Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Pride and Prejudice...

It's June... so we all know what that means.  

As the rainbow flags go up on Market Street in San Francisco , the annual debate over the merits of LGBT Pride celebrations re-surfaces like a perennial weed that just won't stay down. It's a debate that rages both inside and outside the broader LGBTQ-XYZ123-whatever-else-you-want-to-add-on... community.

Inside the community the question always gets asked ; does some of the imagery of Pride celebrations hurt the cause of equal rights? In addition, this year in the wake of significant legal victories for LGBT rights, especially around Marriage Equality;  Some are asking do we even need pride celebrations anymore?

While outside, critics and opponents love to point to that same imagery as evidence of Gay folks wanting "special rights", and then pull out their favorite chestnut, of asking why are Gay Pride Celebrations acceptable but Straight Pride celebrations are not?

Sigh.... Really? It's like asking why isn't there a "White History Month". I get tired of trying to explain to people who really do know better, but get enamored of Fox News talking points, just how stupid they sound whey they try to make these types of arguments. But fine, since clearly there is some "genuine" confusion out there as to the reason for LGBT Pride celebrations , allow me to clarify.

The number of states in the USA where you can be fired  for  being  Straight = 0
The number of states in the USA where you can be fired for being Gay = 29
Number of countries that will execute you for being Straight = 0
Number of countries that will execute you for being Gay = 10
Growing up,  how many books, songs, television programs, and movies  did you see that  featured  straight couples meeting,  falling in love and living happily ever after?   Pretty much all of them.

Ask someone who is Gay how many  positive images in popular culture they had  growing up that affirmed who they are?  The answer is, none, or at best   few,  if any at all.

Gay characters in movies and television were either creepy villains  or camp comic relief.   If you doubt that,  you really should check out  the  groundbreaking HBO documentary,  "The Celluloid Closet".  It shows clearly  the disparity in popular culture where messages about  sexual orientation were concerned.

Then there is the area of religion. The number of straight kids who have been told they are going to hell simply for being heterosexual = 0. The number of LGBT kids who have been told that they are going hell simply for being homosexual = too many to even try to count.

To my Straight friends,  I have to ask,  how many times have "respected" public figures, politicians, pundits and clergy gone on national television demanding that everyone be given the chance to VOTE on your civil rights?  How often has someone told you that not being able to discriminate against you was somehow an attack on them?  When was the last time  you heard a member of the Supreme Court saying that simply by being allowed to exist, you were "an attack" on the moral fiber of America?

Anyone??   Yeah...I didn't think so... I have a flash of the obvious for you, every month is "Straight Pride Month." There is a word for someone who truly feels that equal rights for people they don't like is somehow an attack on them. That word is "Bigot".

Saying LGBT people are human too, isn't an attack on straight people. Those people who really think it is, I want to ask them if they are really that stupid, or just that bigoted?  People who say LGBT Pride celebrations need to be stopped, are in fact, the exact reason they all started in the first place.

Are pride celebrations good or bad for the cause of equality? The answer is both. With visibility comes closer examination. Anti-gay bigots love to show images of drag queens, leather daddies and nearly naked porn stars dancing on parade floats, and scream "See! it's not about equal rights! They just want to recruit your kids into THIS!!"   

They never show the families, advocacy groups, welcoming and inclusive religious denominations, and workplace affinity groups who participate in Pride parades. After all, that wouldn't fit their desired narrative.

Media outlets are complicit in this, by the way.  CNN loves to show the drag queens  and naked boys in their coverage, but when straight allies like the CEO of  the largest health care company in the United States rides in the San Francisco Pride  parade every year, along with his LGBT employees,  you'd think the guy was invisible.

Likewise, critics of  the concept of LGBT Pride , never talk about the rates of divorce, unplanned pregnancy, child abuse and neglect and domestic violence in Straight relationships.  You never see  folks like Tony Perkins, head of the certified Hate-Group, the "Family Research Council" on Fox News talking about Mardi Gras, or "Girls Gone Wild" on Spring Break.

That would be admitting something of an inconvenient truth.  It's much easier to just point at a group of shirtless men on a flatbed truck or women on motorcycles and say that they are the real threat to families.

I have always said that Pride celebrations are not really for the people who attend them. Instead they are for the people who cannot attend them. Growing up as a Gay kid in a small town in South Central Wisconsin, there were times when I was convinced I was the only gay person on Earth. The constant message from popular culture, religion, family and peer groups was "boy meets girl, they fall in love, get married (or not) and have kids and live happily ever after". There was no happily ever after for someone who felt what I was feeling.

Then, for one weekend in June, I would turn on the TV News and see thousands of people just like me, in places like New York, San Francisco and Chicago saying "No, that's not true, you are not alone, and there is a big wide world out here beyond Sun Prairie Wisconsin. So hang in there .... we're here and we're waiting for you!" Pride Celebrations are the original  "It Gets Better Project". 

Now nearly  30 years later,  I watch  coverage like this  and it  seems  so endearingly  cheesy.   Yet at the time,   it was a lifeline to  people like me,  living with the fear and isolation of being  "in the closet".

My straight friends never needed to be told that being straight was  okay, and that they were okay   because nobody ever told them they weren't.   Pride isn't about celebrating being Gay, it's  about publicly showing that being  LGBT  is just as much a part of the the human experience as being straight is. I for one would love to see the day when Pride is obsolete. When that scared closeted gay kid, in some small town doesn't need to be told that he or she is fine just the way they are.

But until that day comes, I will be adding my voice that joyous mob in places like Market Street in San Francisco, Oxford Street here in London, Halsted Street in Chicago and Fifth Avenue in New York City. If for no other reason to let that kid know, it really does get better. There is a world where "boy meets boy" and  "girl meets girl", where they fall in love and (f they want to)  get married, and yes,   even live happily ever after...

Happy Pride Everyone.