Today, at Tom McCall Waterfront Park in downtown Portland, under mostly-sunny skies, the 2019 Portland Pride Festival will commence, culminating with a parade tomorrow. Yesterday, I read an article in Willamette Week about the early steps towards holding Pride events in Portland back in the 1970’s. Some of the organizers of those events were quoted. They all spoke of how frightened they were to acknowledge being gay to their friends and co-workers, let alone in a public setting. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around that.
I am a white, heterosexual, cis-gender male. Over time, I have come to realize that this affords me a certain level of unearned privilege. I don’t know what it’s like to fear what will happen to me if people find out I’m straight. I don’t know what it’s like to negotiate the various obstacles society has placed in my path based on my race, my gender, or my sexual orientation. I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to face any of that.
I have seen some of the bullshit my LGBTQ friends have to endure, but it would be disingenuous of me to say that I understand what they go through. It is impossible for me to truly walk in their shoes, so how could I? Still, I do see their struggles and I do my best to learn. I do my best to get it. I do my best to be an ally.
At the end of the day, I just want everybody to be treated fairly and equally. To be given a certain basic level of respect and dignity that all human beings deserve. That seems like such an obvious premise to me, and yet there are still so many people out there who refuse to see it that way.
Homophobia, like most fear, is rooted in ignorance. In an instinctive mistrust of that which we do not know. That which we perceive to be different from ourselves. I remember feeling somewhat awkward and fearful about the existence of gay people as a child. These were biases taught to me by the way gay men were portrayed in media at the time, the teachings of the church in which I was raised, and the attitudes of other straight people around me.
As I grew older, and got more involved in theater, I had my first opportunities to work with openly-gay people. I quickly discovered how foolishly ignorant I had been for so long. I was embarrassed to realize that I had been judging an entire group of people without taking the time to get to know a single one of them. That’s the very definition of prejudice! I was grateful to these new friends of mine for teaching me this lesson, simply by being themselves.
Over the course of my adult life, I have known many people who self-identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, or transgender. Some have been close friends. Some have been mere acquaintances. Some have been classmates, co-workers, or colleagues. Some have been teachers and mentors.
All of them have enriched my life in one way or another. All of them have helped me recognize my own biases. All of them have inspired me to try harder to overcome those biases. All of them shown me the wonderful diversity that exists within the human race.
It underscores what I said earlier about fear and ignorance. Those things melt away when you embrace the “other” whom you once feared. The fight for equality becomes a much more personal issue when you see people you love and respect being subjected to hate and bigotry. It’s no longer a philosophical question, but a very tangible problem affecting people you care about.
That’s why, when I hear that some assholes in Boston want to throw a “straight pride” parade, I can say without irony that these idiots need more gay people in their lives. These are the same variety of dimwits who don’t understand why “All Live Matter” and “Not All Men” are fucking stupid responses to calls for racial or sexual justice. These are the morons who don’t even try to understand and are weirdly proud of their ignorance. These are relics of the status quo those early Pride organizers faced in the 70’s. Thankfully, their archaic why of thinking finally seems to be on the decline among straight Americans.
So to all of you who will be marching today under that beautiful rainbow flag, to those of you in other parts of the country who have already marched or will march later this month, and to those of you who choose not to march, but have your own ways of standing up for your right to be who are – thank you. In addition to strengthening your own communities, you are contributing something valuable to the broader world around you. I admire your courage and I am inspired by your example. I hope you enjoy your celebrations, whatever form they may take.
You have so much to be proud of.