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Remembering Paula Ettelbrick at her Memorial Service

These remarks were given at Paula Ettelbrick’s Memorial Service on November 14, 2011 in New York City.

Time proved her prophetic in warning that marriage would narrow our freedom even as it expanded our rights.

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

In Dirge Without Music Edna St. Vincent Millay captures the strangeness of losing someone we love. It is devastating, if inevitable.  But it is harder still to have lost Paula’s critical mind, loving spirit and courageous voice so early, and at the very moment we need these most.  She accomplished more in one life than twenty people, and there was so much promise, so much joy and so many ideas still ahead.

Paula helped us to speak a new language. She was not resigned to the status quo.  She lived for the ones she loved and for the changes she dreamed.  She operated from a Mid-Western faith in the basic decency and intelligence of ordinary people; she was an optimist – no wonder she loved Julie Andrews and the Sound of Music.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.

Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.

A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,

A formula, a phrase remains,-but the best is lost.

Paula was also one of the hardest working, determined, beautiful and brilliant activists.  She lived the feminist axiom that the personal is political. Her intelligent leadership strengthened the LGBT movement’s most important organizations.  Lambda, ESPA, NCLR, the Policy Institute, IGLHRC, Stonewall – it’s a pretty amazing list.   Three legacies stand out.

Paula believed in the centrality of intimacy to radical social change.  When she started to work on family policy issues at Lambda, the movement was preoccupied with AIDS. Family work was seen as less important, marginalized as a sort of woman’s issue- something that would bring the gals along.  Paula put family policy on the national agenda for good, and worked tirelessly to protect the widest range of families, as well as to address economic and racial justice. Time proved her prophetic in warning that marriage would narrow our freedom even as it expanded our rights.

Paula was equally committed to the local and the global. We dreamed up and organized what is now the Equality Federation back in 1998, at a time when the conventional wisdom focused on Congress.  She put statewide LGBT movements on the national agenda, and happily lived to see that work flourish.

The answers quick & keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled

Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.

More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Paula led through her intellect and her ethical compass. She lived her feminism. It affected how she created family and parented with Suzanne, Adam, Julia, Marianne and Mary Lou.  It informed her humility as a leader.  It was the source of her moral outrage whenever advocates proposed sacrificing parts of our communities for cheap seats-access for others.

Paula fought against sexism, and like every women leader, she faced it throughout her career.  Curiously, the movement she entered in the 1980’s was more feminist than today’s.  Back then, reproductive freedom was our goal; sexist attitudes condemned; gender parity on boards commonplace; Anita Hill was our hero; and we still acted as if we were a sexual freedom movement.  Today, by contrast, mainstream LGBT politics (of which I am a part) is not feminist, much less grounded in social justice, and even less often does it talk about difficult issues – like sexual abuse or harassment. Instead, it operates as a corporate brand, bland and safe.  Its vision is the Novocain of integration into a status quo built upon inequality.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave

Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;

Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.

I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

Goodbye dear friend, I am not yet resigned to your loss. May we honor your memory by valuing all families, by securing the well-being of all people, not just ourselves and the privileged few, and by finding our feminist voice once again.

May your legacy live on in the work that is yet to be done.

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