One of my first votes in Town Meeting was to establish our Human Rights Commission. Back in 1993 this was a contentious vote, with lots of ugliness entwined in hours of rhetoric. Opponents tried to gut the commission by offering an amendment to remove its subpoena powers. On the other side, proponents described several instances of some very ugly hate incidents that a Human Rights Commission could address.
I remember chatting with a Town Meeting Member from Precinct 1, who had a LGBTQ son at Arlington High School, and his son was being bullied mercilessly. It was both heartbreaking and difficult to listen to what was happening, and I was seriously wondering if I made a serious mistake when I moved to Arlington.
The commission was approved, and the subpoena powers remained intact. I stayed in Arlington, and I stayed in Town Meeting.
Fast forward to 2017. About a month ago, I was sitting on the bench at Za, waiting for my Friday night takeout, chatting with a couple waiting for a table. The weather was unusually cold and nasty for a late March evening. I was asked if I could live anywhere, where would I live. I thought for a few seconds, thought about places with better weather, and came back home. “Arlington, Massachusetts,” I replied.
This evening, I was speaking to a continuing education class, when I was asked about the significant changes to Arlington that made the town the place it is today. I went down my usual list. I talked about our move away from being a dry (moist, or humid) town and the restaurants that arrived when they could get liquor licenses. I talked about the rebuilding of our elementary schools and the Boston Globe declaration that the Brackett School was the best in the state. I mentioned the Bay Windows article that declared Arlington to be lesbian-friendly.
Here’s where I got a bunch of blank stares, and I couldn’t quite articulate why the Bay Windows article was so important. Folks who lived in Arlington in the 1990s understand what I am saying, but the view from 2017 is very different. Even the view from 2004, when marriage equality became the law, was very different. Arlington was toward the top of the list of communities issuing licenses on the first possible day. Why would the Bay Windows article matter?
What I didn’t say explicitly was that Bay Windows wrote the first article declaring Arlington as a welcoming community. In a town that had a reputation for being closed and insular, had a reputation for killing the Red Line extension to prevent “those people” from riding the train into town, this one article was transformative.
Folks who moved to Arlington based on the article, and our changing reputation, added to our diversity; new residents embraced this welcoming spirit, and Arlington’s reputation as a great place to live blossomed. Welcoming became the norm (though not truly universal) to the point where our 189-12-3 vote to establish a LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Commission is unremarkable.