When I was growing up on a farm in rural Arizona, my parents gave me and my siblings lots of rein. In the summers, we left the house in the morning never to be seen or heard from until we returned for dinner that night. They were understanding of the kinds of pranks and petty larceny that farm kids get away with—like hypnotizing an unsuspecting neighbor’s chickens and raiding the nearby watermelon patch.
But there were two cardinal sins in my family that my parents would not countenance: selfishness and lying. They also believed that it was important to stand up for one’s principles. The values my folks instilled in me—truth, generosity, courage—have been mainstays of my success, personally and professionally. They also have been keys to the success of our movement for social justice for LGBT people.
Truth has been the very foundation of our movement from its earliest days as we and our predecessors fought for the right to live our lives openly and proudly, without discrimination and violence. Coming out became our rallying cry because we knew how important it was—to our own health and to the strength of our movement. No single act has been more personally and politically transformational. Back in 1971, the then “Gay Community Services Center” dared to speak its truth by boldly putting the word “Gay” on the sign in front of its first headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard. Truth-telling has been one of our guiding principles ever since.
Generosity has been a defining characteristic of our community and movement for all the decades I’ve been a part of it. It’s one of the things that first attracted me to this work. The fact is, LGBT people have been here for each other, caring for each other, from the very beginning of our movement.
Such generosity fueled the actions of the Center founders nearly 50 years ago who, as volunteers, leased houses in their own names so homeless LGBT kids would have a safe place to stay. Unprecedented generosity distinguished the way our community rose to the occasion in response to the horror of the AIDS epidemic. And generosity with our time and money has built a truly phenomenal movement!
Together, we have volunteered, built, and supported an unparalleled infrastructure of organizations to fight for our rights and help our people, especially the most vulnerable among us. The greatest current testament to our community’s generosity is all of the visionaries who have so selflessly risen to the challenge of supporting the construction of the Anita May Rosenstein Campus, where we’ll be able to exponentially expand our services for LGBT youth and seniors.
Plus, we can’t forget our community’s generosity of spirit, an openness to learning about people who are different from us, with concerns for—and appreciation of— people that extends beyond sexual orientation and gender identity. We know, firsthand, what it’s like to be oppressed— not only as LGBT people but as women, people of color, and immigrants, among others—so we’re eminently able to understand other forms of oppression and the struggles of many other communities.
Courage has been our movement’s watchword. It takes courage for LGBT people to be honest about who we are. It takes courage to demand freedom, justice, and equality from a society that has ignored and reviled us. It takes courage to stand up for issues that not everyone supports or understands but are integral to the aspiration of liberty and justice for all.
It took courage for the Center to sue the Internal Revenue Service in 1971 when they refused to grant us nonprofit, tax-exempt status. (And we won, becoming the nation’s first openly LGBT organization to secure such status.) It took courage in the early 1990s for the Center to launch the first capital campaign in the LGBT world that enabled us to buy and renovate the old IRS building in Hollywood into our current headquarters, the McDonald/Wright Building. It is no small irony that this was the very building where our original application was denied—and now it stands as a testament to the high ambitions and audacity of our community. And it takes courage every day to continue providing vital programs and services to our community in the toxic environment of growing antipathy and threats from our national political leaders. It’s our responsibility to be courageous, especially when we’re often acting on behalf of people who desperately need us to stand up for them.
When an organization or a people have truth, generosity, and courage as part of their DNA, as the Center and our community do, it’s no wonder that success has followed. As long as we hold these tenets dear, I have no doubt that we will continue to succeed, no matter the forces that align against us.
I’m equally certain that my parents would be very proud.