Pride Colors

ImageI did something last week I never thought I would do: I bought an American flag tank top. It was more than a surprise purchase; procuring that patriotic-chic garb signified both a personal mind shift and a collective new reality. Compulsory acts of consumerism may not seem like parallel signs of social progress, but in this case they are. This June will mark the first time that red, white, and blue—not the rainbow—will be my colors of choice!

The rainbow flag has long been synonymous with gay pride celebrations. It’s understandable that we would want to have our own symbol of freedom. Liberty has often been an illusive concept for those of us who are LGBT. History, though, is being written more rapidly than most of us can write. The NBA has welcomed an openly gay player. The Boy Scouts are toying with entering the later half of the 20th century by allowing gay scout members. Three new states have passed marriage equality laws in a matter of weeks.

As progress abounds, it’s important to realize that only one scheme of colors has truly made this possible: those hues that are star spangled! Gay rights have galvanized support from much of the hetero-USA because of a long-evolving American tradition of us becoming a more perfect union by broadening the scope of who is “united” in the states of America.

I haven’t always felt so connected to my American heritage. I came of age in the era of George W. Bush, when the flag stood more for intimidation than it did liberation. After 9-11, it seemed as though everyone rushed to plaster their cars with American flag decals and decorate their bathrooms in patriotic motifs. A few ambitions folks even painted their houses with stars and stripes. Meanwhile, the government passed laws allowing our phones to be tapped, tortured people, and lied about why we were going to war. Those with flags on their cars were on the side of freedom; those without might just be terrorists…or so it felt!

I have always considered myself to be patriotic, but I usually prefer to act on my patriotism, not wear it. As I was involving myself deeper in politics, I become more offended by the brass assertion the administration in power was making that freedom really shouldn’t be afforded to everyone. It was nine years ago that Bush campaigned for re-election on the platform of amending the U.S. constitution to permanently ban gays and lesbians from marrying.  Many of us in the LGBT community felt our country was turning against us. It’s an assault to one’s loyalty when the very framework that is supposed to protect rights is used as fodder for taking them away. Bush succeeded in using the issue to win re-election, but as eleven states voted to ban gay marriage in 2004, and more did so in years to follow, a funny thing happened. America got American on gay rights!

There have been thirty-six statewide campaigns centering on gay marriage. We’ve only won three of those referendums so far. The stinging defeats in the earliest years of this century have given way to a promise for later. Each time the issue has been put up for a vote, everyone in the state has been forced to have a conversation about not just gay marriage, but gay individuals. Many people have come out and many, many gay Americans have had difficult conversations with their friends, families, and colleagues as a result of these political fights. Discussion and deliberation are hallmarks of American democracy. So, too, is the freedom to change your mind–or evolve as it’s fashionably called now.

We still have a long way to go in becoming that more perfect union we strive to be. Even when we get there, the rainbow and its symbolic multi-hues of diversity will remain relevant. But we now have a first lady who tweets “we got your back” when a sports hero says that he’s gay instead of a president who wants to roll back the constitutional rights of LGBT Americans. And that’s exactly why I’ll be rocking my American flag tank top this month for pride!

Advertisements

Truth, Bader Ginsburg

36731070I didn’t know that milk could be a metaphor for life; then I listened to the oral arguments in the DOMA case that were before the U.S. Supreme Court last month. Now I understand the parallel between dairy and destiny. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg purported that because of laws that limit marriage to heterosexual couples, unions between gay people are not quite whole. They’re skim milk, not full cream.

It isn’t just gay relationships that aren’t on par. When laws and social etiquette treat same-sex couples differently, they’re denigrating the gay individuals that make up those pairs. The moment that you admit to yourself that you are gay is a triumphant instant of self-realization. It’s soon followed by the jarring reality that you are not equal to your heterosexual peers. Equality is about more than just laws; equality really is about about dignity. When you know you aren’t afforded the same rights as everyone else, it takes a toll on your self-worth. This effects how you live your life.

Unconscious decisions that seem extremely personal are often engineered by a larger social order. Gay people don’t have higher rates of drug use, alcoholism, and STDs because we are inherently sinful. Often, we make destructive personal choices because on some level we don’t think we deserve anything better. How many times have you hooked up with someone you barely knew and didn’t wear a condom? Have you ever texted a risqué photo of yourself to a stranger on Grindr? How many times have you gotten blackout drunk at a club? How many pills have you popped in one night just to feel a temporary high?  There’s a lot of behavior that is normalized or excused in a large part of the gay world that would never fly in most straight circles. What does it matter, though? It’s not like we can get married or anything!

There’s that skim milk again, squirting us in the face, reminding us of our inherent inferiority.

Gay Americans are not the first class of people to be undervalued. Study the history that lead up to Brown v Board of Education decision and you’ll find that subordination was key to why the Supreme Court stepped in to desegregate public schools. In the early 1940’s, psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark did research that measured internalized racism and self-hatred. Their “dolls experiment” involved African American children being presented with two dolls, both identical save for their skin and hair color. One doll was white with yellow hair; the other was brown with black hair. The children were asked to play with one. There was an overwhelming preference for the white dolls…from black kids! When probed, the kids revealed that the white dolls were prettier, more attractive, and had better hair than the black dolls. Those children learned to hate themselves at a very young age.

The Supreme Court in 1954 saw the wisdom in doing away with “separate but equal” on matter of race in part to rectify this inferiority complex. They would be wise to do so again on matters regarding who can get married to ameliorate a different, though equally potent, inadequacy today.

I’m assuming that the 80-year old Justice Ginsburg has, at best, a limited grasp of modern gay social mores. Her comment about skim milk fortuitously highlights the central issue in this debate, though. It’s why people stood in line four full days before the doors even opened to allow them inside the chamber to view the hour-long proceedings. It’s why more and more Americans are coming around to the idea of marriage equality. The more people get to know us, the less they want to see us skimp on our own happiness, and the more they want our lives to be whole.

Whatever the outcome of this court case, that sentiment alone should do wonders to improve our individual self-worth. We don’t need a court’s permission to live a “whole milk life”. We just need to value ourselves!