Discussing North Carolina's vote this May to ban gay and lesbian couples from marrying, Margaret Cho was not laughing.
"You think, 'How can I manage to keep pride and keep a sense of self-esteem when all of this hatred is around me and is being voted into legislation?'" she asked today before emceeing the AIDS Healthcare Foundation-organized "Keep the Promise" rally. "But the best thing is getting together and seeing all these great people out here and knowing you're not alone."
Cho talked with BuzzFeed before taking the stage for the event, part of this week's International AIDS Conference in D.C.
"I grew up in the midst of the AIDS epidemic in the '80s, and I lost so many people that I was close to to AIDS," she said "So, for me, it's a lifelong struggle. I'm always going to be hurt by this disease, and I'm always going to have suffered from it."
Discussing medical advances since that time, though, she added, "For younger people who don't have that history, they don't take it as seriously."
Talking about the "invisible members of society" impacted still today by HIV/AIDS, Cho noted that the disease "has long been enshrouded in issues of homophobia and race and class, and it's something that we need to get over. The people who are affected by it are not the majority; they are minorities, in a different sense in every situation."
She said she welcomed the criticism of Obama from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which had called on Obama to attend the event in person and take more action to address HIV/AIDS, and other attendees like Cornel West, who today told reporters before the rally, "We're here to keep the pressure on ... the pressure on ourselves, the pressure on our communities and the pressure on the Obama administration. We don't want a reduction in money flowing when we need more money."
Cho said, "I worked for Obama, to help get him elected, and I plan to be there for him this year, but it certainly doesn't mean that you can't be critical."
She, though, saved most of her criticism for the Boy Scouts and opponents of marriage equality.
Of the recent announcement by the Boy Scouts that it would continue its policy against allowing out gay scouts and scout leaders, she said, "Being queer myself and knowing that marginalization happens anyway, when you have that negative image reinforced by long-established [groups] like the Boy Scouts or anything — you think there's something wrong with you and you should sort of suffer in silence, it's really terrible."
She pointed to ongoing marriage battles as another disappointment, both on a policy and personal level.
"Even though I don't live in North Carolina, their decision about gay marriage was so painful. Every time a state votes down gay marriage, it's so painful — now we're getting it back [in other states], but it was so disheartening," she said.
Cho, who's been a public advocate of marriage equality since 2004, said she hopes to make pre-election appearances in some of the states — including Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington — with marriage-related ballot measures this fall.