Guest Opinion: Work continues to advance LGBTQ equity

  • by Jamie Bruning-Miles and Tye Gregory
  • Wednesday December 21, 2022
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Tye Gregory, left, and Jamie Bruning-Miles attended the Respect for Marriage Act signing ceremony December 13 on the South Lawn of the White House. Photo: Courtesy YMCA
Tye Gregory, left, and Jamie Bruning-Miles attended the Respect for Marriage Act signing ceremony December 13 on the South Lawn of the White House. Photo: Courtesy YMCA

On Tuesday, December 13, a historic event — the signing in Washington, D.C. of the Respect for Marriage Act by President Joe Biden, with our own Kamala Harris, Vice President and former district attorney of San Francisco, as well as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) — brought us all together from the Bay Area. It was an afternoon filled with gratitude, emotions, reconnection, and hope. As two gay leaders of nonprofit agencies centered on elevating the communities we serve, this moment was for us and so many others like us.

Altogether over 5,000 people came together from across our nation to celebrate. Advocates, civic leaders, civil rights advocates, and activists came together with elected leaders to hold up this beacon of hope. We didn't get here by accident, but rather thanks to decades of relentless effort by generations of activists and leaders who came before us. Many, many Bay Area luminaries have fought through the social and political challenges to land victories for marginalized people.

The roadway to liberation, security, and acknowledgment was paved by hard work and hard knocks. From the 1966 Compton Cafeteria riots three years before Stonewall to the people who lead civil rights movements, like the late gay civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, who in 1943 taught a seven-week course at the Japantown YWCA in San Francisco. Our leaders have gone down in history, like Harvey Milk, for their many victories. Though some of their stories ended in tragedy, their legacies launched movements and made once unimaginable progress possible. San Francisco's prominence was felt on the South Lawn as our homegrown Speaker Pelosi and Vice President Harris represented our city's outsized legacy.

As staunch LGBTQ+ allies, Jewish organizations such as JCRC Bay Area (Jewish Community Relations Council) and civic institutions like the YMCA of San Francisco have sought social justice and equity alongside these activists.

Without the vision of San Francisco leaders past and present, we would not be here serving as proud CEOs of two storied San Francisco nonprofits. And the work, which now rests in our hands, is not done. Recent years have demanded a reckoning of racial and gender equity, and particularly today, as our transgender neighbors face a surge in hate, our community-based organizations must continue to evolve and meet the full needs of the communities we serve. We recognize and affirm that even given this, what unites us will always be stronger than what divides us — here in the Bay Area, nationally and beyond.

The Bay Area represents a multi-racially diverse, inclusive, and queer community to the world. We represent hope and progress to so many. To intentionally be that progress looks a little different, means a little more. We are able to show up openly in our roles because of the culturally relevant diversity of the Bay Area.

For generations, San Francisco has been a beacon of hope and freedom — providing a sense of belonging to those in need. Our city must live up to its promise of a multi-racial and diverse queer community.

What does this mean for us as leaders now? It means we move forward more diligently in honor of those who came before and that we continue in the same vein of progress, and with the same intentions of equity and justice for all, and especially to protect those affected by bigotry.

We take it upon ourselves to build confidence in the world of tomorrow, and we expect there to be many more moments like the one at the White House last week to celebrate. While we hope to continue to earn the privilege to bear witness to future moments like these, what's most critical is that we band together to advance equitable laws and confront rising hatred to improve the lives of those around us.

The past few years have put demands on leadership to take a stance and on community-based organizations to come prepared for change. And we have taken it upon ourselves to be the leaders we believe our communities are asking us to be. What unites us will always be stronger than what divides us, especially during such challenging times as these. In our respective spaces we've called for this change and moved for our organizations and communities to continue down this pathway of equality.

It hasn't been easy, but we hope to continue to earn the privilege of being present at moments like these. When we know our lives and the lives of those around us will be so greatly impacted into the future. This is just one moment and one security of many more to come.

Jamie Bruning-Miles is president and CEO of the YMCA of San Francisco. Tye Gregory is president and CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council Bay Area.

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