Q&A: Marc Solomon to receive Congressman Gerry E. Studds Visibility Award

This week, on March 9, Freedom to Marry's National Campaign Director Marc Solomon will be honored at the Fenway Health Men's Event, where he will be presented with the Congressman Gerry E. Studds Visibility Award 2013. Fenway Health explains that the Award is given to "honor individuals of integrity and selflessness who embody the spirit of service and provide positive leadership for the LGBT community. 

The award's namesake, Congressman Gerry E. Studds, was the first openly gay member of Congress, and during his tenure in the U.S. Congress, from 1973-1997, he worked as an advocate for LGBT people from his home state of Massachusetts and across the country.

As our National Campaign Director, Marc Solomon works as one of the key leaders of the campaign to win marriage nationwide. When he came aboard Freedom to Marry, he brought his years of experience in the marriage movement. He has served as the executive director of MassEquality, through which he led the effort to defeat two anti-gay constitutional amendments that would have stripped same-sex coupls in the state of the freedom to marry; consulted on marriage campaigns in Vermont and Connecticut; and worked as the Marriage Director at Equality California. Under his leadership, Freedom to Marry played a lead role in winning marriage in New York, winning at the ballot in four states this past November, and securing a marriage plank in the Democratic platform. 

We spoke with Marc this week to reflect on receiving the Congressman Gerry E. Studds Visibility Award. 

1. What does it mean for you to receive the Congressman Gerry E. Studds Visibility Award, named after our country's first openly gay member of Congress?

It's really humbling, because Congressman Studds was the first out member of Congress, and he didn't back down. He fought for the issues that were pressing when he was in Congress: Talking about his partner and making a strong case against DOMA and fighting for more funding for HIV/AIDS. He did all of this with a lot of dignity and grace and without any apologies. I didn't know Gerry Studds, but I knew about him. And he was a graceful guy. On the one hand, he was unapologetic - but on the other hand, he had a lot of grace in standing up for what he believed in. 

It's also amazing to receive this award from Fenway Health, which is such a great organization. It came about during the AIDS crisis when gay men were looking for a safe place where they could get the best treatment and the safest treatment. It's probably the preeminent place in the country for health services for the LGBT community, so it's especially gratifying to be a part of this dinner for an institution I respect so much.  

2. Previous recipients of the award have included Barney Frank, Lt. Dan Choi, and Sen. Ted Kennedy - how do you feel being recognized alongside these leaders?

It's great how they have given awards both to legislators who have stood up for what they believe in internally, through the system, but also to advocates who, through various means, have pushed from the outside to organize and galvanize support. And I think that represents a lot of what Studds stood for: You need people on the inside who are willing to take courageous stands and do the right thing and you need people on the outside who are willing to push and hold lawmakers accountable for doing the right thing. 

3. Why is it important for LGBT people to increase or maintain visibility in many different areas of American culture and society?

So much of my own activism has been about building human relationships with people I want to persuade, as an openly gay man. Through those relationships, I work to convince them that supporting our cause is the right thing to do. When you take an effort to get to know our opponents, when you think about them as people who are not yet with us rather than our enemies, you can show that we have more things in common than different. Those friendships and that openness has enabled me to get things done and make the case and then stick with them over the long haul.

4. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick will be presenting the award to you. Why is that so significant for you?

I got to know Deval when he was running for Governor of Massachusetts. I knew he stood for the right things, but I didn't know how much a part of his core was committed to equality. But even before he took office, after he was elected, he started using his political capital to help us line up votes.

One of my favorite stories about Deval is about his relationship with his daughter. After he took office, he called us and asked if his daughter could do an internship at MassEquality, and of course we said yes - and it turned out that she was in the process of coming out. She worked on organizing Gay Straight Alliances for MassEquality, and it was really touching working with her and with Deval. Soon after, in our office the two of them did an interview with the gay press where she came out publicly, and it was so moving. It also just showed how amazing Deval is - a lot of elected officials explain that they support marriage because they have a gay kid, but Deval was supportive because he believes, in his core, about civil rights for everybody. He supported the freedom to marry before he knew his daughter was a lesbian and would benefit from this freedom.  

5. What is your favorite "freedom to marry" moment - a time in the movement that really resonated with you?

Finally defeating the constitutional amendment in Massachusetts in 2007, when we had to get three-fourths of the legislature - not just a majority - to vote our way - was a huge victory. Massachusetts was the only state with the freedom to marry back then, and it was back before anyone was talking about inevitability. People were still talking about impossibility. Courts had ruled against us over and over in other states, and on that day, we defeated this attempt to pass the anti-gay amendment.

President Obama's second inaugural address was also so powerful. When he spoke about our movement in the context of other key civil rights movements on Martin Luther King Day during his inaugural address. He talked about respecting the love that gay and lesbian people have for one another, and everyone knew that he was talking about marriage. The "Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall" line was so powerful - it showed that he really is our fierce advocate.

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