By Forest Riggs
June is here and busting out all over with pride — Gay Pride, that is! Once again, in every hamlet, village, city, and empire “where two or more are gathered…” there will be rainbow flags, parades, drag shows, club parties, fireworks, speeches, and even a few demonstrations. After all, the “gays are ruining America,” or so certain groups and organizations want folks to believe.
The LGBT “movement” has indeed come a long way, especially in the past few years, but it is not out of the woods (or, the closet, perhaps). There is still a significant amount of work to be done, on all levels. Education, dispelling myths, shining the light of truth on hypocrites and leaders that shout one thing but in private say and do another — these are areas where the community must continue to work and make difference.
Galvestonians and the LGBTQ community are pretty fortunate. The Island has we have known long as a “bastion of liberals” where one can be whatever they choose to be. It is not so much that people don’t care, they just accept people as valued individuals rather than dwell on differences and things that divide and separate. Sure, there are economic and political differences, even choices of faith and how to worship, but in the end, Ol’ Galvetraz is a pretty “free” place to live and be part of a thriving community.
The history of June and Pride is well documented and really needs no re-telling. Rebellion at the Stonewall Inn in New York was the impetus for what was to become Gay Pride — not to mention that Judy Garland had just died! Over the years, the celebrations have developed into huge affairs and gatherings drawing thousands around the world. June has become synonymous with gays and Pride celebrations.
I have attended celebrations in immense cities such as New York, San Francisco, and Houston and some commendable efforts in smaller cities and communities in the Bible Belt. The enthusiasm and pride are there in both communities; however, when the smaller gatherings are being picketed, subjected to taunts and ridicule by an ignorant and misinformed group of haters (who, of course, claim to be on the side of God and family), it weakens the genuine joy and celebration. Having seen this several times while visiting friends in some “deep” southern states, the behaviors and activities of those opposing gay anything appalled me. The LGBTQ and pro-gay participants went about their business, celebrating with music, educational booths, and guest speakers, while the opponents — some less than 10 years old! — ran up and down shouting through vein-swollen foreheads about God, Hell, and queers, spouting their cafeteria-style theology at anyone listening.
I share this because if you are celebrating LGBTQ Pride in Houston, Dallas, San Francisco, or any other large city, just pause for a moment and think about some of our brothers and sisters in smaller communities trying to send a message of hope and love, only to be shot down by bigots and idiots. It is out there, still. I have witnessed it.
As LGBTQ people, we should not for one minute take for granted what has come before us — the rallies, the marches, the pins, buttons, and banners, and all those beaten or persecuted just for being themselves. Every Pride gathering, from two or more to 100 thousand, is a start and sends a message of strength and hope. Eventually, as more and more John and Mary sees we are not monsters set on overthrowing the government (they are doing a good job of that themselves!) and that we, like them, just want a normal life, protected by laws and not hiding in fear, that we are wonderful and productive citizens.
Science is on the side of gays and more and more people are being educated about choice versus being born gay. It takes time. When you look at how far we have come in just the past 20 years, it’s amazing! Our country now allows us to marry. There are laws that protect against discrimination in housing, employment, healthcare, and many areas. These are things I could not have imagined back in the 1970s when my journey began. We are, but it takes time.
For this reason, every Pride gathering is critical, no matter what the numbers reflect. Education begins with the individual, then spreads like ripples through a community. It’s hard to change ignorance, almost impossible, but we must make the effort and make it every chance we get.
While waiting in line in a local bank, I overheard two older gentlemen talking about their rental properties and tenants. Both men looked familiar and I am aware they own several properties around the Island. The first man said, “Oh brother, have I had it with the queers!”
The other man, looking rather puzzled, replied, “What do you mean ‘had it?’”
The first man said, “They all lie. They lie about their income to get a lease, lie about smoking, fight and tear up the place and finally get them out. I have all the repairs and costs. No more queers for me!”
As he was saying this, I thought of a few folks I have known and how they might fit that description. Then, to my surprise, the second man, said, “Bill, they are gays now, not queers anymore. They have been my very best tenants, fixing things on their own, paying on time, respectful. I’d have all gays if I could.”
As the line moved forward, I thought about the conversation between the two men and their perception of “gays” based on their individual experiences. One felt queers be destructive, and the other felt gays are the best thing since sliced bread.
What is Pride? Pride is being one of the sliced-bread gays, making your community proud, striving for excellence in everything you do. Just like straight people, we are watched and judged based on how we come across the impressions and images we make and leave behind. This is where Pride is more than a rainbow flag or a parade — it is about setting an example and hopefully changing an attitude or misconception, one person at a time.