I have been looking forward to New Paltz and Poughkeepsie since the formation of the Central Route because there is a long history of activism for marriage equality. Back in 2004 then-mayor Jason West presided over and affirmed dozens of marriages, joined by some strong pastors in the area. The state took action against all of them for taking the stand that all couples deserve legal and social recognition.
So this was weekend to step into a long history and be humbled and learn from local advocates. We stayed at Christ Episcopal Church, a glorious old building from the 1800’s where Reverend Blake Ryder welcomed us whole-heartedly. One element of this campaign that I like is the community engagement from the intimate level of sharing meals to the sleeping arrangements on church floors to the coffee shop conversations. We are not isolated from those who live here in New York every day and have been and will continue to be advocates. We open ourselves up to new and deeper relationships when we walk down the street from the church to take a shower at Harvey and Mary’s century-old home.
We hosted a picnic in a park in New Paltz for anyone and everyone who cares about this issue to come be a part of the conversation. I had hoped that someone opposed or undecided on the issue would bring their questions to Hasbrouck Park, but we were joined mostly by LGBT families, some pastors (gay and straight), coupled priests, college students, and Mayor Terry Dungan. Speaking of history, Frank and Nino, the upstarts of the first college-based LGBT support group, the Student Homophile Leauge at Columbia University, also joined us.
I enjoyed meeting the mayor, as we did in Binghamton, because there is a level of frankness and personal conviction that is allowed into the conversation. Dungan was as supportive of this cause as Mayor Matthew Ryan in Binghamton, and was interested to learn about what we are learning about ourselves as people and as advocates on this campaign.
Later in the afternoon, we borrowed some space from the New Paltz Cultural Collective to show the documentary “Freedom to Marry,” and have a Q&A. The conversation took an interesting turn as we zoomed the lens outward from the specific issue of marriage equality to speak of institutions and how close one must become to that institution in order to change it. This came out of a conversation about assimilation versus affirmation and what it means to be “queer.”
I came down on the side of joining. If one maintains integrity, I think becoming a part of a system in order to change it by living one’s truth within it can be very powerful. For example, do you work on ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell if you do not like what the military is doing at any particular moment? At the end of the day, I think it comes down to whether you are an optimist or a pessimist. Do you commit to loving something enough to change it, or do you write it off and insulate yourself from it?
At the age of 25, still and idealist, still full of energy, I come down on the side of remaining committed to change. I do not want to start dividing up society, building boundaries between myself and certain institutions….there is not enough fencing in the world to build enough separation. I still dream of all the institutions and systems and people who create them fashioning a community. Expansive thinking is essential to my ability to continue as an activist because it is my source of hope.