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  • Writer's pictureTommy Zurhellen

No one can be free, until everybody is free

Monday, June 12th

Dear Friends:

As I write this, I am still feeling the amazing energy of the Poughkeepsie Pride parade this past Saturday. Honestly, it feels like tiny sparks are firing in my veins as I type this letter to you while I try to recapture all the incredible sights and sounds of so many people coming together to celebrate the power of love and inclusion. If you were part of that wonderful day in Poughkeepsie, you are probably still feeling those sparks, too!

Over the past week, I’ve also had the honor of celebrating Pride Month at events all across Dutchess County, including Pine Plains, Millbrook, Stanford, and the very first Pride event for Rhinebeck and Red Hook. You could feel the positive energy sparking up everywhere as people bonded over perhaps the simplest and best idea of all, that Love is Love. As a teacher, I was especially excited to see young people all over the county supporting one another and expressing themselves without fear of bigotry or violence.

Indeed, the kids are all right.

Of course, Pride Month is more than merely a chance to celebrate and walk in parades. It stands as a bright beacon of hope for millions of Americans who are facing bullying and discrimination every day simply because of their identity. It tells young people who might be struggling that they should always be proud of who they are, and it reminds all of us of the courage and sacrifice of so many in the LGBTQ+ community who have fought and died in the struggle to defend fundamental civil rights in America.

Sadly, I think many of my students believe those struggles are a thing of the past. Sure, they might know about the Stonewall Riots, or the assassination of Harvey Milk, or the murder of Matthew Shepard, but often they only see these stories as dusty history lessons. But we only have to glance at the news of the past week to realize the history of violence, hate, and fear against the LGBTQ+ community is still very much a threat today. Five days ago in California, protesters rallied outside a school board meeting that was merely voting to recognize Pride Month. On the very same day in Cedar Park, Texas, a 24-year-old woman was murdered at a gas station in front of her partner as the alleged murderer – a stranger – yelled gay slurs at the couple as he fired his weapon and fled the scene.

That was just Wednesday. And we haven’t even talked about Florida yet.

The struggle for fundamental civil rights by the LGBTQ+ community is not a history lesson. It’s a fight going on right now in communities across America, including Florida but also right here in Dutchess County. And it’s a fight we must all join together, because as Maya Angelou told us: “The truth is, no one of us can be free until everybody is free.”

In the struggle for civil rights, the choice remains very clear: you either believe we all share the same inalienable rights, or you don’t. Yes, it’s that simple. There is no asterisk next to someone’s name because they are different than you. You either believe we are all free, or you don’t. That’s the message Maya Angelou was trying to convey. This upcoming election is just as simple. Will you vote for kindness, or will you vote for fear? There is no such thing as almost-kindness, or kindness just for some. We must be kind to all, or else we are kind to none. You don’t get to pick and choose.

If you are reading this and you are one of those small-minded people who want to stop a kid from reading a book because it contains a gay character, or tell a kid what to wear to their own prom, or exclude a kid from using a bathroom because of their own gender identity, I feel sorry for you. Let me be clear: I don’t feel sorry for you because you’re on the wrong side of history, although that is certainly true. No, I feel sorry for you because that non-binary kid who gets beat up at school just for being different has more courage than you will ever have. That mom who loves her transgender kid for who they are, but worries if this is the last day she’ll see her kid alive? They both have more bravery than you could ever imagine. And that young gay couple who show up at prom wearing whatever the hell they want – they are more American than you could ever hope to be. Their stories are American stories. And while you complain about the color of a beer can or quibble about drag queens performing in your town, these people are doing the real work to change their world. They are the true American heroes. These people have hearts that are simply bigger and better than yours.

As we celebrate Pride Month, I hope we always remember the daily struggles of so many young people in our own communities who want to share in the American promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And I hope you will join our journey as we share our message of hope and inclusion with every single resident of Dutchess County. Please consider a donation in any amount using the secure Act Blue link below, or even better, join us at our first Team Tommy Energy Bar event this Tuesday, June 13th between 5-8 pm at Erin O’Neil’s on the Poughkeepsie waterfront. You can still RSVP for this fundraising event by email to today!

Happy Pride Month to all! Huge thanks to the Dutchess Pride Center for organizing such a wonderful Poughkeepsie Pride parade. And thank you, for listening! See you next time!

Respectfully, Tommy


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