The Observer has been covering the fight for LGBT rights in this state a long time, sons and daughters. Before it was a thing. All the way back to the days when a sizable percentage of people were perfectly willing to use the word "fag" when speaking to a guy they knew for a fact was writing stuff down for the newspaper. That's a long time ago, and thank God.
As a reporter, The Observer has marched with LGBT folks, simultaneously trying to talk, walk, write, hold a recorder and avoid stepping in a pothole. I stood with them as the Evangelical masses streamed past into Huckabee's Verizon Arena marriagepalooza some years back, the gay and lesbian kids there handing out little white stones inked with that famous Bible verse about what Ye Who Is Without Sin could do with them. Thankfully, none of the faithful felt sufficiently Christlike enough to lob them back. I stood in the cold wind up in Pleasant Plains as a line of people protested a school board member who took to Facebook to say that he hoped all fags would kill themselves, and that he would disown his children if they turned out to be gay. I've sat in American kitchens and living rooms, pictures of American families smiling down from the walls, and heard American children talk about being tormented until a gun or razor or handful of pills seemed preferable to living one more day. I've sat through hearings where the fundamental equality of adult people in that very room was debated. I've talked to Arkansans who have been beaten and abused, ridiculed and menaced, turned away from jobs, stores, restaurants, courthouses, schoolhouses and churchhouses, solely because they are LGBT. Last year, I talked to a woman who buried the ashes of dozens of men in her family cemetery down in Hot Springs after their families had refused even their bodies, solely because they had committed the sin of being gay and dying of AIDS. When I finished that story, I sat in my office alone, deep in the night, and wept like I haven't since I was a child. For the dead. For her bravery. For the sheer ugliness and loveliness of these wretched creatures we are, so full of goodness and hate, all our loss and redemption tied up in the great Gordian knot of these flawed human hearts.
So when the news came over the radio Friday that LGBT folks could finally be married all over this country, I had to wheel the Mobile Observatory to a curb downtown and sit there for a while before I could drive on.
I am not gay. I am not lesbian or transgender. But I say this now with all my heart: I would be proud to be. As I have said before in this space and elsewhere, the bravest people I know, bar none, are LGBT. I know cops and firefighters. I know doctors and nurses. I know soldiers and men with the pale scars of many fistfights. But there are LGBT people I know who beat them all in the bravery department. Many of those same folks are my personal heroes. They are the ones who say: "I believe that my right to be the person I was born to be and to love who I want to love is worth any sacrifice, up to and including my life." Is that not the very definition of bravery?
I have come to believe that reporter years are like dog years. Doesn't seem like jotting in a notebook would take so much out of you, but it does. As Indiana Jones said: It's the mileage.
That said, the soon-to-be 41-year-old who was all of 27 when he started covering LGBT rights in this state managed to get his shoes on and make the rounds of the parties Friday night. I saw many of those I've walked with before. We recalled the old days. I shook hands, hugged some, thanked most.
A lot of us have grown up in this fight, one of them told me. And The Observer could only nod my graying head, swallow down that lump in my throat, and smile.