Evan Wolfson, the nation’s key strategic thinker in the battle to win marriage equality as founder of Freedom to Marry, went home on April 30 to the legal advocacy group, Lambda Legal, where he worked on staff for 12 years and headed up its Marriage Project. In its annual national dinner at Chelsea Piers, the group recognized Wolfson with its Liberty Award.
Speaking of himself as a part of the Lambda family 17 years after his departure from the group, Wolfson said he would love to spend time basking in warm memories of collaborative efforts. But, he said, “These are not ordinary times. Our country — indeed, liberal democracy worldwide — confronts an existential threat. And so tonight, instead, we must talk about what must be done.”
Hailing the victory of marriage equality nationwide and noting the “transformed” place of gay and transgender people in American life, Wolfson acknowledged that there remains major work in “guarding our gains and paving new ground.”
But he said he is particularly proud that “Lambda — like other pillar organizations of our movement — has risen to the moment and the larger call.” In describing that larger call, Wolfson looked back to an earlier existential threat to America — the Civil War — and also summoned the words of the nation’s Great Depression and World War II leader, Franklin D. Roosevelt.
LGBTQ leadership, he said, is standing “in solidarity with immigrants, with women, with people of color, with Muslims and Jews, with people who are ill, people who are poor, people who are struggling.”
Then, directly addressing the question of what “we are called to do,” Wolfson said, “We are called to defend, re-teach, reinvigorate, and live up to America’s promise. We are called to redouble our contributions, our conversations, our civic engagement. We are called to litigate and lobby. We are called to register and turn out voters. We are called to work to persuade the older and empower the younger. We are called to resist and reclaim power. We are called to take back Congress. Let me say it again, we must take back Congress—– and state legislatures and the White House. We must get our country back on track.”
Acknowledging that “no one of us can do it all,” Wolfson closed by arguing that “through constant endeavor, we do what is needed,” adding, “The history of America — indeed the history of our movement, the history of our own lifetimes — tell us that together we can meet the moment.”