Last week, I went down to Stonewall National Park, the place where it all started, where, back in the shrouded fog of the past, same-gender-loving men and women stood up in defiance of the authorities for the first time.
With those now-legendary events came the birth of the LGBTQ-rights movement, which was organized, fought for, and made real in those difficult, but extraordinary early days. Nearly half a century after Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia, Rivera, and Storme de Larverie and their contemporaries marched in the vanguard of a Rebellion heard around the world, another out, gay artist is delivering a message no less powerful for its modernity, and no less timely for its era.
His name is Aaron Paul, and in song he is telling us what we so desperately need to hear, in a political climate roiled by the re-emergence of hatred, bigotry, and homophobia, on a scale not seen in America since the time of the original Stonewall Rebellion.
Paul has created a music video, conceived in the dark shadow of last year’s unspeakable Pulse nightclub massacre–the worst single mass shooting in American history, carried out against defenseless LGBTQ people who dared to celebrate themselves–to remind us of the fragility and preciousness of every life, no matter its color, gender, gender identity, disability, religion, or national origin.
The film, which also features actor/vocalist Tym Moss and drag queen Honey Davenport, was shot at and around Stonewall, where so many of our forebears were taken away in irons merely because of whom they loved.
Nowhere is such an invocation of the value each life harbors more relevant, or more needed, than in the United States today. When I sat among my colleagues, friends, and neighbors at the Inn, I was struck by their diversity and commonality.
Almost everyone there was part of our extended LGBTQ family. There were drag queens (host Logan Hardcore), celebrity chefs (Stephen Daniello), rappers (Durrty Hanna), fashionistas (Delvon Johnson), and allies (Traci Marquis), plus people from every other pursuit and passion, as well.
We all came together, just as the rebels of 1969 did, to celebrate one of our artists, and by extension, to celebrate ourselves. In the midst of that celebration, we also honored the memories of those we lost in the Pulse massacre. The entire evening was a benefit for the onePULSE Foundation, which helps their surviving families. The overall theme centered around just three words.
Every life matters. Whether these are the young gay men being sent to concentration camps in Chechnya, transgender women dying in Hamilton Heights, gay and lesbian refugees fleeing ISIS in Syria, or a college student jumping off a bridge because he could’t take any more bullying over his gayness, every life matters. Every life matters.
A 12-year-old boy playing with a toy gun, as children do, judged and summarily executed by the police, in two seconds. A professional woman, on her way to her first job out of college, dead of suicide in a cold Texas jail cell. An EMT, killed under the wheels of the very lifesaving vehicle she drove, when it fell into the hands of a deranged individual with nothing but hate in his heart. Every life matters.
Directed by Billy Hess, Paul’s new video (you can watch it here) speaks to that imperative. If we are to truly move forward as a technologically-advanced, sophisticated, enlightened society, we need to really hear those three words, and live up to their meaning. It’s fitting that such a call comes from a creative soul like Aaron. In our arts, whether LGBT or straight, resides our culture. In our culture, resides our civilization. Every life matters