This Saturday, GLAAD–which advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality–will be awarding former President Bill Clinton an Advocate for Change Award at the 24th Annual Media Awards. It’s a testament to the work of organizations like GLAAD and to how far we have come as a country that the president who signed the Defense of Marriage Act–a bill which hurt countless families–will speak out against it on stage at our event.
But so too does Clinton’s recent support for marriage equality. He joins other leaders including his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Senator Robert Portman of Ohio.
In statements of support, they each point to personal relationships with gay and lesbian people as the catalyst for their evolution on the issue. Some in the LGBT community have welcomed this powerful show of support, while others have questioned why a fundamental principle of basic human rights was not already at the root of their actions. I too wish that we were in a world where everyone would see our rights through such a prism, but we aren’t there yet.
At GLAAD, I advocate for a culture where accepting LGBT people is an American value. Part of that work is extending a hand to the very people we never imagined would or could side with us. In the tent that has popped up to encapsulate our equality movement, there is room for anyone willing to evolve on the issue of LGBT rights. Our jobs are not to dictate to anyone how they arrive to our side, but to allow them the opportunity and grace to do that work.
I experienced this firsthand. Growing up in a home with a father who held conservative ideas about LGBT people, I never would have imagined that he and I would have the bond we have today. As a child and as an adolescent, I was convinced that once he knew that I was gay, he would never want to see me and would never be able to love me. The truth is, it wasn’t easy for either of us. He did wrongfully throw me out of our home and there were painful days. It took some time to be able to look him in the eye after that. Eventually, I had an honest dialogue with him, heard him express sincere regret and allowed myself to forgive. Today, I beam with pride when I talk about how far he has come in his love and understanding for his son. That’s how we do the work of changing the world.
That is why GLAAD is extending its hands to Clinton. With trailblazers such as President Obama, our tent of supporters now covers well more than half the country and includes leaders from the worlds of faith, education, progressive politics, conservative politics, entertainment, child welfare, sports, healthcare, and the media. Also on the side of marriage equality are nearly every Democratic senator, several Republican senators, ex-presidents and one sitting president.
This year the Advocate for Change Award is not given just to an individual, but celebrates each and every one of us who contributed to that cultural change–and those who traveled the long road to join us on this fight who, like President Clinton, are now committed to leading the way well into the future.