Friday, Aug 14, 2020
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Friday, Aug 14, 2020
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Our Memorial Day
Our Memorial Day
by Jennifer Vanasco - SGN Contributing Writer

A friend of mine has a tradition.

Every Memorial Day she and her family visit the graves of the loved ones they've lost. The parents and cousins, the grandparents and friends.

She remembers them and honors them.

And in turn, the memories of them stay present with her.

Memorial Day, of course, is a military holiday, meant to honor the brave men and women in the Armed Services who have given their lives to serve our country. The national holiday should still be that, will always be that.

But the GLBT community can also repurpose the holiday, the way we have with so many other things.

We can use it to remember our own dead -those who died because they were Gay or Transgender, and those who were Gay and Transgender who died.

We can remember our great ones.

We can remember all the activists who have fought for us for the past 40 years, those who put their relationship with their families, their jobs, and their lives on the line in order to work for equal employment, equal marriage, attention to GLBT health issues and an end to violence and discrimination toward GLBT people.

We can remember our great authors, like Tennessee Williams, Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas, James Baldwin, Audre Lorde and (maybe) William Shakespeare.

We can remember Katharine Lee Bates, who wrote "America the Beautiful" and Bayard Rustin who made America more beautiful by dedicating his life to African-American civil rights.

We can remember composers Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copeland and Samuel Barber. We can remember singers Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey. We can remember photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. We can remember choreographer Alvin Ailey.

We can also remember those who died too soon.

We can remember Harvey Milk, now the subject of an upcoming biopic, who inspired a generation to come out when he was the first openly Gay elected official in the country. He was killed by his anti-Gay colleague Dan White.

We can remember the thousands of Gay men who were slaughtered by AIDS, particularly those in the wave of deaths in the 1980s, who ferociously called the country and medicine to account for ignoring the disease's progress.

We can remember Keith Haring, who used his simple and ecstatic artwork to raise calls for activism and awareness. He died at age 31.

We can remember journalist Randy Shilts, who told our stories to the public and made them listen.

We can remember those who were killed by Iraqi death squads because they were Gay, those killed under the Taliban, those killed by Nazis. We can think of our brothers and sisters in Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen, where homosexual acts are still punishable by death.

We can remember Brandon Teena, the Transgender man whose story later became the movie Boys Don't Cry.

We can remember Rebecca Wight and Claudia Brenner, James Zappalorti, Paul Brussard, Barry Winchell, Scott Amedure, Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder, Fred Martinez, Nizah Morris, Roxanne Ellis and Michelle Abdil, Steen Fenrich, Gwen Araujo, Sakia Gunn, Aaron Webster, Arthur J.R. Warren, Richie Phillips, Jason Gage, FannyAnn Eddy, Brian Williamson, Brandie Coleman, Michael Sandy, Roberto Duncanson, all of whom were killed through anti-LGBT violence. We can remember those who were killed whose names we do not know.

We can remember Matthew Shepard.

We can remember, too, this year's dead. We can remember those who died of natural causes, like the recently departed artist Robert Rauschenberg; science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke; historian and activist Allan Berube; and Larry McKeon, the first Gay legislator in Illinois.

And we can remember those who died of unnatural causes, like Lawrence King, the Transgender teenager who was killed by a classmate because he was brave enough to wear makeup and jewelry to school.

We can remember all in our community whom we loved and lost. We can celebrate their lives and their impact on our lives.

We can think about the things they loved, the causes they cared about, and commit ourselves to working on those issues, too. This Memorial Day, take a moment. Light a candle. Say a prayer. Read their names to the sound of bells. These are members of our community that we have lost, and in remembering them, we honor them.

Jennifer Vanasco is an award-winning, syndicated columnist. E-mail her at She edits the Gay political blog

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