It’s nearly half-way through the Sochi Olympics as I write this. In fact, I am under a blanket on the couch watching the women’s snowcross event as I type. Six days into the games and five of the seven American medals have been won by women. For those of you rusty on your math, that’s a whopping 71 percent. To paraphrase a slogan from the old Virginia Slims advertisement, “We’ve come a long way, baby.”
But, have we really? These are the same Olympic Games where women ski jumpers, being permitted to jump for the first time, are fighting off suggestions that the sport threatens female reproductive organs. Seriously? Somehow a man’s penis can sustain the impact from a 300-foot jump better than a woman’s uterus? What year is it anyway, and why are we still having these kinds of conversations?
March is Women’s History Month and it’s as good a time as any to think about the L in LGBTQ. How are we doing as lesbians and as women? How far have we come and how far do we still need to go? Are we liberated as women, dykes, queers, trans people, tomboys, butches and femmes? Have we achieved equality with respect to sex, gender and sexual orientation? Does liberation even matter anymore?
These are heavy questions for a Sunday night, but they are ones I reflect on frequently. So much has changed since I managed to creep out of the closet over the course of one very hot summer in 1991. In those days, the best I had for role models was the ultra closeted Melissa Etheridge and the rumored-to-be gay k.d. lang. This was pre-Internet, and the best way to find other gay people at Ohio University was to go to the alternative dance night and hope for the best. Or, out yourself by going to a weekly gay support group meeting. Me, I downed a couple of shots every Saturday and took my chances at the bar.
Twenty three years later I am in a committed relationship with my partner of 12 years. We are the parents of two happy, spirited kids and I earn a good chunk of my paycheck leading the LGBTQ Health Initiative at the Columbus Public Health Department. I swim on a gay swim team and rarely think twice about holding hands in public. Things got better … at least in my life.
The weekend I wrote this, Facebook and Twitter blew up with the news of Ellen Page coming out. She said she was “tired of hiding.” My first thought was “wow, look how much things have changed.” Then I read her speech and thought about how much still needs to be done. Homophobia hasn’t been eradicated and while its grip has loosened, it still forces many people to lead lives of secrecy and shame. Suicide, depression, alcoholism and obesity still occur at rates higher in the lesbian population than that of the general population of women. We still have work to do.
So, for now I’m thinking that while some things are miles easier than they were 20 years ago, we best not let our guard down. Until women, queer or straight, can compete in the sport of their choice, work (for equal pay) in the profession they love, or follow whatever dream they have, we’re not done fighting. Until the day when “coming out” ceases to be a thing, women need feminism and events like Women’s History Month. Sure, things can get better, but they aren’t done getting better yet and it doesn’t happen without a fight. Raise a fist this March and keep the movement alive.
Our Q & A with Julia
Q: What are you most thankful for in your personal life?
I am most thankful for my family and my community. I have a loving, supportive partner and two happy kids. I am also surrounded by an amazing network of friends and family.
Q: What would you like to share about Columbus and our LGBTQA community?
Columbus is such an accepting and forward thinking city. I came here in 1993 looking for an LGBTQ community and never left because I found such a vibrant, diverse group of queer friends. In my experience, people have always been friendly and welcoming. The low cost of living is a bonus too! I love that the Columbus LGBTQA community is as broad and diverse as it is. There is space in this community for trannies, bears, leather daddies, drag kings, LGBTQ people of faith, married couples, artists, studs, queens, queers with kids, etc. The gay community in Columbus is not homogenous and I love that fact about it. There is also a large LGBTQ activist community working on issues ranging from HIV/AIDS, gender expression, same sex domestic violence, marriage equality, youth homelessness, etc. To me, these are the things that make the LGBTQA community in Columbus exciting, relevant and critical to the overall landscape of the city.
Q: What benefits have you gained from your activism and service to the community?
I have been fortunate to be involved in LGBTQ advocacy work at the local, national and international levels. I can’t express enough gratitude for the impact that this work has had on my life. Working as an activist in this community resulted in all my closest friendships, connected me to my partner, brought me the donors for our children, has enabled me to make friendships all over the world and led me to my current job. Coming out during college in 1991 was one of the scariest things I have ever done, but finding the courage to stay out has brought me all the joys of my life.
Q: What are your thoughts on the giving/charity nature of the local LGBTQA community?
I don’t know for sure, but it seems like there are a lot of benevolent queers in Columbus. For example, look at all of the funds raised in the aftermath of the two LGBTQ hate crimes last June. The “On Fridays We Wear Pink” campaign was amazing both on a fundraising level and on a community organizing level. I have not attended any fundraising performances this past year. I have a two year old and a baby at home. Babies win!