This morning as we scrambled to get Luna off to school, there came a moment when the timeline of my life leapt into fast forward. I was carrying around an iPad turned to CNN, checking in to see what news awaited me at work, while Luna danced around me knowing my partner or I would turn off the TV if watching it slowed her down. Then suddenly something brought us to a halt. “President Barack Obama is speaking at Barnard College today…” said the news reader. Our eyes widened and we shot each other a smile. The president was speaking at Mama’s school.
I had arrived at Barnard in 1983, fresh from a school run by Jesuit priests, where gay groups were banned from the premises. A boy I’d known had been severely harassed for being gay. Barnard was a long step better, but on the first day of college my dorm mates fell into silence when one young woman delivered this news: “I have two mothers,” she said. I remember asking if one was her stepmother. “No. My mothers are gay,” she said. “They had me together.” She looked so uncomfortable and no one was stepping up to make her feel any better.
Back then, Barnard had openly gay and lesbian professors and a group for students who were gay. But in 1983, it was still not cool to be a lesbian; AIDS was beginning to surface on campus and discussions over sexuality and condom use quickly became explosive. Barnard, a Seven Sisters women’s college, had been embroiled in a battle over whether to merge with Columbia University’s men’s college, Columbia College, where Barack Obama was graduating that year. The buzz at Barnard was that nobody wanted it to be known as a college for “dykes.” It was just another political debate to me. I was happily dating a wonderful guy and it didn’t affect me. Sexuality is a complicated thing. That was the same year Evan Wolfson started a thesis at Harvard Law School on why gay people should have the freedom to marry. He had read an award-winning book by John Boswell, a prominent Yale professor, who argued that Christianity, particularly Catholicism, had once been okay with homosexuality. Evan believed that if things had once been different, there was an opening for society to reconsider. He made this argument: “You can’t say you’re for equality if you acquiesce to exclusion from the central social and legal institution of society, which is marriage.”
This afternoon, 594 young women, in their light blue caps and gowns, graduate from Barnard College of Columbia University. They will honor Rosa Alonzo, a former trustee, and an out Lesbian Latina, for her contributions to the university. Evan Wolfson received the same medal of distinction Barnard also gave to the president of the United States, days after having declared his personal support for marriage rights for gays. President Obama called upon the women at Barnard to change society for the better as the women who raised him had taught him, to persevere—that in this country “no matter who you love or what God you worship you can still purse your own happiness.” This is my alma mater, the same college our little girl talks of attending some day because it’s “Mama’s school,” where it will be of absolutely no consequence that her mothers are gay.
If you’d like to read the full article, you can find it at cnn.com.