It’s LGBTQ Pride Month. I was struggling with what to write about that has not already been done, and better, by smarter, more talented people than me. Then I was reminded, in the worst way, of why my voice – and every voice – matters on this topic.
“What is gay pride month and why do we need it?”
I have been struggling how to answer this lately. Not because I don’t believe it’s important, but because my views on, and attitudes about, what gay pride means to me, personally, have changed over the years, as I’ve changed. I’ve built a career, home, family, community of friends – all as an open and proud gay man, married to another man, whom I’ve built and shared my life with. I haven’t been to a pride parade or event for a few years now (although I support, encourage, and appreciate those who do.) I proudly fly a rainbow flag outside of my home, drive around with a rainbow sticker on my car, and talk openly about issues that impact, and matter to, the LGBTQ community with anyone who will listen. I believe by living my life openly and inclusively, I am bringing visibility to our families, our homes, our humanity, our citizenship, our loves and our relationships. I want people to know that I am a gay co-worker, neighbor, family member, driver, consumer, husband, and pet owner. Not to show how I am different from straight people, but to show how I am the same, in all the ways that matter.
While I was trying to develop my thoughts and words on Pride, I received a painful and urgent reminder of why Gay Pride and visibility matters:
A blogger friend of mine was brutally attacked outside of a bar in Arkansas this week. His name is Erik, and some of you will know him from his blog, Gambrinous with Griffonage.
This is Erik (left) and his husband, Robert. This is how they should be celebrating this month.
Instead, thanks to a couple of disgusting people, this is how Erik gets to celebrate this month:
He was walking his friend to his car and they were jumped in a parking lot. As Erik related the story, he was beaten, head bashed into the ground and arm broken, all while having hateful gay slurs shouted at him. The attack was stopped only when police arrived, ticketing all 4 men (the 2 attackers, Erik, and his friend,) and Erik was brought to the hospital, his husband, Robert at his side, as he was assessed and treated. He now has the luxury of going through what I have no doubt will be a long, tedious, painful process of healing, pressing charges, soliciting legal and financial assistance, and finding a way past the anger and fear, so he can put his life back together, get back to work, and attempt to live some semblance of peaceful life with his husband and friends once again.
While his friends, near and far, proverbially circle the wagons, light the torches, take up arms and spread the word of this attack, it will not change the fact that this happened and never should have. Erik harmlessly walked out of a bar, with his friend, planning to return home to his husband and pets, go to bed, and get up the next morning, unharmed and undisturbed, and go on with life as usual; but some hateful bastards decided his life, his freedom, his safety, his happiness, was unacceptable, and treated him (and his friend) as if he were sub-human and needed to be put down or,at least, shown his place.
This is a horrible and tragic reminder of why Gay Pride, Gay Parades, and Gay Visibility matters. (Not uniquely – I recognize the same types of injustices are perpetrated against many others for their race, beliefs, ability, and social status.)
We are still being victimized. We are still being attacked. We are still unsafe in our homes, cars, schools, communities, and businesses, so long as any segment of our society perpetuates the vile attitude that gay people are sick, evil, and undeserving of love, freedom, and fair equal treatment under the law. We must stand together and, with a unified voice, remind people with these prejudiced attitudes and beliefs that we stand by, support, defend, and protect our LGBTQ families, friends, and neighbors.
It is not enough to NOT join into the gay jokes, the slurs, the pejoratives, and the bashing. It is not enough to withhold our votes from openly bigoted candidates, or refuse to shop at business with discriminatory business practices. It is not enough to refrain from attending a religious service led by a religious leader that derides LGBTQ people.
We must be vocal about our opposition; about our demand for equality, safety and freedom for all; and about our unwavering defiance to bigoted and discriminatory attitudes, opinions, and acts. We must let LGBTQ people know that we have their backs, that they are welcome in our homes, businesses and community, and that an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. We must be visible. We must be strong. We must be loud and, yes, damn it, we MUST BE PROUD!
PROUD that we came out of the shadows, into the light, with our heads held high, hand in hand, despite the verbal and physical attacks, the slurs, the spitting, the shouting, the protests and the lack of support in our families, communities, churches, law enforcement and government.
PROUD that we formed bonds and built relationships with the people we love and are attracted to, despite laws, aversion therapies, admonishment, shunning, ostracization, and shaming.
PROUD that we carved out careers, established homes, supported and ran businesses, lived in and bettered our communities, and built all variations of families of every combination and make-up, despite being fired from our jobs, kicked out of our homes, denied befits and the lack of recognition for the families we built.
PROUD that we did, indeed, re-define marriage as a commitment and promise to love and care and protect one another our own way, with whomever we want to, expanding the boundaries of who, what, and how many, that had kept so many people from declaring who and how they loved.
PROUD that we established support groups, organizations, funds, educational services, history records, legal services and neighborhoods that supported the LGBTQ communities.
PROUD that we fought hard for every right, opportunity, freedom, and ounce of justice that we now enjoy (won, in no small part, thanks to those minority, oppressed, and disenfranchised communities who came before us.)
PROUD that, when one of us is attacked like this, we do not run and hide. We do not apologize. We do not bury our anger and fear and just hope these hateful people will go away and leave us alone. We stand up! We shout! We fight back! We demand justice and protection! We refuse to stop being who we are!
PROUD that our non-LGBTQ allies and family members openly speak up and show their support for us through social media, in their homes, churches, communities and politics.
PROUD that our community boasts people from all walks of life – rich, poor, healthy and differently-abled, skin color of every shade, every faith, every political leaning, atheists, single, partnered, nudists, polyamarists, business owners, community workers, athletes, geniuses, drag queens, non-binary, pet owners, religious leaders, politicians,celebrities, parents – EVERY. WALK. OF. LIFE.
And, yes, we are even PROUD that we can go to a movie, watch a TV show, and read a Comic Book and see LGBTQ representation in every form of media without all the parental warnings, sensationalism, and hoopla that once came with a single lesbian kiss, a man wearing a dress, or two men lying next to each other, without touching, in the same bed.
We are PROUD of all of this because we did it despite the lack of familial support and the laws, social attitudes and preaching that told us we were unworthy, undeserving, and incapable of being whole, healthy, happy human beings. Despite being reminded everywhere we went that we were, at worst, disease ridden sociopaths destroying society, and at best, second class citizens that deserved pity and compassion along with the intolerance. Against all the odds, we not only survived, we thrived and we made ourselves seen, heard and felt, without apology and without hesitation.
Yet, despite all of this progress and pride, I am reminded once again that, as far as we’ve come, we have not come far enough. My friend lies broken – unable to work or move about freely in his life because of someone else’s hate. His husband, Robert, watches on, helpless to retroactively prevent the attack or protect him, unable to take away his pain. I cannot even begin to know the pain, suffering and anger they are going through. I am outraged and heartsick for my friends.
And despite all my attempts at bravado and posturing, that little voice whispers in my head “Erik wasn’t safe. I am not safe. We are not safe.”
While Erik and Robert have, and will, bare the worst of all of this, those of us who care, near and far, struggle with feeling helpless, wishing we had been there to prevent the attack or at least help defend Erik. We wish we could do something now, some of us longing for retaliation, some of us longing for justice. What can we do? How can we help?
The truth is, sadly, that love does not always win and is not always enough. We are not always strong and powerful and united and safe. All the laws and social progress we make will not stamp out the ugly reality that hate still exists. So what can we do?
We can share his story. We can expose this attack for what it was: shameful, hateful, unwarranted, and abhorrent. We can send him our words of support and encouragement. We can get angry. We can be afraid for him, our loved ones and ourselves. We can help pay his medical bills by donating to the Go Fund Me fundraiser one of his thoughtful friends set up. We can do our damnedest to remind people we’re here, we’re queer and we are not going to allow this, or any other attack, to go unaddressed, unanswered, unpunished. We can remind our communities and ourselves why we are PROUD. We’ve worked for it. We’ve fought for it. We’ve died for it. We’ve earned it. And we earn it every day we fall in love, build families, step out of our house, show up at our jobs, walk down our streets, and patronize our local businesses as the open, brave, and proud people we are.
What we can’t do is return to our closets, hide our faces, or lower our voices. We can’t take down our flags, we can’t peel off our stickers or throwaway our shirts or jewelry. We can’t stop men like Erik’s attackers from existing. We can’t give into the fear.
I will grieve for my friends’ suffering. I will hold my husband a little closer tonight, double check the locks on my door, and probably be a little more aware of who is around me when I walk out my door.
But I WILL walk out my door. And I’ll do it proudly. Because I’ve earned it.
We all have.