Approximately half a million LGBT people and allies descended on the nation’s capital on April 25, 1993 for the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation to proclaim their humanity, decry the response to the AIDS pandemic and demand equal protection under the law. Some fringe groups even staged a mass wedding. Most of the participants, myself included, thought it was a great protest stunt but an audacious goal for the movement. I knew not to expect too much.
It was well understood that tomorrow we would go home, after claiming the right to exist and maybe serve our country in the military. I held my boyfriend’s hand, sweaty in the humid sunshine and felt giddy and awestruck at the size of the crowd. I felt the energy of the people, the importance of the moment, the bass of the music and the weight of history, both personal and cultural. I felt everything, except Pride.
Pride is a defiance of shame—a reaction to what many of us felt growing up and negative attitudes we encountered. Sometimes we had to say that we mattered over and over before we believed it ourselves. We had to participate in those marches, those difficult conversations, those confrontations in order to claim our right to be free from shame. Pride can only exist when the space is cleared of all that tells you to feel less than. Now, some 27 years of Pride parades since that March on Washington, I’ve claimed my own right to be proud of being a gay man and father.
For me, my career has been an integral part of embracing my own pride. One of my first employers was an out gay architect in New York City who had recently lost his partner to AIDS. We worked in the loft they had shared as a couple. There was no hiding or minimizing their life together, we were surrounded by reminders of it. Over lunch he asked about my life and boyfriend. We had personal talks and gathered to watch the New York Pride parade from the loft. Here was a job where being gay wasn’t something merely tolerated–it added color and depth to my workday. Feeling Pride at work was a first for me.
A few years later at a different job, my decision to get married and adopt came at a time when these were flashpoints in America’s culture war. I feared how my employer would react. Would they recognize the marriage? Would we receive parental leave? Their response of support, kindness and commitment showed me how powerful Pride at work could be.
Years later, I wouldn’t dream of committing to a work life that didn’t complement my personal life. At SmithGroup, I’ve found some of the kindest and most genuine people I’ve encountered in the profession. Our firm’s commitment to equity, and far beyond that, to Pride, is unequaled. It took years of marching, chanting and encouraging our youth (and ourselves) to be proud of who we are to get here. Eventually we, and our allies, listened. Today, at those marches and rallies, I still feel the energy and the bass. But most importantly, I feel the true meaning of Pride.