100 million castaways, demanding a home

100 million: That’s how many people who felt as I did last week. Or at least as many as stood up yesterday to say: Not in our America.

Using the skills that were so essential to the election of the current president, a handful of kids-with-broadband organized the event in cities around the country. They used email, Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube to provide a single, coordinated answer to the question so many were asking: “What do I do now?”

In Philly, the weather complied, with 70-degree temps warming the crowd of 5,000 clustered by City Hall. A group as diverse as my new city, in both ethnic composition and age. Families with small children, parents,  ministers joined folks like myself and Rachel, or the guy with the sign “No More Mr. Nice Gay.” Or like white-haired Cass McGough, 72,  who eyes were a soft match to her carved earrings, and whose sign said simply: I’M TOO OLD FOR THIS SHIT. I didn’t ask her if she knew Harvey Milk, who would have been proud of the day.

“I never thought I’d live to see a black President,” McGough grinned as the crowd gathered. “But I also never thought they’d leave us so thoroughly out of this moment, either.”

Even more heartening, to me, was the Cataldi family — South Philly types who wouldn’t have looked out of place among my Bronx relatives. Dino Cataldi brought his entire family, whose signs were among those made famous on TV and here: A GAY MARRIAGE IS JUST AS IMPORTANT AS MY FIRST, SECOND AND THIRD STRAIGHT MARRIAGE. When I asked one of them why they’d come, he said “My brother-in-law!” and pointed to Dino, a burly guy with wavy hair and muscle-y arms.

Upon learning his last name, I told Cataldi about my own Italian family, and that my coming-out process felt at best incomplete. “You wanna know how I came out? My father asked me one night at dinner, Are you queer?  Before I could say anything, my brother answered for me: He’s not queer. He’s  gay.” In other words, not creepy, not other. For all my San Francisco-bred comfort with the term ‘queer,’ the story moved me, and I wished I could tell one just like it.

Meanwhile, the kids just kept coming. I felt like I’d seen them canvassing for Obama, and they’d just gone on to the next logical goal. They were passionate about not, as columnists did,  targeting not any demographic group, not even the Mormon Church — instead targeting the indifference of those to whom think gay and lesbian civil rights are a side issue, not worth showing up for.

Now, of course, comes the hard work of making even future protests share a goal. I’ll watch, and show up when I can. This could be the 21st-century ACT-UP, though so far we don’t have the artists to show for it.

(The video is from the 1981 Secret Policeman’s Other Ball, a benefit for Amnesty International. My title’s quote from The Police feels suddenly pretty on-topic.)

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