“We are the river of gold”

Don Paulson’s “River of Gold” arrived on a postcard a while back. Anne Stadler sent it to us from the IN & OUT installation at the Vashon Heritage Museum on Vashon Island near Seattle, so we could pass the message along. IN & OUT chronicles the LGBTQ community on Vashon. The installation’s co-producer, Stephan Silha, generously provided the clear image we’ve used here.

I’d never heard of Don Paulson, so I did a little sleuthing.

Don Paulson, 1933-2012, chronicled Seattle’s Gay culture, especially the drag scene, and coauthored an in-depth look at the drag culture in Seattle in the 1950’s and 60’s, “An Evening at the Garden of Allah: A Gay Cabaret in Seattle.” The text of the postcard appears in quotes with no attribution in an article he wrote years ago for Seattle Gay News. My best guess is he was quoting someone from the book.   

These are strange times for humankind and Earth. I get can as caught up as anyone in grief and dismay. But when I think about how much has changed in the 50 years since the Stonewall riots in San Francisco surfaced a gay rights movement that had been slowly building up behind the scenes, I remember that some things have absolutely gotten better. Hugely, ginormously, heart-openingly better.

Thanks to the Gay Rights movement and its transition to LGBTQ advocacy, straight and binary-minded people like me are beginning to understand how richly varied human genders and gender identities actually are. We’re being shown more colors for the palette, more flowers for the garden, more lights for the show. Fifty years are barely a heartbeat in human history. And think of what’s been accomplished in that time.

I’m not claiming LGBTQ rights are secure. There are still places, communities, cultures, religions, and whole countries where being gay or someone other than cisgender can mean death, abuse, or abandonment. But the past 50 years have proven that vast numbers of human beings can learn, change, adapt, deepen, and open.

Don Paulson may have been thinking specifically of the gay community when he wrote, “We are the river of gold.” I believe his message applies to all of us, now.

“Who would think that we would drink from the river of gold. That we, too, may dine in the light and sleep safely through the night. Who would think a lowly stream could sweeten a bitter sea. We have the right to win the fight for justice and liberty. We are the land. We are the free. We are the river of gold.” — Don Paulson

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