It was 1992 and I had just moved to Dallas from a small college town in Florida. HIV/AIDS was a growing issue in my experience, but it had already taken many people in Dallas, including leaders in our LGBT community. I was too young to understand the power of the Stonewall Riots in 1969, so my personal experience with HIV/AIDS was my first defining moment to get involved in the community.
The mind-set in our community was different then. We had lost so many, and ACT-UP was in the streets and angry. Our community was under attack.
I remember making signs for protests and joining the board of DGLA. Lesbians fought to help save the lives of their gay brothers and in the process galvanized our community. Drag queens and transgender people were at the heart of many community actions. The sense of LGBT community was very strong.
Today, HIV/AIDS is still a devastating diagnosis for anyone, but is viewed by some in our younger community to be a manageable illness. These millennials have not experienced the struggles and death at the same scale. Our sense of community has waned over the years.
But then ….
It’s 2 in the morning in Los Angeles, where I have traveled for work, and the phone rings. Fifty people lay dead in a Florida gay bar, and more than 50 others are injured.
This is the start of another heart-wrenching, defining moment that unfortunately will make history and play out as Pride celebrations prepare to march.
The morning stretches on and I find myself sitting in a hotel room in West Hollywood preparing for LA Pride. I feel sick as the stress rises in my body, watching the reports from Florida, then the vibration of my cell phone makes me jump. A text message about an arrest near L.A. that has foiled another attempted attack on our community illuminates the room. My heart drops.
What is next?
We have come so far as a community, and each positive or negative defining moment presents an opportunity for us to come together in a way that makes our community stronger.
My husband Tony and I had been living in Dallas for several years when the Supreme Court invalidated sodomy laws with the Lawrence vs. Texas ruling in 2003. This was a positive defining moment for us that provided hope for our community and empowered our movement.
We experienced a setback in 2008 when California passed Prop 8, but our commitment to stand up and fight just made us stronger. Last year, the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling legalized our marriages, and as a community we have seen growing acceptance as Love Wins.
But now, once again our community is under attack. We are devastated by this senseless act of violence. As we mourn the victims in Florida, we also march on in solidarity and in honor of those we lost.
This is another defining moment for me. I feel like our community has a renewed fight. Once again, arm-in-arm we march. We stick together and support each other. My hope is that we find renewed strength in this tragedy and we once again become galvanized and strengthened as the LGBT community.
Our life experiences and defining moments influence our choices and how we choose to show up in the world. What is your defining moment? How will you make a difference?
Leo Cusimano is co-owner and publisher of Dallas Voice and Voice Publishing Co
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 17, 2016.