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Why This Week Was Huge for Black Gays

Why This Week Was Huge for Black Gays

Why this week was huge for black gays

Rev. Irene Monroe on two momentous anniversaries that passed quietly this week.

When you reside at the intersections of multiple identities, anniversaries of your civil rights struggles can be both bitter and sweet. And this May 17 was a reminder.

At 12:01 a.m. on May 17, 2004, the city of Cambridge, Mass., was the first to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. At 9:15 a.m. the first couple was married. Then Cambridge City Clerk Margaret Drury said to Tanya McCluskey, 52, and Marcia Kadish, 56, of Malden, "I now pronounce you married under the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."

Also, this May 17 was the 62nd anniversary of the historic U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, a ruling that upended this country's "separate but equal" doctrine, adopted in the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896.

While joy washed over me that day knowing my partner and I could now follow McCluskey and Kadish's footsteps and be legally married, we could not rejoice over the limited success and huge failures of Brown, and ongoing resistance to it, that allowed a few of us entry into some of the top universities of this country, as it naggingly continues to be challenged as a form of reverse discrimination.

In a 1960 address to the National Urban League, Martin Luther King shared his hopeful remarks about the landmark decision: "For all men of good will May 17, 1954, came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of enforced segregation. ... It served to transform the fatigue of despair into the buoyancy of hope."

On this year's anniversary of Brown, African-Americans and Latino Americans continue to attend schools that are not only segregated, but high-poverty urban facilities with metal detectors. And sadly, policing while schooling has doubled since 2001.

Where it was once thought that access to a quality education would dismantle the pox of bigotry and ignorance their parents inherited, race and class, unfortunately, continue to uphold not only "separate" school systems but also "unequal" treatment of students.

According to the Government Accountability Office, "High-poverty, majority-black and Hispanic schools were less likely to offer a full range of math and science courses than other schools, for example, and more likely to use expulsion and suspension as disciplinary tools."

It's ironic that May 17 -- already a historic day -- also marked the anniversary of marriage equality in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Looking back at advances such as hate-crime laws, the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act, the establishment of marriage equality, and homophobic bullying becoming a national concern, LGBTQ people have come a long way since the first Pride marches four decades ago. And our backs appear not to be slammed as harshly up against a brick wall as they used to be.

I had the opportunity to write Massachusetts Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall, who wrote the landmark decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, the following thank-you note this year:

"A tsunami of thanks I send your way for authoring the Goodridge case, allowing me and so many of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters across this beautiful Commonwealth of Massachusetts to marry the person we love.

"As an African-American lesbian there aren't too many places in this country I feel protected by state laws.

"The Goodridge decision bestowed upon me full citizen state rights that when same-sex marriage was legally recognized on May 17, 2004, I then began to proudly lift my voice and say, 'I, too, am Massachusetts!'"

This June will be the one-year anniversary of Obergefell v. Hodges, the historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. But so too will be the anniversary of the Charleston, S.C., black church massacre at "Mother" Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, which left nine worshippers dead -- including its senior pastor, the beloved Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney.

Over the years I've learned that joy can share its space with other emotions. This May 17, both joy and sadness washed over me.

Irene-monroex100REVEREND IRENE MONROE is a writer and theologian living in Cambridge, Mass.

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Reverend Irene Monroe