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!

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Pride. Prejudice. Possibility.

Pride is a very misunderstood concept.  Many of our straight friends don’t understand why we in the LGBT community insist on being treated like everybody else, only to then march in a parade where we single ourselves out solely because of our sexuality. Many of us who are queer forget to take in the magnitude of pride’s significance; it’s much larger than six-pack-sporting twinks and dykes on bikes. It’s bigger than the largest rainbow flag. It’s more potent than any shot of premium-shelf vodka.

Pride isn’t about a party. Pride is about combating prejudice. Pride is about the enormous possibility that exists when each person has the freedom to be their own, unique self. If you are a homo on the range, you have the distinct opportunity to harness the spirit of pride to change the contours of the land in which you live.  There has never been a more pressing time.

As blue states on the coasts move toward marriage equality, states in the Midwest are actively trying to take existing civil rights away. In Kansas, current state law does not protect people from being fired from their job or evicted from their apartment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The cities of Lawrence and Topeka as well as a number of school districts, universities, and individual employers, though, have extended non-discrimination policies to ensure that LGBT employees are protected. There’s a bill being considered by the Kansas Legislature, though, that would invalidate all of these existing protections. Dubbed the “Kansas Preservation of Religious Freedom Act”, the legislation would allow any boss to fire an employee for being gay, empower any landlord to evict a tenant because of their sexuality, and even sanction healthcare providers to deny services to clients whose lifestyle they find morally offensive.  It passed the KS House by a wide margin, and awaits Senate action when the legislature reconvenes in late April. Of course, the proposal has the enthusiastic support of Republican Governor Sam Brownback.

The bill’s primary backer, though, is Democrat Rep. Jan Pauls of Hutchinson. Yes, Democrat! She’s also the same legislator who last year went out of her way to ensure gay sex remained a statutory crime in Kansas, punishable by jail. Get fired. Be homeless. Go to prison. That’s the message 82 out of 125 legislators sent to queer Kansans (that includes all but 7 Republicans and literally 1/3 of the House Democratic caucus, btw)! Even if the bill fails to become law, the conversation has made many aware that they can use their religion to justify discriminatory acts. Certainly we must respect deeply held personal convictions. However, there’s a line to be drawn when someone’s faith is used as a weapon to harm another person. This isn’t about religious freedom; this is a blatant attempt to codify prejudicial sentiment into law.

This is exactly why pride is so important. When each of our cities holds festivals, parades, and events where large numbers of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people conjugate, we demonstrate that we aren’t ashamed to be ourselves. We show politicians that we exist. We prove that we aren’t afraid to be present and counted. A big part of why Kansas legislators are trying to figure out how they can fire us from our jobs instead of figuring out a way for us to be treated equally revolves around visibility. Being out is a social responsibility. Think about what might be possible if everyone in the Midwest who was queer was open about who they are.  I don’t discount the massive amount of personal strife coming out can cause; in the end, though, most family members, friends, and co-workers will work out their own issues and embrace the people they love. When they do, people like Jan Pauls won’t just have to contend with the homos, but also an army of our supporters!

The next time a straight person asks you why we insist on having our own parades, tell them it’s because we don’t want them paying for our unemployment after we’ve been fired for being gay. More important, though, is the fact that equality matters to everyone because it outlines the boundaries by which we all get to mold our own, unique selves. We homos on the range deserve a party—and a few drinks—for having to put up with the kind of blatant hostility I spell out above. What everyone deserves, though, is the chance to live in an authentic world where each person has the freedom to be who they truly are. Combat prejudice by taking pride in possibility!

A Happy Homosexual

“Show me a happy homosexual and I’ll show you a gay corpse.”

That was the summation of the queer experience circa-1970, voiced by the character Michael in milestone movie “Boys in the Band”. Often cited as the first major film to honestly depict gay life, the realities it showcased mirrored the times. The characters were generally sad, substance addicted, and sexually compartmentalized. Though immortalized in queer cinema history, the film left the impression that being gay was rather a drag.

June is gay pride month. It’s the time of year when those famous drag queen-laden parades and rainbow-saturated marches happen. It’s when LGBT people come together in a public way to declare with our presence that we are not ashamed of who we were created to be. Anyone who wonders why we gays insist on having these events should remember the quote above. Pride is how we fight back against a dejected self-narrative. It’s our anti-drag.

As “it’s gotten better”, some are questioning why we need to continue such events. Many have suggested that pride augments the very thing we are trying to diminish—our differences. The simple fact is, people are different; and that’s not bad!  In the past year, there have been an alarming number of publicly reported suicides among LGBT teens. Flying a rainbow flag may seem frivolous, but to the 13 year old kid who happens by a march, that flag could end up being a life line. Sometimes, you just need to know you aren’t alone. Pride gives us visibility.

Variety is what fills life with intrigue and meaning. If we don’t celebrate our diversity, though, someone will end up vilifying it. Remember that “kill the gays bill” in Uganda I wrote about several posts back? It appears poised to become law after nearly two years of international wrangling. In the wake of a deteriorating economy and under the rule of a dictator, a wave of “homosexual hysteria” has swept across the East African nation. Gays and lesbians are being blamed for the downfall of their society, an idea promulgated by several prominent leaders on the American religious right. Being gay is already a statutory crime, but that apparently isn’t enough. When hateful ideologies get transferred to countries with extreme poverty and limited access to education, there can be dire consequences. If it does indeed become law, gay people in the country will be executed—and their straight allies will face severe prison sentences if they voice their support for LGBT individuals. Gay corpses and imprisoned heteros are the consequences of being invisible.

The good news for those of us on the range is that we can publicly and visibly assemble without fear of such extreme government persecution. A lot has changed for the American homosexual since Michael’s band of boys first pranced across the silver screen. In the years following, LGBT people have come out and become important forces in local communities and economies. In fact, some of the most successful U.S. cities have the most progressive laws and accepting attitudes on the issue of gay rights. No longer are we sidelined into lives of desperation, secrecy, and unhappiness. In 2011, and yes in Kansas, gay truly can be synonymous with happy.

This June, embrace pride. Gay, straight, bisexual, lesbian, or transgendered, all of us should celebrate the totality of who we are as individuals. When Wichita’s pride festival happens June 24th and 25th, exercise your right to assemble. Do it for our brother and sisters who can’t a world away.  Do it to show that being gay isn’t a drag!

Show me a happy homosexual and I’ll show you a thriving community.

Pride

Image

From Wichita Pride.
(photo by David Quick)

Every June, queers around the country gather to celebrate what has become known in the gay community as “Pride”. It’s supposed to be a time for LGBTs in every community to come together to shake away shame and shatter stigmas. However, it’s an event that is often misunderstood and misrepresented.

A lot of straight people just don’t get it. The mere mention of a gay pride parade usually conjures up images of shirtless muscle boys in pink bikinis dancing away to Cher songs while simultaneously grabbing the asses of innocuous hetero-boy passersby.  Fears of greasy, leather-clad lesbians running over women pushing baby strollers also abound. While these hyperbolic stereotypes are slowly fading, even those more in-tune with reality have questions. “Why do gay people need their own parade?” is a question I’m frequently asked. Straight people deserve an answer.

It’s not so much about the parade as it is the principle. Gay people don’t live in a world where their sexual identities are affirmed on a regular basis in the same way that straight people’s sexualities are. Marriage and family are seen by society as a milestone in basic individual human development. Meanwhile, same-sex relationships are often discouraged at best and out-right berated at worst. Most people are assumed to be heterosexual. There’s no “coming out process” involved with admitting that you like a member of the opposite sex.  To have the audacity to say out loud that you dig your own kind, though, takes a certain amount of courage. While we make progress each day, there are still communities where it’s not ok to be gay. Gay bashing incidents are all too common.  There are still people in this city who harbor ignorance or out-right hatred toward homosexuals. It’s legal to get fired from your job in the state of Kansas for being gay. For those individuals brave enough to speak and live their own truth amidst adversity, I say a parade is in order!

Pride really isn’t so much about a parade, though, as it is about a possibility. In Wichita, we’re on the cusp of social change. Our pride celebrations get bigger each year. It’s a testament to the generations before us who envisioned a life outside the closet as possible. I remember marching in the 2002 parade on Main Street and being accompanied by about 40 people. Last year, an estimated 1,200 people took part in the multi-day celebration in Nafsgar Park! This year promises to be even bigger! One exciting event being planned is a screening of the movie Milk at The Orpheum Theatre on June 22nd. I urge you all to come out and watch it. You’ll get a glimpse of what is POSSIBLE for Wichita. In the 1970s, gay San Franciscans united behind the optimistic Harvey Milk because they believed that their community could become relevant and contribute to the city’s development in a positive way. I believe the timing is ripe for the gay community in Wichita to follow suit. It is not outside the realm of possibility that we could elect one of our own to local public office within the next five years.  Doing so would send a much stronger message about what people with obstacles set before them can achieve than any parade ever could.

In the mean time, though, let’s not be shy to celebrate who we are! Let’s not forget, though, that sometimes we have to help our straight friends understand why this is important. We break down barriers by being honest with ourselves about who we are, and by not being ashamed to speak that truth to others. In doing this, we lay tracks for limitless possibilities.