25 June 2016

Overcoming homophobia

The mass shooting at Orlando two weekends ago hit me pretty hard. For a few days I was frequently on the verge of tears. I don't know any of the victims personally. Moreover, I don't have any friends who know any of the victims, so the sadness was not because of a specific personal connection. Rather it existed largely because a community important to me had been horribly attacked. Other gay people I know were mourning in the days following the attack. It was a tragedy for all of America, but it was also a tragedy specific to the gay community.

For a few days I did a fair amount of reading on-line and listening. Perhaps I engaged too much with the dialogue surrounding the tragedy, because in addition to news about the lives of the victims and expressions of support and sympathy for the LGBT community, there were also vile things said about gay people. For example, a pastor who doesn't live more than a few dozen miles from where I live, wished that evenmore gay people had been killed in the tragedy, citing God’s will for retribution for gays.

Picketing of funerals by extremists, hate speech, internal hatred - these are reminders that homophobia is frequently not very far away. It may be a minority of extremists that publicly vocalize or act on their deep intolerance, but how many in silent America sympathize with their views at least to some extent? How many have decided that the stereotypes they learned long ago about LGBT people are true and won’t bother to challenge those assumptions? How many put more faith in a modern interpretation of a few lines of text in an ancient holy book than in science, sociology, and common sense?

Marriage equality didn't erase the deep antipathy some people hold for sexual minorities. However, we live in an unmistakably different world than I grew up in a few decades ago. Many LGBT people are no longer in the shadows. Coming out, though always difficult, is generally met with more supportive friends and families. Straight allies are willing to publicly show their support for LGBT equality and mourn when gay people suffer injustice. Despite the tragedy at Orlando, and some of the hate speech that ensued, there were some beautiful expressions of love and solidarity too:

Like a powerful speech given by a conservative Utah politician.

Like prayers and acts of solidarity offered by American Muslims and Orthodox Jews.

Like the giant angelic wings built to shield mourners from anti-gay protesters at Orlando funerals.

And like this moving musical tribute to the Pulse victims by two gay singer songwriters.

12 June 2016

This is why pride

When I was in the closet years ago, I may have sympathized with those who voiced criticism of gay pride celebrations. 'Why do they need to flaunt their sexuality?'. 'I don't care what they do in private, but they don't need to be public about it'. Personally, I kept as quiet as possible about gay issues for the many years I tried to suppress being gay, but these were the dominant kinds of voices I heard growing up. It must have been true - gay people are selfish and perverted. Sadly there are many people that still feel that way. There are even a few, drunk in their own deluding hatred, who believe that gay people are worthy of death.

What is the point of gay pride parades, which usually occur around this time of year? They were born of events at the Stonewall Inn decades ago, where police violently cracked down on a gay club, and LGBT people fought back over the course of several nights. The events at a New York bar helped galvanize the modern gay rights movement and led to the first LGBT pride parades in the country which were held on the first anniversary of the riots.

A different gay club was again in the news in a huge way this weekend. In Orlando Florida, early this morning, a gunman terrorized hundreds of people at Pulse, killing and injuring scores. At this early juncture, motives and details aren't fully known, but it is said to be the greatest mass killing by a gunman in American history. The gunman appears to have had links to the terror group ISIS and was reported to have reacted to the sight of two men kissing several weeks earlier. He may have been specifically seeking out LGBT establishments for the attack.

Terror is often no respecter of persons, indiscriminate in its victims. Sometimes it is directed at specific groups of people like the innocent black parishioners worshiping in a Charleston, South Carolina church. Violence is the extreme end of a spectrum of prejudice and injustice that many minority groups, including LGBT people, have faced for decades.

Only one man pulled the trigger early this morning to inflict horrible violence on dozens of people. But there are others in our society responsible for perpetuating prejudice and misinformation about LGBT people, who enable an environment where even more extreme views or acts can take root. There are some who use language to incite discrimination or even violence. There are a few religious leaders that betray their sacred trust to inspire people and, in their bigotry against LGBT people, ignore the most fundamental precepts of their religion.

Pride is our community's response to oppression. Pride exists for the LGBT community to throw off the crippling burden of shame that society has long wanted us to live with. Pride serves as a reminder that LGBT people are a part of every corner of society - they are teachers, law enforcement, artists, scientists and business leaders. And as I read in an on-line comment earlier today, pride exists to let people in the closet know that they are not alone.

This June I imagine that pride celebrations across the country will feel more muted. There will be sadness that so much progress not-withstanding, there is still much hatred of LGBT people in the world. There will be some mourning that America is not one bit closer to solving her problem with gun violence. There may be a little more fear of a possible attack in the places where gay people meet. But pride also reminds us how far gay rights have progressed, especially over the last decade. It reminds us of the resilience of LGBT people and all they've faced as a community. In the tragedy of Orlando there can be a chance for greater compassion and greater understanding if we are open to that invitation. That can be the flower that grows from the ashes of this tragedy.