Over the Rainbow and Beyond the Tipping Point
It was one of those moments that makes you stop, look very closely, and tell yourself that the world has perhaps passed a monumental tipping point and we have, in fact, started to get a glimpse of what life might just be like over the rainbow. Sitting at opposite sides of a table at San Mateo's 4th Annual Pride event on June 4th 2016, a 14 year-old sat carefully reading and responding to a web survey about LGBTQ life in San Mateo, while a woman in her 80's, assisted by her daughter, did the same. In this one snapshot I could see the struggle so many have gone through for LGBTQ rights, the Stonewall Riots, the first Pride parades, the countless lives lost and the visible and invisible wounds born by so many. Yet in that same snapshot I could see the result of all the hard work done by so many, those who answered Harvey Milk's call to "come out, come out" wherever we were so that some day an LGBTQ 14 year old could be out and proud and tell his government how it could make his life, and the lives of those he loves, even better.
This was the test launch of the San Mateo County LGBTQ Commission's survey, the result of nearly two years work by the first such commission in California, our first opportunity to start asking the questions that will ultimately help us make sure that San Mateo County is a welcoming and safe place where its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community members can thrive. Throughout the day every single computer at that table was occupied and by the end of the day nearly 100 people had filled out the youth and adult surveys, giving us our first glimpse into how it feels for LGBTQ folks to live and work in San Mateo.
While it will be quite a while before we start to gather more surveys and truly analyze the data, one thing was made clear by that lovely image of the two people of vastly different ages and generations sitting at the table in that moment: we've come a long way.
Just a few feet from that table, throughout the entire day, San Mateo's Central Park was filled with people, representing the wild and wonderful diversity that is San Mateo County, all ages, all the colors of the rainbow, people identifying as LGBTQ, straight allies, those not wanting to check any particular identity box, and those who just happened to wander into the park and decided to stay because it looked like a lot of fun. By the end of the day nearly 1,000 people had joined together for great food, live music, hands-on activities, art exhibits, information-sharing, invitations to participate in faith communities, introductions to terrific and supportive local organizations and businesses, handshakes from local politicians, and of course some opportunities to do a bit of shopping. And if you listened closely, you could actually hear the diversity in Chinese, Spanish, English, Russian, Tagalog, Japanese, French, German, and Hebrew.
As a person who has been going to Pride festivals and parades for the last 30 years, and as a member of San Mateo County's LGBTQ Commission, I was so happy to be part of this historic and wonderful day in San Mateo. Congratulations to the Pride Initiative, the folks most responsible for pulling together this terrific event, and deep thanks to the park rangers and other staff at San Mateo's Central Park, and more thanks to the businesses, organizations, musicians, MC, and volunteers who created an amazingly welcoming, fun, and inclusive day for all who attended.
Moving forward, the image of those two people of such different generations sitting across the table from each other, and the stunningly diverse gathering throughout Central Park that day, will continue to inspire us to make San Mateo County a place where everyone feels welcome and can thrive.
Craig Wiesner is a member of the San Mateo County LGBTQ Commission and the co-founder of Reach And Teach, San Mateo's independent bookstore and cultural gift shop.