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By M. Steck 

It’s Valentine’s day. You’re a flower salesman, circling restaurants and wheedling men into buying roses for their female companions..but that table..they’re both can that be??

Of course, Valentine’s day is a celebration of open, joyful love. But when you aren’t allowed to be open or joyful about your love, what is Valentine’s Day? I spoke with Michael Sabatino, Robert Voorhees, and Brad Crownover to supplement this piece with some personal accounts. For further information, there are many resources specifically about Sabatino and Voorhees, who have been notable figures in queer advocacy through the decades, including a case against New York state following their 2003 marriage in Canada. 

Conceptually, love is something that can be confusing for young people who don’t fit into a heterosexual paradigm. There is so often a period before they find out words for what they are that love is a hateful thing. Romantic love, at least. Men and women share affection in books and on television, but as a young queer person that representation may not feel “right,” so there is an internal panic and wrongness. This is one of the reasons queer media and open demonstrations of queer love are so important. Robert Voorhees noted that his first real realization of existence beyond heteronormativity was an article about drag queens that somehow made it to the South through Time magazine. 

When realized, but closeted, love remains hateful. It is a danger. It can feel as if Valentine’s day is a nearly mocking celebration. Even now, there is deep grief in people who dream of candlelit dinners and being able to openly declare love and give cards and candies to someone who is far beyond contact. This often manifests in writing poetry. For me, personally, the greatest manifestation was a long, stop-motion daydream to the tune of Hey Jude. 

Depending on the state and individual, Valentine’s day falls somewhere on a range of safety and comfort for queer people. It is no question that things have grown better—a general theme through all of the conversations I had was the fact that there are few things more joyful than seeing young, same-sex couples walking, holding hands, and showing affection without hesitation. Unfortunately, even this ends up tempered by the small tragedy that it is much rarer to see this open affection between older same-sex couples, having experienced decades of impossibilities. 

How do you celebrate Valentine’s day?  Think of the main ways. Do they include protesting? 

For a lot of people, it does. Before gay marriage was legalized, Valentine’s day saw queer advocates (including Sabatino and Voorhees) protesting across the country, and this proud tradition hasn’t stopped. Just last year (2022), protests were held in still-repressed Bangkok and Taiwan. 

This is an important moment to note another particularly impactful element of my conversation with Robert Voorhees. My ending question for every one of these conversations was; What are your dreams for celebrations of queer love in the future? We all have dreams of open love and a lack of fear and seeing joy and freedom, but Mr. Voorhees added a point that I hadn’t even considered. He is a major advocate of changing the terminology around these issues, specifically losing the phrase “gay marriage” in favor of “marriage equality.” This is an under-considered issue, but so relevant. As long as we maintain this otherness, there will be a subconscious obstacle between our world and true equality. 

Now, I would like to take some space to acknowledge the great strides we have made in showing and allowing for love outside of the “norm.”  

1924. Society for Human Rights founded. The first modern American group created for gay rights. 

April 21, 1966: At a time when gay people were refused by bars, the Mattachine Society organized a “sip in” in a new york bar.

June 28, 1969: I would be remiss to not highlight the events at Stonewall, kicking off the LGBT civil rights movement. 

1973: Homosexuality is no longer classified as a mental disorder. Wahoo!

1989: Denmark legally recognizes same-sex unions. 

2003: The supreme court decriminalizes homosexuality by overturning sodomy laws. 

2009: President Obama signs the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law, including violence based on perceived sexuality or gender identity as a hate crime. 

2014: Transgender students are protected under title IX. 

June 26, 2015: Marriage equality is a nationwide constitutional right. 

It is important to remember where we come from and to acknowledge both the successes and obstacles that remain. Love is complicated, and queer people deserve the right to love without fear or shame. Valentine’s day is for everyone. 

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