We Gather in Dubuque
April 30, 1998 — Second Annual Gay and Lesbian Pride March, Dubuque, Iowa
My trip to Dubuque started me thinking about my own lesbian childhood and adolescence in a small town in Illinois. I grew up in Beardstown, Illinois, about 150 miles from where we stand today. I grew up in a town in which there were no black people, no Jewish people and no openly lesbian and gay people, at least that I knew.
The only time I ever saw black people was on the annual trip to St. Louis, Missouri to watch professional baseball games. I knew that the black people I saw were different from me. And in my child’s mind, my white family, white friends, and white neighbors lived apart from these different-looking people because that was just the way the world was. Later I learned truths about the world: truths conveyed by these ugly words: racism, segregation and discrimination. Later I learned that my friendly, safe little white town had, through the 1920s and 1940s, posted signs at the city limits which read “Nigger, don’t let the sun set on you here.” Later I learned that the differentness of black people made them targets of white people’s unaccountable suspicion and rage. But in my 11-year-old’s mind, white people did not have black neighbors and that was just the way the world was. And that lie informed my thinking and shaped my consciousness.
I suspect many of us here today grew up with that same lie. And, as we discovered our sexualities we knew we had been duped again. Duped into believing that our gay and lesbian sexuality necessarily sentenced us to a lifetime of unhappiness, proscribed by our shame and fear. We gather here in Dubuque today so that none of us will ever feel afraid to walk this city’s streets. Freedom of movement is such a basic right that we assume it for ourselves, especially if we are white and male. Thus, last September 19, 30 lesbian and gay citizens took to these streets in a first ever Dubuque lesbian and gay pride march, only to be met by some 300 angry counter-demonstrators. The marchers were pelted with eggs while the police stood by and watched.
The march was cut short that day. But its organizers vowed to return this year because they would not simply bow down to the way Dubuque is. They did not agonize: they organized. And a wonderful thing happened. Ginny Lyons and Stacy Neldaughter, with their spark of courage, lit a fire of resistance and fueled a movement of gay men and lesbians to travel across the state, across the Midwest, and even across the country to stand with them today.
We have come to Dubuque to challenge it to be the best city it can be and to recognize ad welcome its lesbian and gay citizens and to acknowledge their contributions to the equality of life here.
We challenge the Dubuque Human Relations Commission and the Dubuque City Council to amend the city’s civil rights code to include sexual orientation. And if the events of last year’s march are not evidence enough of the need for this, some people in this city have their eyes closed to reality. We challenge the city’s police chief to open his mind to a proposal for sensitivity training for the members of his force.
And we challenge Mayor James Brady to realize that our sexuality is not simply a private matter, especially when he himself is quoted I the paper as saying “I wouldn’t want to live next door to one.” Mayor Brady, we want you to know that there is nothing private about your public declarations of bigotry and hate.
Mayor Brady and others no doubt feel uncomfortable about this demonstration. They doubt feel unsettled by our challenge. They no doubt will breathe a sign of relief when our buses and cars and trains pull out of tow. But each man, woman and child in Dubuque has a responsibility to treat every other citizen with respect. And to the lesbian and gay citizen of Dubuque — the women and men who live, work and love here — Dubuque has a special responsibility to make this city safe for them, and to make last year’s disgrace this year’s triumph.
No more harassment. No more eggs or rocks or ugly words. No more governmental neglect and malevolence. No more fear. No more hate. No more silence. We choke on your hatred. We smother under your fear. We die of your red tape. And we cannot wait any longer to live.
With one voice, as one people, as a single wave inevitably crashes onto the shore, we say to you that our time for freedom has arrived. We promise to return to Dubuque each year until we no longer need to.
We invoke the spirts of Mahatma Gandhi, Fannie Lou Hamer, Martin Luther King and Barbara Deming, all of whom devoted their lives to freedom and justice. We call on them to guide us, walk with us, and join our one voice as we say:
We don’t give us. We won’t shut up. We won’t go away.
And we will change the world.
Source: Great Speeches on Gay Rights, ed. James Daley, (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications) 2010.
Copyright 2022. Sue Hyde. Used by permission. All rights reserved.