Seizing the Carpet: Equality Weekend

-Elizabeth B. Fuhrman, RPCV

My mama often told me, “Seize the carpet!” (You know, instead of “carpe diem.”) She was a “seizing” kind of Texas gal. Guess some of that passed down in my jeans. Recently I got in my fair share of “seizing” for what I now refer to as Equality Weekend. That was the 13th Annual Human Rights Campaign Dinner Saturday, October 10th, plus the National Equality March on Washington on Sunday, October 11th.

Without even knowing who was on the celebrity list, I signed up my partner and me to volunteer for the annual HRC dinner. I figured there would be good food and all. At some point we noticed that Lady Gaga was a headliner, making for a fun talking point. Like I was shopping near Rehobeth Beach and this blouse caught my eye. I asked the cute saleswoman, “Do you think Lady Gaga would notice me in this?” Wide-eyed, she nodded. “Really, you are going to see Lady Gaga?” “Yep. I’m gonna be at a party with her.” My partner elbowed me… Only a few days before the event, I noticed the addition of President Obama. I called up my partner and broke the news; her first comment was, “What am I going to wear?”

Saturday, October 10th
Speaking of dress, on the day of the HRC dinner, by the time we got to the Convention Center, our feet were already hurting. Okay, imagine lesbians trying to wear high-heeled shoes once every five years. (And high-heels for lesbians is say one inch.) Now that’s a sight to see! Just call us “wobblers.” (And at a formal such as this, there ain’t much choice. It’s all butch, “suits,” or all femme, “wobblers.” I feel torn because I don’t really fit either.) Once the novelty of dressing up wore off, us “wobblers” sure wished we were “suits.” What would Lady Gaga say?

So there we were making sure the cue behaved, when Jane Lynch seizes the carpet, the very same that we were standing on. A beautiful giant, she somehow managed a kind of “wobbler-suit” combo: high heels, dress and suit jacket. Next, we re-positioned ourselves at the main doors of the dining room where we took tickets. Gaggles of gorgeous gay men checked in, decked out to the tens. The dinner formally started with Lynch welcoming everyone. I best recall her making jokes about not being an activist by nature, referring to herself as a “complainer.” Yep, it’s a fine line between the two, this “seizing the carpet” business. What would my mama say?

Looking in the faces of those around me, I could see the charged emotions as each speaker talked of change and progress. The cast of Glee were received with a huge applause. I struggled to harness my own emotions from time to time. Guess I’ve never been in the same room with so many celebrities who spoke out for the gay community before. Okay, so let me get right to Obama’s speech because it was truly the icing on the HRC cake. This is the way I explained it to my friends and family: Obama said all the things we have ever wanted a President to say to the gay community! He acknowledged our struggle and frustrations. He promised to strike down “Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell.” He said gay couples should get all the benefits married couples have. All in all, he sounded so in-the-know about our issues that I swear he must have a gay bf. Alrighty, I think you should just go to YouTube and listen for yourself.

Funny, when Gaga appeared, she got the same reverence as Obama, just no presidential march music. (Obama must really be sick of that song. I bet he much preferred the Black-Eyed Peas song: “Tonight’s Gonna Be a Good Night.”) However, the Lady surprised everyone with somber tones, talking about the GLBT equality movement as being the most worthy in her opinion. Stating that this night was not about her, she informed us she wouldn’t sing any of her own songs. She leaned over the white piano and played John Lennon’s “Imagine,” changing the lyrics to mention Matthew Shepherd and anti-gay violence. Parked on the floor, shoes off, my partner and I were lulled by her luscious, strong voice.

The night culminated with Representative Patrick Kennedy talking about the many years of his father Ted Kennedy’s service to the GLBT community. Doubt there was a dry eye in the house when he bestowed the HRC’s first Edward M. Kennedy National Leadership Award to Judy and Dennis Shepherd. Damn, should’ve packed some hankies!

Sunday, October 11th
Still buzzing from the night before, I metro-ed the next morning to downtown DC again for the Equality March. It didn’t really hit me how big this event was going to be until I boarded along with a crowd of marchers, including two little girls with their rainbow-clad father. It struck me how the people attending the march looked different from those that “do Pride”. Was it the variety in ages and their places of origin? Was it the fact that I didn’t recognize the “usual crowd”?

As I waited around for the march to proceed, this time hoofed in sturdy lesbian shoes, I had major flashbacks of when I was one of the RPCV group bearing country flags that briskly-cold day in January when we shivered around, waiting for the Inaugural Parade to begin. (see our February 2009 artcle) By contrast this Equality Day was sunny and beautiful! As far forward and backward as I could see, the streets were thick with all kinds of folks. One person held up a sign: “I didn’t get to vote whether you can marry. Why do you get to vote on me?” Another guy’s sign said: “Do you really want me to marry your daughter?” This older woman’s sign stood out: “I’m too old for this B.S. Give me equal rights now!” My sign said: “Just let me get married already.”

Lo and behold, I found a whole block of marching Texans. Go figure, they were carrying the biggest rainbow flag of all, plus a Texan flag! When we got close to the White House, our chants changed from “Hey hey, ho ho, homophobia has got to go” to “Obama, Obama. Let mama marry mama!”

Once our segment of the march reached the destination of the Capitol grounds, the lawn area was already filled. A ring of people moved ’round the reflecting pool. Friends, my partner and I sat and gawked at all the people and port-o-potties. We had to “park it” back by the statues. I only got up off my now exhausted butt to applaud a few of the many speakers, like hottie actor Michelle Clunie, our “old friend” from Queer as Folk, and long-time gay activist Cleve Jones. The crowd went gaga when Lady Gaga screamed out, “President Obama. Are you listening?”

Back on the metro home, too “seized-out” to talk, I reflected on the weekend. That feeling that I was a part of something way bigger than myself again made me feel fortunate that I was able to get involved. Wherever my mama is, out there in the after-life, I know she’s real proud of me! Yet it was the “allies” that made me ponder hard, those that chose to take part in the dinner and the march. I thought about the mom that was on the arm of a proud gay man I talked to at the dinner, and the young hetero-couple from New York that came to march with a friend. Also there was that young man who relayed how he marched for his lesbian sister in California. Those were the stories that made me think: When was the last time I went to march for someone else’s cause? And how precious is that, folks that “seize the carpet” when an issue is not so personal? Why didn’t I give these allies, as they bravely blended with the thousands of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender participants…damn, why didn’t I give them a super-sized Texas hug?!

My photo-story (song by Emiliana Torrini).


You can contact Elizabeth Fuhrman at ebfuhrman@aol.com

About LGBT RPCV
We are an organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and others who are Peace Corps volunteer alumni, current volunteers, former and current staff members and friends. Founded in Washington D.C. in 1991, we have several hundred members throughout the country and around the world who have served in Peace Corps since its beginning in 1961. We're made up of a national steering committee, together with regional chapters. We are an active affiliate member of the National Peace Corps Association.

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