A Look Back At Pride
It was June, 2011, and I was car-less. Which is why I was riding on the 35 LA Metro Bus eastbound on Washington Blvd toward the USC campus. A few days before, I had discovered that the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives was based here in Los Angeles, and I was excited to go explore.
Before I move forward, allow me to digress.
Growing up, I was witness to my dad’s love of history. At any given time there would be thick tomes piling up on the side table next to his recliner in the living room, and the History Channel was standard evening programing in our family. I also enjoyed history, but I think the inciting event that thrusted me toward appreciating the value and need for history was reading Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. His re-accounting of American history, not from the vantage of the winners but rather from the losers and the marginalized, left a profound impression on my adolescent mind.
2008, in the aftermath of the passage of Prop 8 in California, I was angry… like, deep-down-to-my-core angry. I had recently come out, living openly as not only a Gay man, but as a Gay Christian. For months preceding the elections, I shook my head at the absurd and blatantly false and inflammatory ads and media campaigns being aired by the Yes On 8 campaign. As a Christian, I was especially bothered by the fact that these campaigns were predominantly being organized and promoted by churches.
Please understand (this is important), I wasn’t offended by the fact that churches and pastors were supporting Yes On 8, an amendment to the California state constitution that would define marriage as being uniquely between a man and a woman. I was extremely offended by the fact that churches and pastors knowingly lied, deceived, misled, and inflamed the fear of their congregations for the purpose of getting the ballot measure passed. Call me old-fashioned, but the ends don’t justify the means - and I believe clergy should be held to a higher standard when it comes to honesty and integrity.
I didn’t, I couldn’t, believe that Prop 8 would pass. But on November 4, 2008, it did. And I was angry.
But I remembered Howard Zinn. I remembered the message he stood for, about the importance of knowing the history of not just the winners, but of the losers. Of understanding that textbooks are almost always the narrative of the powerful. So I set out to learn more about the true (and rather complex) history of marriage, and the stories of gay men and women throughout history.
Return to June 2011. Gay Pride month. Over the previous few years, I learned much about the history of marriage and the history of gay men and women, from ancient Babylon through the 19th Century. But for all the reading I had done, I knew very little about the modern Gay Rights movement in the U.S. I knew that there had been some riots at a place called Stonewall somewhere in New York, but honestly that was the extent of my knowledge. So I set out to do some research - which is how I ended up on 35 LA Metro Bus headed toward South Central and the National Gay & Lesbian Archives.
I’ll spare you the details of my exploration, and jump ahead to my point. After reading about a dozen books there was a singular fact that, to this day, has left an indelible mark. The people who stood up against police brutality and social injustice, the ones who started the Stonewall Riots and the Gay Rights Movement and the HIV/AIDS Movement - those people are nothing like me.
For better or worse, I don’t fit many of the obvious stereotypes that our culture assigns to Gay men; or as some people inartfully put it, ‘You don’t act Gay’. And as I read about the history of Stonewall and other earlier movements, what became more and more evident was that the people I could identify with, the Gay men who could, if necessary, blend into polite society’s norms of gender presentation (i.e. the ones who could act straight)… we hid like cowards. We dissolved into the crowds. We advocated for ‘patience’ and letting the system work itself out. We clung to the interior of our closets with ferocity.
The heroes of Stonewall were the ‘Flame Queens,’ ‘Trannies,’ ‘Hustlers,’ and ‘Street Kids.’ The heroes were the oppressed and marginalized. The heroes were the ones who were gender nonconforming. They were the ones who not only had the courage to stand up against injustice, but also the courage to be public.
I like to think of myself as being someone who fights against injustice, someone who stands up in defense of the oppressed - because it’s the most genuine way that I know to live out my Faith...and it makes me feel good about myself. But had I been alive in the late ‘60s early ‘70s, to believe that I would have stood up and been counted among the heroes who lived out and authentic would require me to believe that I would have been a remarkable anomaly.
So I make myself remember this fact... that it was people who looked very different than me who had the courage to be public. It’s this diversity that I celebrate during Pride Month. I celebrate the bravery of the ‘Flame Queens.’ I celebrate the ferocity of the Drag Queens. I celebrate strength of Eddie Windsor, who at 84 years old fought and defeated the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA) at the Supreme Court in 2013.
I celebrate Caitlyn Jenner, who is demonstrating more than the courage to live authentically as a transgender woman; she’s demonstrating the courage to be public.
I celebrate Robbie Rogers, who was the first openly gay man to play in one of the 5 major U.S. sports leagues. I also celebrate his first goal since returning to MLS two years ago… which happened not only in front of a home crowd (I was there!) during Pride Month, but on LA Galaxy’s LGBT Pride Night!!! What?!?! EPIC!!! (#LAGalaxy #Dynsasty #ThisIsLA)
And perhaps most emotionally, I’m celebrating Marriage Equality.
Honestly, I feel inept to fully express the significance of the recent Supreme Court ruling. For me, it’s huge! But I recognize that I’m a relative newcomer to this community - I’ve only been out for a little less than a decade. So while I’m completely overwhelmed, I know that I’m also standing on the shoulders of those who came before me. I’m the beneficiary of the sacrifice and struggle of generations of brave men and women. And to them I say Thank You!
From Caitlyn Jenner’s house in Malibu, to the steps of the Supreme Court, 2015 Pride didn’t just celebrate history, it made history. But there’s much more work to be done. So I take the stories of courage, from Stonewall to Vanity Fair, and I keep them close to my heart - and hope that I too will have the courage to live out-loud, proud and public.
Because our fight in not yet over. Your fight is not over yet.
Very few of us will ever argue before the Supreme Court, or ascend the steps of the Capitol as a Member of Congress, or sit in the Oval Office. But we all have the ability to effect change. Our court is of Hearts and Minds, and our sovereignty extends through our relationships and social connections. Our power is not exerted through Force, but rather through Story.
So be bold. Be brave. Live your life out-loud. Seek out relationships, not just with people who agree with you, but with people who think that you’re wrong. Listen, then speak, then listen again. Because it’s important.