Well, we’ve finally reached the month of June.
For those who don’t know, June is a big deal in the LGBTQ community, and is unofficially recognized as our month to celebrate Pride. It’s a time to look back and celebrate how far the Gay Right’s Movement has come.
To be honest, I’m not an avid history buff, nor have I always known much about the history of my community. It actually took the mini-series When We Rise from earlier this year to make me realize I lived in a time before AIDS, and I've been alive for most of the Gay Right's Movement's existence. Remember, I’m only 42 years old, so that really isn’t that long ago, and yet, most of this went down in my lifetime. So it definitely inspired me to do a little research into our history, and pay more attention to what is going on in the world today.
Imagine being called “Fag” at the age of seven, and having kids spread rumors that you have AIDS in second grade. Imagine the taunts and the hatred spewed, and not even knowing what it meant, or why it was even being said. Imagine having every single person around you telling you what you feel and who you are. Imagine being told your whole life that what you’re not sure you feel is wrong, or better yet, an abomination. Well that was my childhood.
I remember all the names, and being picked on by my classmates because, to them, I was Gay long before I knew it myself. I had teachers who made Gay references when it came to me in front of the entire class, and even my siblings were embarrassed with having a Gay brother. It didn’t help growing up in a community that not only said that being Gay was a sin, but people who were Gay should be excommunicated. Growing up for me was not a positive experience, and I can honestly say that I cannot think of one good memory from those days. I actually hated myself back then.
In those days, Dan Savage wasn’t around telling everyone "It Gets Better," and there weren’t any Gay role models to look up to. There wasn’t the Internet to search what I was feeling, or to reach out to others like myself. There was no Gay-Straight alliance for me to join in school. There was nobody else around being called the same names as I was. In fact, the entire world was scared of Gay people because of the AIDS epidemic. So where was I to turn for any kind of support or guidance, especially in such a small-minded community, and within a family that was so concerned with what that community thought?
It took moving away and living in the real world to let me see that life was so much more than where I grew up, and that there was absolutely nothing wrong with me. And more importantly, it opened my eyes to the mentality of the small-minded community I grew up in. I realized that that community used, and still uses, religion to spew hate towards anything that is different, and I just happened to be the collateral damage. How fucked up is that?
Looking back on what I went through growing up, I have to wonder about those who came before me, and what they must have endured. People were hiding who they really were long before I existed. I think I even read somewhere that the expression "in the closet" was first used in the 1960's. And from what I understand now, being Gay was cause for being arrested in America at one point. I mean, didn't the Stonewall Riots of 1969 begin with a police raid? Imagine going to jail because you loved someone? I most certainly can't. And that is because of the brave LGBTQ men and women who fought for my rights throughout my life.
Thanks to those who were courageous to stand up and say enough was enough, the Gay Rights Movement was born, and with that, things slowly changed. In my lifetime alone, the stigma and stereotypes associated with AIDS have lessened, Gays are now allowed to be a part of the military, and our community was given the right to get married in all fifty states (although I never quite understood why we never had that right to begin with). It has been an incredibly long journey to this point, but thanks to everyone who fought, I, along with every other LGBTQ person living in America today, get to be who we are. And I for one will forever be grateful and indebted to them.
Today, there are groups to join for every type of LGBTQ person out there. There are different resources and online sites people can go to. There is even an LGBTQ representation on TV and in movies for people to look up to. Our community has busted that closet door wide open and made our presence known. Today's kids definitely have a more positive outlook on being Gay than I did growing up, or even those before me. They see nothing wrong with being who they are. And that is because of the people of my time, and those before.
It completely blows me away to hear about openly Gay or Trans children in school, holding their partner's hands in the hallway, or going to prom together, because they don't see themselves as anything different than the Straight students. They demand and expect equality and respect, and for the most part, get it. This certainly wasn't an option in my day. I think these kids are the bravest people out there for just being themselves, despite society and all the bullshit thrown at them. These kids are my heroes, and I admire them greatly.
As time passes however, I realize that I am slowly becoming part of that older generation. And despite the amount of progress that has been made throughout the years, the battle is far from over for our community. Every day, people are being attacked, and even killed, just for being Gay. Not only here in America, but all around the world. Here in America, there are extremely public homophobes within our government who not only want to take away all LGBTQ rights, but would rather we just not exist. And why is that? Is it because we are responsible for the ongoing drug problem in America? For all the rapes and murders? NO, it’s for simply loving whom we love. How messed up is that?
And it doesn't end with our government. A large percentage of the homeless kids out there are Gay and Trans boys and girls who have been kicked out of their homes. Many of these kids end up on the streets doing drugs or selling themselves for sex, or even worse, dead. Again, why? Did they bring a gun to school? Did they knock up the Prom Queen? NOPE, it’s because they are who they are. Think about this for a moment... how many times have you heard about a child being kicked out of their home for being Straight?
For me, being a Gay man and maintaining a relationship with my family has become downright impossible. No matter what I do, I know that me, and my life choices, will never be seen on the same level as my siblings. They look down on me as if they are better people. Unfortunately, I've learned this over the years the hard way. Our last encounter, which involved a conversation about Gay rights in America, ended with me receiving the silent treatment for over a year. It has gotten to the point that the damage done is irreparable, and I don't care to engage anymore. But I am a 42 year-old man, who can take care of himself. What are these kids kicked out into the streets supposed to do? Who will look out for them?
We live in very sick times, and unfortunately, some walls and stereotypes still need to be broken. The world needs to know that being Gay is more than just weekends on Fire Island. We don’t just work out and sleep around. It's more than just knowing every word to every Broadway song, or anything sung by Judy, Liza or Barbara. It's more than brunch with “the Gurls.” We are more than just decorators, florists or fashion designers.
We are brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, parents and grandparents. We are fat, thin, Black, White, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and everything in between. We are cops, bankers, teachers, lawyers, accountants and anything else you can think of. We play sports, go to the movies and read, amongst other things. We marry, have or adopt children and even divorce. We laugh, cry, and feel all emotions. We get sick, bleed and suffer loss. We succeed and fail. We do everything and anything our straight counterparts do. We are human, and we demand respect and equal rights. We will never settle for less, nor will we be made to feel embarrassed, ashamed, or less than for wanting that respect and equality.
Because of those who came and fought before me, I get to live my life today as an out and proud Gay man. I am able to live, laugh and love. And because of the people of my generation, kids today bravely walk the halls of their schools being who they were meant to be.
Unfortunately, the fight for equality continues, and it's time to look towards the future and all the LGBTQ people to come. What will their futures hold if we don't continue to fight for our equality amidst the current homophobic climate?
For that, I turn to today’s generation of brave LGBTQ warriors. To all those kids who walk the halls proudly, and without fear. To those I admire and consider my heroes. It’s time for you to take hold of the baton and join the fight. To stand arm in arm with the people of my generation, and those that came before me. There is a great strength and a power within you, so let your voices be heard and never silenced.
We need you now, more than ever, as you are our communities’ future. You are the trailblazers for generations to follow, and your legacy will be felt long after you are gone. Much like the legacy of those who lived before you, and before me.
Let us show our Pride in who we are, not just in the month of June, but everyday of our lives.