Nearly two years ago I was riding home and without planning to, ended up near Stonewall in the West Village. I noticed a huge mass of people gathered and dozens of news trucks set up. My first thought was “Hmm, this isn’t when Gay Pride normally takes place”. Then it struck me. I turned to a bystander and asked “Wait a minute, did they just pass the Marriage Equality Act?” He answered “Yes.” Tears of joy streamed down our cheeks.
Yesterday morning, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that DOMA (The “Defense of Marriage Act”) was unconstitutional. Hallejulah! One more step towards equality for all.
Later that night, a rally/celebration was scheduled to commemorate this historic day in the history of Gay Rights. It was scheduled to start at 530pm, but I knew that Edith “Edie” Windsor was going to speak so I made sure to get there early. Edie Windsor is an American hero in my book. This petite 84 year old woman who ‘hid’ her sexual identity for years was the person whose lawsuit against the US led to yesterday’s ruling that Section 3 of DOMA was unconstitutional.
What do Edie Windsor and the Gay Rights movement have to do with people on bikes? It’s all in the advocacy. The Gay Rights movement started at Stonewall in 1969. Yesterday’s victory isn’t the end in their battle for equality and acceptance. This fact was emphasized repeatedly by Edie and every other person who spoke at yesterday’s rally. The other point that Edie kept repeating was that each and every person who fought along side her was a hero in her book.
Parallel to the Gay Rights movement in the US, in the Netherlands a movement began in 1970 to make the streets safe again- for everyone. The movement was called “Stop the Kindermoord” or in English, “Stop the Child Murder”. The Dutch didn’t get their world class infrastructure overnight. It took them nearly 40 years to get where they’re at now.
In the US, Safer Streets activists are gaining a wider and stronger voice, but we’re still in our pre-teen years I like to say. We have decades of myths and misunderstandings to beat back in order to see cycling as an utterly normal activity or choice of transportation. The last few years has seen good strides- the launch of public bike share systems, the build out of protected infrastructure, an increase in the number of people on bikes and a continuous decrease in the number of road fatalities.
But wider and stronger isn’t good enough. The so-called Bike Lobby needs to be even more “All Powerful”. A decrease in the number of roads deaths isn’t good enough. We need Vision Zero and we need it now. We also can’t settle for second-class – in terms of perception or infrastructure. As we fight to get our roads redesigned and separated infrastructure implemented- we need to fight to get it done right.
In terms of perception, just as it has for Gay Rights community- it’s changing. Unfortunately, there are still going to be bigots who think being anything other than heterosexual is innately weird or deviant. But there are a lot less of them today than there were 44 years ago. In 44 years forward, there’ll be even less.
As for perception of people on bikes- there are still those that think we’re childish, or weird or too broke to choose otherwise. We know none of that is true. But unfortunately, we still have a lot more people to convince that our choice of getting from A to B is not only normal- but it’s fun and gives us independence. Getting back to that infrastructure thing- the better the infrastructure…the more people you’re going to see on bicycles that look no different from pedestrians or those that ride the subway or those that travel by car. Except that those of us who choose to walk and bike tend to be the happiest of the lot, and therefore- smile more.
It’s up to all of us to take a page from Edie Wilson’s book. When she spoke yesterday, she reminisced how she didn’t ‘speak up’ until her beloved partner, Thea died. Thea was the impetus that sparked Edie’s fire. What a great way to honor the memory of someone you love.
What will be the impetus for you to speak up, speak out and take action? All of us are capable. All of us want the same thing: acceptance, equal rights and a safe space to exist. It’s not too much to ask. If Edie can do it, so can you. Anyone can do it. Do it with a smile in your heart and conviction on your sleeve. When backed into a corner, let your rage out- but mete it out in only when really needed. Save the rage for the moments when nothing else will do. Honey gets more flies than vinegar.
Kudos to Edie Wilson for your courage and honor. Congrats to human beings everywhere- no matter who you love. One huge step has been overcome. As for the rest, we’ve only just begun.
Ride with Pride.