(crossposted on www.indianaequality.org)
Something occurred to me in the middle of the Pride Parade in Chicago this weekend. These sort of events are becoming so mainstream as to no longer be able to shock and awe the masses. Of course, the odd rightwinger or Bible-thumping preacher would be incensed by the sight of even one handsome bare-chested boy on a float, but the culture has moved past that I think.
As we walked down Halstead after the parade, I was struck by the fact that I'd seen not a single protestor. I'm sure that somewhere on the fringe there were the sad banner holding folks that we always see. And I am sure the Westboro Baptist Church was to be found at a Pride event somewhere. But honestly, I usually expect to see those folks to validate our claims to be oppressed in a twisted sort of way. (For those of you who will argue that we are, regardless of the protestors, I will concede and agree to that without qualification.)
But seriously, look at how far we have come. Whether in Indy or Chicago, I watched parades in which corporate sponsors from giants like Lilly and Cummins, to grocery chains and even a local Chicago plumber felt a need to be involved. Of course the local gay bars and businesses are there as well. And it's clear that local politicians know how to count votes. I was impressed to see not only city aldermen and women, but every statewide official including the governor of Illinois being supportive and out in force. And every media source from radio to television is not only on the sidelines, but smack dab in the middle with their own floats. One of the most ironic sights was seeing the hottie hoochie boy crowd, who'd usually be the featured outrageous sight on the nightly news, actually ON the TV station float gyrating to the salsa/disco beats!
One of the floats that most caught my eye though on this 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots was near the beginning. It featured many LGBT police and associated service providers. Can you imagine an out and proud cop in 1969? In fact, as we know, it was the cops vs. drag queen drama that truly gave impetus to what groups like the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis had worked so hard (and quietly) for in the 1950s-60s. And to see Frank Kameny honored this past week, after being dismissed from government service all those years ago was truly an inspiring sight.
This afternoon I watched as the first White House ceremony was held to honor LGBT Pride month and saw the President of my country declare that my friends and I are regular citizens and deserving of the same protections as anyone else. The whole laundry list was there – Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), hate crimes inclusion (Matthew Shepard Act) and even the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). I mean, we all know that Obama speaks a good game. And as a vocal supporter, I think he also means what he says, having at times spoken truth to power by supporting us in front of crowds not so disposed to liking our demands for change.
And yet, there's still that reality to face in the morning. Like the hangover after a weekend of Pride celebrating, how are we to reach all these goals? This weekend was also host to a gay bashing in New York City. And with shades of Stonewall, there are reports of a bar being raided in Fort Worth, Texas. And sadly, I am sure that some young gay, lesbian or transperson was kicked out of his/her house for being LGBT and unrepentant. Some unknown person may have even killed him/herself rather than deal with the ostracism and pain. I'm a sentimental softie as my friends would confirm, but I think it's a universal for most of us that seeing a kid hurting or a strong gay family in peril just tears at my heart.
Mr. President, we've heard your words. And now, it's time for each of us to decide that those words were marching orders. WE are the change we seek to bring about in the world. We cannot retreat to our safe gay ghettoes in Chicago or even Indianapolis, where things are great for our most affluent brothers and sisters and forget the rural areas and smaller towns. We cannot beg and plead for someone else to do the heavy lifting and save us. There will be NO Gay Martin Luther King to lead the way. We must instead each confront our own personal Stonewall moments and face them down. We do this not just to make our own lives safer, but to make the changes needed for our world and the next generation.
But guess what? In this day of blogs, youtube, facebook, twitter, instant news and globalization of even the most local of events, WE have the tools to change hearts and minds – one at a time. I don't suggest that anyone imperil his life, but taking even small steps out of the shade and into the sunlight is important. The Frank Kamenys of the world risked their careers and lives by stepping forward to state that even gays and lesbians deserved to be full citizens. In this day and age, how can we do any less? Doesn't the next generation – the ones who know gay teachers and lesbian police officers and trans neighbors – deserve to be able to live free of fear and ignorance?
Step up. Take a chance. Tell the truth. Join the cause. Be Proud and live free.