This past weekend I was at the wedding of one of my best friends. We met in graduate school. She helped me find a flat before I even arrived in North America. She picked me up at the airport and helped me move in. But most importantly, she was an out lesbian in the department. She had blazed the trail I would follow, and by her presence and actions, made my life as an only recently out gay man less difficult, and less lonely.
She and her wife married, surrounded by friends and family, at a beautiful, touching, fun and definitively ORDINARY wedding. How far we'd come from our tumultuous days only seven years ago. Same sex marriage was not legal in Maryland back then, DOMA and DADT were still in place. Our families (we both have old parents) were still grappling with our sexualities. WE were still grappling with our sexualities. Grappling with how to live honest lives, while protecting ourselves. Learning to deal with our fears real and perceived.
Many people from my graduate school days were at the wedding, including my advisor, which took me somewhat by surprise. He and his wife greeted my fiance and me warmly. They asked how we were doing. We talked about life in Ohio, about my job, about our futures. Again, an intensely ordinary moment. Later I remembered something that made smile. Years before, in my third year in graduate school, when my boyfriend and I had been together for about nine months, I was agonizing over a problem. The departmental Labor day party was about to happen, and as always significant others were invited. I wanted to invite my boyfriend, it seemed insulting not to. And so, my stomach twisted into knots, I went to tell my advisor that I would be bringing my boyfriend to the labor day party. I outed myself to my advisor at 5pm on a friday in his office. I was nervous beyond belief, even though I knew my friend had brought one of her girlfriends to the labor day party years before. She was not his student, I thought, maybe he would react differently.
My advisor's reaction was splendid. He simply asked how long I'd been with my boyfriend. The next day, when we arrived at the party, he greeted my partner with "So nice to finally meet you. I've heard so much about you". Even though he'd only learnt of his existence the day before. We laugh about it now, but at the time, all I felt was relief. *
So here we are, seven years later. I am an out gay scientist living in rural Ohio. I have a wonderful supportive boss and department. We are planning our wedding with the full excitement of both our families, immediate and extended. The marriage will be legal in all three countries that it needs to be. We will have as much chance at happiness as everyone else, and we will be free to celebrate that happiness openly.
There is still much to do, yes. There is still no employment protection for LBGT individuals. Gay marriage is still not legal in all states. There is still intolerance, covert and overt. There is the tragedy of homeless LBGT youth. There is the horror of persecution of LBGT individuals in much of the rest of the world. Yet for this scientist who stepped off a plane in Baltimore seven years ago unsure he would be able to be happy as a gay man, who stood with butterflies in his stomach outside his advisor's office waiting to ask if he could bring his partner to a barbeque, who wondered if he would be ever able to legally reside in the same country as the love of his life for that reason alone, the change is breathtaking. I will take a moment to celebrate how far we've come as a society, and how far I've come as an individual.
*As an aside, even though the purpose of this post is not to teach lessons, this is why you must be pro-active in creating a gay friendly environment. Be inclusive in your descriptions of couples. Invote succesful LBGT scientists to seminars. You cannot assume your students know the department is gay friendly, and given the potential risks if they make a mistake, they will be cautious.