A Magnificent Evening

I’m about to violate Rule Number One of blogging: Keep those blog posts short! And, generally speaking, it’s an excellent rule to follow. Most people aren’t enamored about reading rivers of words, much less on small screens.

But for every rule (well, most every rule) there’s an exception, and this is one. Just over a week ago, Horizons held its annual gala at the grand Fairmont Hotel here in San Francisco. It was a great evening – a real celebration of community – with terrific honorees (Barney Frank and Kate Kendell), dancing late into the night, a rich mix of people, and a rare and wonderful energy that suffused the goings-on from the first glass of champagne to the last dance.

After dinner, I had the chance to make some remarks. The goal of the remarks was to convey not only a bit about what makes Horizons so important, but also where we all find ourselves today as a movement – and where we are headed, both as a foundation and as a community. We’ve copied them just below.  – and they’re really not that long!

I hope they communicate something of what Horizons is all about and the exciting vision that we have for the future of the LGBT community. Thank you for taking the time to give them a look.


Good evening! What a privilege to stand here once more in this marvelous ballroom, in this magnificent hotel, in this magical city – and to share it with all of you.

And what an honor – what a joy – to stand here at such a stunning moment in the LGBT movement. The year since we last gathered has been astonishing. Marriage equality in New York. An excellent chance of winning marriage at the ballot box in one, maybe two, even three states in November. Public opinion tipping ever further toward acceptance. Members of the armed services marching openly in Pride parades. Challenges to the evil twins of DOMA and Prop 8 at the very door of the Supreme Court. Big, public comings-out by figures like Frank Ocean, Anderson Cooper, and Sally Ride. Comings-out big enough to rate headlines – but then unremarkable enough to slip rather quietly and quickly away.

Progress like this – it happens for reasons. Freedom rarely comes for free. Nor does it come about by accident, or because of some grand historical inevitability. No, we move ahead, by both leaps and little steps, because of leaders, people like our honorees, Kate Kendell and Barney Frank.  We move ahead because of people like all of you, people without whom there would be no movement in the first place.  We move ahead because of the tireless efforts of organizations that work on our behalf. Organizations like the National Center for Lesbian Rights … like the Transgender Law Center, Trikone, New Conservatory, the NAMES Project; Openhouse or Open Hand; Somos Familia, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation; Rainbow, API Wellness Center, Queer Women of Color Media Arts, LYRIC.

While scores of LGBT nonprofits do fine work in our community, those I just mentioned – and many more – share something in common. In their earliest days, Horizons Foundation gave each one critical support. In most cases, Horizons’ grant was the very first the group received – from anywhere.

A few weeks ago, I found myself at the offices of one of these nonprofits, the Transgender Law Center. The occasion was a site visit by staff from a giant national foundation, one of the largest in the country, which had come to check up on a big grant they’d made for transgender health.  And I was so proud.  Proud of TLC, first and foremost, for reaching a place, after only 10 years, at which a funder like this would invest in them.  Proud to know the good that that money is doing for some of our community’s most vulnerable members.  And proud to know that Horizons invested in TLC in TLC’s very first year, long before TLC appeared on anyone’s radar screen, and that over its first decade, it has been Horizons that’s made more grants to help build TLC than any other foundation.

Now let me be clear: credit, of course, goes to TLC itself.  Yet I hope you share that same pride I felt – because it’s you, it’s your gifts and support, that made our seed-investments in TLC – and scores more like them – possible. And it’s your support today – your gifts tonight – that allow Horizons to invest in the NCLRs and the TLCs of tomorrow.

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The pace of change in our movement these days can seem almost dizzying, as if change is just hurtling forward.  Perhaps that’s especially so here in this blessed Bay Area bubble of ours, where, at least at some times and in some places, it’s possible to believe that equality, dignity, and freedom are as real for LGBT people as for anyone else. Indeed, so much is changing so fast that sometimes I hear people say that soon our fight will be finished, and even that, before long, the LGBT community itself will fade away in a haze of apathy and assimilation.

Now none of us – not even the professional homosexuals in the room – can predict with certainty the future path of our community. But there are two things that I do know.  First: make no mistake, we will win our struggle for equality. And second, our community’s not about to fade away. We’re not – we’re really not – just going through a phase here.

For starters, there’s simply far too much injustice still out there. Across the globe, every day, LGBT people are harassed, silenced, assaulted, and jailed. Half of this country’s LGBT population enjoys precisely zero protection from discrimination. A young African American gay man has a one in two chance of becoming HIV-positive. Fourteen years to the night – October 6, 1998 – 14 years after Matthew Shepard was left for dead on a Wyoming fence – and just a few days more than 10 years since Gwen Araujo was murdered just across the Bay in Newark, California – hate crimes against us still number in the thousands. And, last year, right here in San Francisco, in the San Francisco Unified School District for God’s sake, nearly 1,000 LGBTQ-identified students tried to take their own lives.

So yes, we can absolutely be proud of our accomplishments and thrilled by our progress – but we are not done. And we won’t be done so long as a single queer student in a single school on a single day has to learn in fear. We won’t be done so long as discrimination costs anyone, anywhere, anytime their job or their home, their health care or their kids. We’re not done until it is unthinkable for a serious candidate for public office to embrace anything less than our full equality … until the world embraces LGBT rights as human rights; until closets hold only clothes, hate crimes live only as horror stories in history books, and we all … we all … can marry whom we love.

And even then – even then – we won’t be done. Because we are linked by more than our common enemies, by more than adversity alone.  For this movement – our movement – must never be defined solely by what we’re against, but also by what we are for. Let us never forget that our movement is part of a great human movement for equality and for justice, a movement for life, for love, for truth over falsehood, hope over hatred, and simple human dignity over hurt and humiliation. Ours must be a movement that aims at more than simply winning formal legal equality … a movement that looks beyond just improving our own lives. No, ours must be a movement that aims at building a better world –­ a forever changed and better world – for those who come after.

One sure hallmark of a great community – a truly great community – is that it endures. It endures of course through its stories, its culture, it traditions. And it endures by planning and providing for generations yet to come. And that – thatis why Horizons is so fiercely committed to building the LGBT Community Endowment Fund.

Which brings me to a man named Joe. Joe was as gracious and humble a human being as ever walked the streets of San Francisco. When he passed away earlier this year, he left an incredible gift to his community – a gift likely to exceed two million dollars – that will soon go into Horizons’ LGBT Community Endowment Fund.

There, together with dozens of other legacy gifts, what will in time be hundreds – no, thousands – of gifts … gifts of all sizes … Joe’s generosity will ensure that future generations of LGBT people are free – once and forever – to live, to work, and to love. Built by Joe, and by you and by me from our estates – be they great or be they small – built by thousands for the benefit of millions – the Endowment will be a great gift to future generations, an achievement that will stand as a symbol of pride, power, and hope for LGBT people both here and far, far beyond. And yes, it will be forever.

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Earlier this year, I had the once-in-a-lifetime chance to go on a trek in the area around Mount Everest in Nepal. It was, as you might imagine, amazing, glorious. Swinging foot-bridges over crashing rivers. Prayer flags blowing in the wind. Great shaggy yaks. Mountains reaching to the skies.

The trek turned out to be one other thing, too: hard. Appearances notwithstanding, I’m not 21 anymore. And even then – even if I were – trekking toward Everest isn’t just a matter of going steadily upwards, but also going down what seem an endless number of mountain saddles and steep valleys – and then climbing back up the other side. So the trail heads up and down and up and down and up and up.

A brief confession. Even though I am one of those professional homosexuals, I didn’t spend a lot of those 10 days thinking about LGBT issues. Yet as I walked on, it came to me that being on the trek was more than a little like being part of the LGBT movement. It’s a long trail we’re on, my friends. There are moments when it can feel like we’re moving backwards, or descending rather than ascending, or that instead of following clear lines, our trail twists and winds, or that the air is too thin or the wind too strong or the mountain is simply too high.

And yet up we go. Step by step. At those moments when we find ourselves doubting our progress, doubting that we’ve really gone anywhere at all, we can turn and look back at where we’ve come from and see that, yes, we’ve come a very, very long way indeed. And we can look ahead, ahead to the shining peaks that mark our destination, peaks with names like Justice and Freedom and Dignity, peaks we’ve not yet climbed but that surely … surely … someday we will.

One last thing about trekking: you don’t do it alone. Other people built those trails. Maybe someone helps with your pack. A guide keeps you from falling into a crevasse and shows you the way.

None of us do this alone either. It takes all of us. The donors and the do-ers; the activists, artists, and allies; the leaders and the litigants; the volunteers and the visionaries; those in suits and those in the streets. And it takes you. Every one of you. Progress truly does happen for reasons. You are one of those reasons. And I thank you.

For every time you’ve given, thank you. For every time you’ve given again, thank you. For every time you’ve raised a protest sign or voted or phone-banked or knocked on doors … every time you’ve chosen hope over cynicism, commitment over complacence, standing up over standing aside, thank you. For every time you remember and honor those who have gone before us, every time you plan and provide for those who come after, for everything you have done or you will do for the freedom and dignity of all people everywhere, and for your presence here tonight, from all of us at Horizons Foundation, thank you, thank you, thank you.