA.
I knew Marsha P. Johnson. Not in a personal, friendly way but as a ubiquitous and ever present figure in the West Village in Manhattan. I would see her often and always marveled at her fantastic outfits, her radiant smile and ever present halo of brightly colored flowers. In the photo I took of her she practically glows with love and sympathy.
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The P in her name stands for Pay It No Mind. Her tenacity and single mindedness drove her to continue to fight LGBT rights despite being at times homeless and without steady income.
Growing up, Martha Wright was a constant presence in our house. Her accomplishments were recounted by my grandfather and my father, their pride evident. Her detractors referred to her as ”a very dangerous woman” because of her single mindedness. Her portrait was and is a constant reminder that the struggle for women to have full and complete civil rights is ongoing and not over.
As a young man I grew up knowing that I was not like my brothers. Despite my struggle to fit in, the die was cast. In a nod to my mother’s singleness of character, I came to believe that the only way was the way of truth and honesty no matter the consequences.
Having grown up in a loving, supportive family, I’ve had every opportunity I could ever want. This is not true for many members of the LGBT community. The casual disregard and violence is still very much a threat today. A life lived honestly and in the open can bring shame, anger and even death. No one should ever live in fear for their lives because of their truth.
When I saw the portraits, each representing a significant part of my life, I was moved. Two threads of my life had been brought together, apparently by random selection. Inspired, I began looking for a local LGBT group to see what, if any, opportunities there might be in the way of support. When I found nothing, I reached out to a member of the city council. She informed me that thanks to money from the state, Auburn would be celebrating Pride and she suggested I contact the Auburn Public Theater. They are doing a fantastic job creating programming and the Osborne Memorial Association is proud to help support their efforts.
We have an opportunity join together and celebrate how far we’ve come and look to the future. We have so much work ahead of us and together we can all make a difference.