By Gary Virginia
Editorâ€™s Note: Many of us at the Bay Times were moved by SF Pride Community Grand Marshal Gary Virginiaâ€™s memorable, inspirational remarks at the Pride Brunch for Positive Resource Center, June 23, 2012. Below is an excerpt.
At age 52, Iâ€™m soon approaching the time where half of my life has been marked by HIV. In many ways it has served me well. Physical symptoms often reflect our thought patterns, as explained in the groundbreaking book, You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay. Through my experience with AIDS, I have learned to love and appreciate myself unconditionally, release any shame and sexual guilt, and understand that I am powerful and capable. At mid-life, I believe my best years are ahead of me, and choose to be an example of a gay man aging with grace, dignity and power, while always having a good time!
Being in the esteemed company of everyone on this stage makes me realize that American culture today confuses fame with accomplishment. Each of us has had the limelight shine our way, and one of the beauties of living in San Francisco is the potential to be a big fish in a small pond. But collectively this group of individuals has had far-reaching impact beyond the ripples of our shores. Whether it be Gilbert Bakerâ€™s globally recognized rainbow flag, or groundbreaking legislation to combat discrimination by Willie Brown, these women and men acted to further the ideal of a more equitable world.
Of note to our youth and society is that the fame was not based on how fabulous Sr. Roma looked, or how many friends we had on Facebook, but based on the bravery to stand up for what was right for humankind. From Bishop Senyonjoâ€™s courageous stand against antigay bigotry in Uganda, to the decades of advocacy for the Latino, Chicano and Two Spirits communities by Olga Talamante and Morningstar Vancil, we see accomplishment being recognized. We are the reality show the world should be watching, not the Housewives of Timbuktu and The Bachelor.
And unlike a certain past US president - who has the letters â€śB.S.â€ť in his last name - these leaders are the real heroes who got their
â€śmission accomplishedâ€ť without concern for a photo op.
Much of my activism in recent years has focused on the plight of foreign LGBT people. I have my own â€śgay agendaâ€ť and it is based on a hierarchy of needs. When a life is threatened with incarceration, torture or murder, that person deserves a global response. The heinous, targeted killing of Ugandan gay rights activist David Kato will never leave my mind. Nor images of gay or suspected gay men hung or bludgeoned to death in Iraq. When a lesbian or gay man is facing deportation back to a dangerous land, it is the responsibility of all of us to stop texting about a Groupon deal, and start tweeting to embassies. Too many of us live in the comfort of great numbers of queers
in the Bay Area, and forget who fought for the freedoms before us, and who is begging for our help around the world.
When we see decades of dictatorships overthrown in the Middle East with the power of social media, surely we must recognize our power in the seat of Silicon Valley. Iâ€™m not asking you to become a cloistered nun (well, maybe Sr. Roma!), but at a minimum, be registered and vote, get Obama reelected, and join at least one advocacy group that resonates with you.
Yes, there is still work to be done in our own backyard, but a society is judged by what it does for the least among us, and right now the needs are critical for many foreign queers. I ask, what are you doing to help?
As I ride down Market Street tomorrow, Iâ€™ll have the rich memories of friends who have transitioned with me, as well as those who have shared the joy of volunteerism with me from the Leather Community, Krewe de Kinque Mardi Gras club, Rainbow World Fund, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, AEF, PRC, Gays Without Borders, political allies, the Imperial and Ducal Courts, House of Garza, The Edge, Daddyâ€™s, Eagle, Cafe Flore & many bars and businesses. Together, we have made a positive difference in the lives of many, and our work continues.
In closing I want to remind each of you of the power you hold within you.
Marianne Williamson once said, â€śOur deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, â€śWho am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?â€ť Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people wonâ€™t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.â€ť
Thank you again for this wonderful honor. And may your light shine brightly this weekend, as we collectively embrace the dawn of global equality.