Rochester Pride, August 24th
Thank you for having me, and congratulations to Matt Wyatt and the Rochester MFA for another amazing Pride event. You should be so proud of your work, and of the City of Rochester for supporting this community.
I am so pleased to be celebrating this milestone with you today.
For those of you who might not know me, my name is Lincoln Soldati. I’ve served as the mayor of Somersworth and for many years as Strafford County Attorney. Along with many voices you’ve already heard from today, I am also running for Congress.
But today isn’t about me. It is about pride, and celebrating all the progress the LGBTQ community has made over the past few decades. You are proof of Margaret Mead’s truism: “Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
I have seen this change with my own eyes. 25 years ago, my brother-in-law Michael was diagnosed with HIV-AIDS. He was my kids’ favorite uncle.
Explaining terminal illness to children is never easy, that a beloved family member is dying, that there was a disease that modern medicine had no answers to, and that we had a government, a culture, a CDC that actively suppressed the understanding of this virus because it was considered a “gay” disease. The negligence and bigotry of our leaders is a legacy we still have not fully shaken.
Nevertheless, my wife Kathleen and I did what we thought was best – to treat our children with the same respect and maturity and address their questions head on. We included them in the conversations about Michael’s eventual death, and explained with honesty both the nature of his illness. Harder to explain to curious children was why a culture treated their beloved uncle with ignorance and fear, and shunned, silenced, and shamed members of his community.
I look around now and am overwhelmed with pride and admiration for how far this community has come, and how far our culture has come. Many of you know my youngest son Emmett, who owns Teatotaller in Somersworth. 25 years ago, a café and tea house dedicated to creating a safe space for the queer community would have been unthinkable in rural New Hampshire. An event like this here in Rochester would never get off the ground. Look how far we’ve come.
But we still have so much further to go. We have an administration bent on discrimination against our trans service members, on devaluing the lives of the LGBTQ community, threatening their rights, their safety, and their lives.
This event and this community is proof of what happens when we stand up against bigotry and hatred with love and kindness. That the arch of history is long, but it bends towards justice. That community always wins. By being here today, by being visible – by being proud – community protects against hate. We are here together to celebrate, but in 2018 when we gather as a community, we come together against hatred in all forms.
Through adversity, community has always been the solution. We do not have equal marriage in America because of a 2015 Supreme Court decision – gay marriage is legal in America because Marsha Johnson, a queer person of color was brave enough to throw the first shoe at Stonewall in 1969. Gender dysphoria was removed as a mental disorder from the DSM not because a group of psychiatrists one day made a decision. It’s because Christine Jorgensen, a military veteran during WWII, had the courage to live her life publicly as a transwoman in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Acceptance and affirmation surrounding the LGBTQ community and sub-cultures is not expanding because Rupaul’s Drag Race, it’s because back in 1970s Atlanta, then 16 year old RuPaul Andre Charles felt empowered by his community to brandish his first smear of lipstick as an act of breaking the conformist status quo. Community is our greatest strength and assurance that rights for all humans will be protected and affirmed. Today may be a moment in time, but this is not a moment, it’s a movement. It will always be a movement.
Thank you again for including me in this movement, and congratulations on another year of Pride.