Taking Olivia’s Eastern Caribbean Leadership Cruise was an opportunity of a lifetime. Olivia Travel brings lesbians together for cruises and vacations. The list of speakers and performers for this trip included: Dr. Maya Angelou, Col. Grethe Cammermeyer, Edie Windsor and Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The lineup was so wonderful, it’s hard to know when to stop listing names. For a few years, I’ve wanted to go on an Olivia Cruise. However, time, money or a finding a travel companion seemed to be obstacles. Just two weeks before the cruise, I got the opportunity to step in for someone who couldn’t go. The hurdles in the past weren’t a problem. The big challenge was to get my birth certificate, passport and packed in time to board the cruise.
The week at sea focused on the challenges faced by lesbians in the past, celebrating accomplishments and looking towards the future. I was struck repeatedly by the power we possess as women. Dr Maya Angelou was empowering with her poetry. She inspired us with her poem, Phenomenal Woman. She called us to be strong, not by external standards, but based on the strength that comes from within. The importance of staying the course in our lives to make a contribution to our family and community. There was a theme of staying the course of our lives to make a difference. Col. Grethe Cammermeyer, Edie Windsor ( the unconstitutionality of DOMA), Kris Perry and partner Sandy Stier (Prop 8 plaintiffs), shared their experiences in the fight for equality. Col. Cammermeyer, who was discharged from military service because of being a lesbian, was asked, early in her battle, why she was honest about being a lesbian. She responded, “because officers tell the truth.” What a loss that was for our country to lose an officer with such high integrity. Challenging the government and justice system was a lonely place for all of the speakers. However, their battles provided personal wins and open doors for those in their footsteps.
Looking to the future were Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schults; Kate Kendall , NCLR Executive Director; and Elizabeth Birch, CEO of Global Out. Each of them shared about the work ahead. Rep. Wasserman Schultz encouraged involvement in politics where the interests and priorities of our community can be heard. Kate Kendall spoke to the the importance of legal representation for those who’s rights needed support. Elizabeth Birch, CEO of Global Out, shared her vision to change the corporate environment to encourage LGBT contribution and retain quality LGBT employees.
Judy Dlugacz, Founder and CEO of Olivia Travel, shared an incredible story of creating groups of 20-25 women to share a round table with First Lady Michelle Obama. During these meetings, lesbians share personal concerns and the impact government is having on their lives. These meetings have been powerful as our government has progress on issues of equality.
While its easy to get excited about the progress of human rights on a cruise ship filled with strong women leaders. The big question arises as to how we will more forward once we’ve left the ship. For those who are comfortable, being out can make a big difference in moving equality forward. Our authenticity provides a face for the conversation. Importantly, its our effort in making change in areas that are already valuable to us. While many individual activists have gone before us, continued progress will accelerate visibility and community support. It still not safe for everyone to be out in their workplace or community. For those individuals, it is still possible to move our communities and country forward by continuing to vote and support organizations creating change for a better future.