Born in 1958, I was raised in an era of deafening, suffocating silence around LGBT issues. Then, in 1976, I discovered I was bisexual. I had just begun university, and — to my great surprise and bewilderment — I found myself head-over-heels in love with another woman. I had never imagined such a possibility, and this new information was deeply unsettling. Like most Americans, I had taken as given that I would grow up and seek my Mr. Right. But what if Mr. Right turned out to be a woman? If I shared my truth, what would my life be like? Would anyone still love me? Terrified and unsure, I remained silent for five long, difficult years, gathering courage to speak and live my truth.
We LGBT folks grow up knowing that our lives and our loves are considered by many to be less valid, even repugnant or evil. Whenever I mention my wife to a new acquaintance, I’m not sure whether I will be asked, “What is her name?” or if the person will flinch, take a step backward, and look away. Every time I tell someone I identify as bisexual, I brace myself, unsure whether they will respond with a smile or with a look of puzzlement or disgust.
Peg and I married in Massachusetts on May 17th, 2004, the first day it was possible to do so.
Neighbors and strangers greeted us on the street with enthusiasm and joy. Strangers waved to us from passing buses. A stranger thrust a bouquet of flowers into my hands. A stern-looking court clerk smiled, stating “It’s about time!” A street artist handed us a painting, saying “Congratulations! Here, let this be your first wedding gift!” To be embraced and celebrated by our community was an amazing — and unfamiliar — feeling.
To me, pride means living life in the light, with my head held high, my wife’s hand in mine. It means knowing that the light of our love is stronger than the storm clouds of disapproval. I know now that my love is beautiful. I am fortunate to have love in my life, and to live in a country where I can live my life openly.
We have made great progress, yet much remains to be done. We must ensure that no one can be fired because of their sexual orientation or gender expression. We must work in coalition with others to center and empower those still denied equity, whether because of their gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, race, citizenship status, or any other reason.
I am grateful to President Obama, the first U.S. President to make clear — through his words, his unprecedented support of LGBT people, and by hosting these annual LGBT Pride Receptions — that the White House is indeed the people’s house, and we LGBT people are welcome.
Finally, forty years later, I feel welcome.
Robyn Ochs, activist and writer (Photo: Kelly Jo Smart)