“Obama was so slow in supporting gay rights, but he was the first to paint the White House with a rainbow,” said my 57-year-old “husbro” after the United States’ Supreme Court passed a decision that guaranteed the right to same-sex marriage on Friday.
I'm engaged to an American who lives in Shanghai hence the reason I travel here every once in a while. Some friends said I was one of the lucky ones, because I will be able to benefit from the Supreme Court’s decision. My boyfriend and I are now one step closer to being able to marry each other. But that's not what this article is about.
In 1996, he and some of his friends planned to throw a massive wedding-style commitment ceremony for same-sex couples in San Diego, California. They wanted to use this event to raise awareness for same-sex marriage during a Republican Party National Convention in San Diego.
They invited long-time gay and lesbian couples, booked a venue, and rented a party boat to tour the harbor in front of the convention, but unfortunately, it was their fellow gay activists who turned down the idea.
“They said the idea was too bold, too soon – it was asking too much,” he said. “They said there were other more important issues and the move could set back the unsteady support we were getting from the Democrats at the time.”
So they canceled it.
That was nearly 20 years ago, a time when even American gay activists frowned at the idea of promoting same-sex marriage. Thankfully, on Friday, the US Supreme Court's decision guaranteed this right for everyone, despite opposition by people who argued it was “asking too much.”
After the news went viral, I was among those who celebrated it. I applied the rainbow theme to my profile pictures on Facebook, Twitter and Path.
I have some gay and lesbian American friends here in Shanghai and I couldn't tell you how thrilled they were with the news. I could feel their joy first hand and that's probably why I'm so happy. Not envious. Just happy.
Rick, a friend who just moved to Nanjing, China with his husband, said that he was so happy that now all of his friends have the right to marry in all 50 states of the US.
Another friend, Kelly, in the style of Oprah Winfrey handing out gifts on her show shouted, ”Now YOU'RE GETTING MARRIED! YOU'RE GETTING MARRIED! WE'RE ALL GETTING MARRIED!”
And my Chinese friends jokingly said, “Let's go to the US and get married!”
The happiness is real and infectious.
Some people might say that what happened in the US will not have any impact in Indonesia and I understand why.
For LGBT (the shorthand for gay, bisexual and transgender people) Indonesians, it's considered good enough if we could publish gay-themed books without fear that “some activists” won't protest or boycott the publisher. It's good enough if we could make LGBT-themed films without having to deal with the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission.
It's good enough if LGBT Indonesians could just be “out” in school or at work without discriminated against. I could you tell more examples on how low we set our expectation when it comes to being accepted, but you’ll understand if you read this report
. According to Arus Pelangi, a group promoting equal rights for LGBT people, 33.7 percent of LGBT Indonesians thought about suicide and 20.1 percent of them had attempted suicide.
But we should remember that what happened in the US on Friday did not happen in the blink of an eye. Prior to this, many of our American friends experienced discrimination, bullying, and other forms of violence.
Take Shane Bitney (@ShaneBitney), for example. The LGBT activist suffered a mental breakdown in 2011 after his partner for six years, Tom Bridegroom, died in an accident and Shane sadly was denied hospital visits because he “was not a family member.” Bitney's story was made into a documentary that was well received by critics.
And remember Harvey Milk? He was the first openly gay man elected to a city-wide public office in San Francisco, but he was shot dead by his former co-worker in 1978.
The LGBT people in the US have come a long way, and what happened on Friday was proof that it can be worth the journey.
I might not live long enough to see the same thing in Indonesia. However, that doesn't mean I'm going to stop hoping that LGBT Indonesians can be have equal rights as other Indonesians.
We have survived for so many years and yet we forget that we deserve more than survival. We deserve to thrive. That's something that, believe it or not, is still worth fighting for.
That said, I believe that LGBT Indonesians should also celebrate the Supreme Court decision. It gives a beacon of hope for our own struggle here. In the end, love always wins.
*Read Amahl’s tips on staying safe with a condom checklist
Amahl S. Azwar is an openly gay writer who currently divides his time between Bandung, Indonesia and Shanghai, China. Follow @mcmahel on Twitter and read his blog, www.mcmahel.wordpress.com