“I feel like a stranger in my own country,” I remember saying with exasperation to my editor the morning after the 1994 election that saw a “Republican Revolution” take over both houses of Congress for the first time in more than 40 years. As an African American and a gay American, I’d grown accustomed to that feeling. One where we were viewed and made to feel like we were apart from rather than a part of this great nation.
The election of President Obama in 2008 changed that “other” feeling for part of me. Nothing like your fellow citizens putting a black man in the Oval Office to make you stand tall. After talking to a few people over the past week and a half, I‘m not the only one who believed that the heady feelings of hope (and change) that followed that remarkable night six years ago were repeated on June 26, 2015.
That morning, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that same-sex couples had a constitutional right to marry. The mind-reeling ruling meant that my fellow gay men and lesbians and their families were equal to their straight married friends in the eyes of federal law. There’s still more work to do before the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community is truly equal in the eyes of the law, but that decision makes that work all the more easy.
Later that day, Obama delivered a eulogy for slain pastor Clementa Pinckney in Charleston, S.C., so powerful that I was rendered speechless. Not only did he speak to the pain of the families of the nine slain by an avowed racist, but also of African Americans and a nation who continue to be hobbled by hate. Then Obama urged all of us to no longer remain silent in the face of hate, to dip into that “reservoir of goodness” in all of us to pull us through. “May God continue to shed His grace on the United States of America,” the president said in closing his 40-minute oration, lingering on “United” to remind all that we are one.
By the evening of June 26, an amazing day took a delightful turn for the surreal. Suddenly, pictures started showing up on social media of the White House awash in the rainbow colors of the gay pride flag. Like thousands of others, my partner and I took a detour on the way home from dinner to see this unprecedented action with our own eyes. Words cannot fully express what it meant to see the people’s house lit so.
The next day, I found myself walking a little taller and feeling a lot prouder of my country. Those “other” feelings from 1994 won’t return. As a gay American and as an African American, I will always remember June 26 as the day I no longer felt like a stranger in my own country.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj