We are experiencing the greatest threat our community has faced since the AIDS epidemic first appeared in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York 36 years ago. At that time, gay and bi men were showing the first signs of AIDS, and no one knew what caused it. As casualties rose, the federal government turned a deaf ear, parents turned their children away in fear, and there was nothing available to fight the disease. It was first known as GRID (gay-related immune deficiency), creating more terror about us in the general population.
Although we faced anxiety and fear ourselves, we organized and mobilized. Great leadership arose from those who survived, notably people like Cleve Jones, who founded the Names Project, the organization behind the AIDS quilt. The symbolic quilt brought together friends, lovers, parents, and others who were, in some way, personally touched by the devastation of the disease. When President Clinton attended the full viewing of the quilt on the National Mall in Washington in 1996, it became a watershed moment in which the nation finally understood the magnitude of what was happening to their fellow Americans. We gained allies in the fight against AIDS, and the world began to realize it wasn't just a "gay disease."
It's 21 years later, and our community has faced so many challenges, including numerous laws promoting inequality based on sexual orientation and gender identity. We won marriage equality through a legal process at the Supreme Court level, and that decision set a precedent regarding LGBT equality. But we are facing a backlash that is escalating, taking chunks of equality away in towns and states all over America.
By through our desire to be fully recognized and accepted for our individuality, we divided ourselves into smaller subcategories and in doing so lost our collective identity and made it much more difficult to organize and effectively resist.
Our self-identification needs to remain, but our categorizations of sexual orientation all fit into a much larger category of "nonheterosexuals." Where we initially united as "gay" in the '70s, we are now "gay," "lesbian," "bisexual," "transgender," "queer," "intersex," "asexual," and more. History has shown the surest way to win a war is to divide and conquer; and we, by our own hand, have separated from each other and are being overcome by big money, ruthless politicians, and age-old discrimination rooted in ignorance, fear, and blind hate.
As lawmakers continue to meet in state capitols around the country, the Human Rights Campaign is tracking more than 100 anti-LGBTQ bills in 29 states. They include Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill making it legal for private faith-based adoption agencies to turn away gay couples. Texas's governor signed into law a "conscience clause" bill relating to adoption that will allow anti-LGBTQ discrimination, and the state is considering a measure that would restrict transgender students' access to public restrooms.
It may be time for us, as nonheterosexuals, to remember the power that coalition creates, and produce and publicize a new group identity with a name that resonates and does not threaten. It should be broad enough to us together for a humane and common purpose.
Recently, some have added an "A" to LGBTQ, so heterosexuals who believe in sexual orientation equality could self-identify as "allies." They are not millennial allies, Hispanic allies, Christian allies, or liberal allies. They are only known by one supportive name: allies. We should consider the need for this type of umbrella nomenclature that allows both nonheterosexuals and heterosexuals to come together and be heard. We cannot hope to beat every brushfire in a country as vast and diverse as the United States. We must take the conversation to a higher level and make it truly illegal for states to discriminate based on sexual orientation.
It's time to change the game. When our voices are heard along with our parents, friends, and acquaintances, we are in fact, all allies. The word"allies" has positive connotations throughout every generation. We were "allies" in World War II, we are "allies" in fighting AIDS, we are "allies" in combating cancer, and by becoming "allies" for equal treatment for those who are not heterosexuals, we are evolving our collective consciousness. That consciousness will not come from the top down; it will have to be a grassroots movement, growing through interpersonal communication. Everyone knows a few family members and friends they can talk to about becoming an ally for humanity. With the proper support and infrastructure, this type of thinking can lead the way for the greater population to support equality at the ballot box. Subsequent deliberations in the court system will have the will of the people behind it, and exclusionary "amendments" to local laws will not stand up to scrutiny and exposure.
To regain our civility as a nation, we must work to return to a value most of us grew up with -- the separation of church and state. From these values, it was ruled that a woman has a right to manage her body, regardless of others' religious beliefs; nonheterosexuals have the same right to manage their lives, regardless of others' religious beliefs. Personal worship, whether it be Christian, Islam, Judaism or any other religion or belief, has its rightful place for the faithful. Religion is not hatefu, unless the scriptures are used by fearful individuals who are looking for an excuse to remake the world in their own image. That thinking belongs between them and their deity, not to be imposed on our secular world.
We're hoping this piece will stimulate comments and ideas that will bring us together as a unified group that stands out from the jumble of news and lies pervasive in our current political climate. We hope we can find a way to come together as allies for humanity.
ANDY CRAMER and AL FARMER are Bay Area entrepreneurs and longtime LGBTQA activists.