We're a week into LGBT PRIDE MONTH but have miles to go towards gaining full equality for all persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Besides being a great month of parades and parties, Pride is much more. It contains a multitude of moments around the world when queer people (LGBT and straight!) can celebrate openly. The need to overcome silence and oppression is not always apparent at a parade in a major city of hundreds of thousands, but it is still significant in the vast crowds as well as in small towns where it takes great courage to walk down Main Street, physically exposed where bigotry and prejudice outnumber the marchers. As King wrote to the pastors in Birmingham as to why King and the civil rights movement would come to their town to hold peaceful protests and marches, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." In 1994 I was on a bus going from Newark Airport to Manhattan's Port Authority for the Gay Games and the 25th anniversary celebration of Stonewall, I overheard a young woman saying with disgust, "I don't know why these gay people have to parade themselves and make such a big deal." Even now 17 years later, I still try to formulate answers in my head of what I could have said to her. I still feel the anger. "Because people think that they don't know someone who is gay. Because discrimination decreases the more people know someone who is lesbian. Because LGBT people can lose their jobs or housing if we are out. Because partners who have been together for 30 years still must guarantee their partnership benefits through costly contracts that can still be invalidated in court, benefits that can be taken for granted legally by straight couples." Shouldn't we all be a bit angry?
But it's not enough for LGBT people to be out, straight allies have a role to play as well. As I told the Helena High School Gay-Straight Alliance in Helena, MT, it's okay to say, "Some of my best friends are gay." We laugh about statements like that because it has been a way for people to give themselves some kind of legitimacy to talk about LGBT issues while at the same time furthering discrimination. "I'm not prejudiced because I'm voting against same-gender marriage. Some of my best friends are gay." There is no logic there. However, in the context of gay slurs and harassment, a straight ally can make themselves and their support visible by stating their personal connection. In these instances, stating one's connection to LGBT equality isn't for self-promotion but for authentic solidarity. Here is a quick story from a high school student.
I just had a little story I wanted to share with you.
My friends and I went to Taco John's the other day and I was wearing a sticker that read "End Homophobia and Transphobia." The Woman taking orders at the counter looked at the sticker and began to tell mer her story. She told us that she had attended Helena High School and she was "beat up" frequently for having girlfriends. She told us that she was very grateful that someone was finally stepping up for LGBT at Helena High.
This event was very touching for me. I realized that the work of organizations like the HHS GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) effects people and makes positive change even where we don't expect it. Thank you for supporting us and encouraging us with your experience.
Mary Decker Helena, MT
VISIBLE SUPPORT DOES MAKE A DIFFERENCE because we don't know where silent pain resides.
If you are a straight ally who has never attended a Pride event, here is an invitation to you from Shaun Phoenix, MS, LCPC, a private practice counselor in Bozeman, MT whose work focuses on moving beyond surviving to thriving. Wherever you live, in a major city or a rural area, find your Pride event. Have some fun, let your hair down, and make a genuine difference for equality.
I’d like YOU to come to Gay Pride, too!
Here’s just a few of the reasons why I’d like you to be there:
~ Despite how much you love me and how well you know me, you can’t really have a clear vision into what it’s like for me to be gay, because whenever you and I are together, I’m in your straight world – you’re not in my queer world. As a gay person, I have unique experiences in the world, I am treated differently, my relationship is thought of differently, and I face life challenges that are different than those that my straight friends face. Coming to Pride will give you a little tiny window into my world.
~ I’ve been told many times, by many sources, that my sexual orientation and my significant partner relationship should be tolerated by the dominant culture – and I should appreciate that. Well, I do, sort of -- but I want more! I don’t want to just be tolerated, I want to be seen, heard, understood, and celebrated for who I am and for the unique gifts my queer sensibilities bring to the world. Just like in a garden, monoculture puts everything at risk – the world thrives on diversity, and having you at Pride will certainly help me know that you not only tolerate me, you celebrate me.
~You can’t really celebrate diversity unless you get it. And you can’t really get what it’s like inside someone else’s culture unless you step in and feel it. Pride creates an opportunity for you to step inside queer space – think of it as a cultural exchange! It may make you uncomfortable, may raise questions, may answer questions – and this experience of being in the minority for a few hours can stretch you to be more compassionate as your awareness grows for what my world is like.
~Gay Pride is the one weekend out of the entire year when I and my queer community can stop trying to fit in, stop trying to be like everyone else, stop feeling less than or different than when engaging in conversation. I experience and look at the world from your eyes every single day – here’s the one weekend a year when you can offer me that gift.