It’s Gay Pride month, and three writer friends and I are about to take off on our Openly YA tour next week.
It has me thinking about something I was taught when I was in college. It’s about the different levels of “acceptance” of LGBT people. I wrote about it in Openly Straight:
“It’s hard to be different,” Mr. Scarborough said. “And perhaps the best answer is not to tolerate differences, not even to accept them. But to celebrate them. Maybe then those who are different would feel more loved, and less, well, tolerated.”
So there is rejection, tolerance, acceptance, celebration. Decades ago, back in the Paleozoic period when I was a teenager, we were taught to be “tolerant” of the “lifestyles” of others rather than rejecting. But if we need to tolerate something, doesn’t that mean it’s bad?
So we moved on to “accepting” others. But even acceptance has a negative connotation. I didn’t get this as a teenager, because I thought, “Hey, I’d be happy to simply be accepted. Overjoyed, really.” But if something needs to be accepted, what does that really mean about it? Who gets to do the accepting? And why do people who are different need that acceptance? Who is in charge here?
That brings us to the idea of “celebration.” We celebrate not what is less than, not what is acceptable, but what is worthy of pride. That’s what rankles so many people about gay pride parades. “Why not straight pride parades?” those people ask, not recognizing that really every day is a straight pride parade. In what world are two people of the opposite sex NOT allowed to hold hands or kiss on the street? Have you seen the Jumbotron “kiss cam” at baseball games? You know that thing where people kiss and everyone applauds? That there’s a straight pride parade! We just don’t call it that.
And by the way, I’m all for straight pride parades. I love seeing people who love each other express that love. I do, actually, tear up sometimes when I see two people on the Jumbotron kiss.
But these pride parades for LGBT folks. That’s different. Why are we celebrating that? These people seem to be saying.
Let me tell you why:
Even today, when things are so much better for LGBTQ folks than they were a decade ago, for a person who identifies as LGBTQ to find happiness and pride within themselves is a Goddamn miracle. It means shutting out all the voices of people who tell us we are FAR LESS than wonderful. When I see a happy young male or female couple holding hands, it makes me feel so proud of them because there remain so many obstacles to that happiness.
It’s still in the law. Our love is not worthy of marriage, they say. It’s in the media. Our love is still the butt of jokes on late-night television. It’s dangerous to walk down the streets in New York City these days if you’re perceived as gay, lesbian or transgender.
So when I see happy LGBT folks, I do believe a celebration is in order. We should be proud of those who have found happiness in being who they are, especially when being who they are makes one a second-class citizen. And it does. Every year at tax season, I remember just how much I am a second-class citizen in this country.
Sigh. See, you got me riled up. I get that way, not because I’m angry. Or maybe I should say not solely because I’m angry. Because I am still angry sometimes. When I think about how human beings treat other human beings, how people put others down to make themselves feel better, it infuriates me still. But I get riled up not just because of that. I also get riled up because I see incredible strength in my people. LGBT folks have overcome so very much, and I think that’s totally Goddamn worthy of celebration. More than once a year, even, but for now, I’ll take once a year.
I’ll close by painting for you my version of utopia. It comes from the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, Colo., and it is described here by Rafe, the protagonist of Openly Straight. This is the world I want to live in. Straight, gay, whatever you are. Whatever we all are. Whatever.
“We were dancers and drummers and standers and jugglers, and there was nothing anyone needed to accept or tolerate. We celebrated.”
(Just in case the title of this blog post made you feel like listening to U2… as it did for me).