Yesterday was Pride Day in America. New York City and other major metropolitan areas had parades, speakers, and other events to mark the day. The observance is nearly fifty-years-old, having started in 1970.
The first Gay Pride Day was the year after the Christopher Street riot in New York City. The New York City police had targeted gay clubs and arrested patrons on sodomy laws. The Gay community in New York had enough and decided to take a stand against tyrannical laws that punished people for being gay.
The idea of arresting someone for their sexual orientation is incomprehensible to my children. I am glad that they cannot imagine an America that would use the weight of the law to try and force someone to express their love with another consenting adult in a manner approved by the State.
I do recall the days when America was highly repressive of lesbians, gay people, bisexuals, and transgender individuals. The moral code of my youth was autocratic when it came to the LGBTQ community. Many states equated being gay with being mentally ill. Psychiatrists would try to talk the gay out of a person.
The military would dishonorably discharge a person who was gay and in the military. That debate is ongoing. I have been in war zones. In the heat of battle, I did not hear anyone ask another person about their sexual preference. The only straight a soldier under fire cares about is if the soldier protecting his flank can shoot accurately.
Pride Day has reached middle age. The early days were not easy going, and while there is progress in legally protecting the LGBTQ community, bigots are still tossing a lot of misinformation and hate at those who love differently than straight people. Conservatives use the term “The Gay Agenda,” as a pejorative as they fight laws to protect LGBTQ against hate crimes and discrimination.
I carried much small-town baggage with me about homosexuality when I left Kankakee, Illinois for the bright lights of Los Angeles in the early 1970s. I had not known anyone who was gay, at least not anyone who would admit to it. We were socialized to have animosity toward any who are LGBTQ. We incorrectly believed Gay men, in particular, were all predators looking to find young straight men and seduce them.
There was much to fear for LGBTQ in those days, and keeping quiet about one’s preferences was often the safe way to live.
I arrived in Malibu and started dating. One woman I met was a well-known actress, and we started seeing each other. A good friend of hers was a writer of Country Western song lyrics. He wrote many hit songs that dealt with the love-lorn. With my curly dark brown hair and azure blue eyes, he thought I was a stunning creature.
One evening, Susan disclosed to me that her friend was attracted to me. My small town baggage opened, and I immediately flashed my indignance. Susan taught me to be gracious, and there is no reason to be mean to others because of their orientation. Her friend had not made a move in my direction, and my reaction was unwarranted.
That was the start of my journey of ridding myself of my misconceptions about a lifestyle I did not understand. The final chapter of freeing myself of fear of homosexuality happened in Washington.
I worked at the largest Public Relations firm in the World. In the Washington Office, we had over 200 professionals on staff. About half were gay, including the head of the office.
Working side-by-side to achieve common goals, I saw how unimportant someone else’s sexual orientation should be. The men and women who were my colleagues broadened my cultural horizons, showed much concern for my family and me, and erased the remaining misperceptions I had about their lives.
Gay Pride Day came to Washington and several at my firm, Hill and Knowlton, were part of the organizing committee for the event. One of my colleagues asked if I was going to attend the parade, and bring my family.
To the absolute horror of my Republican friends, I brought my wife and kids to the parade. My colleagues were thrilled that I included my family. One man I worked with, Mark is his name, hugged me and thanked me for giving him his dignity. He told me he knew insults, bullying, and rejection from straight people too well. To have acceptance and friendship from someone straight was a lovely experience and he wanted to thank me.
I thought about him, and all my former colleagues yesterday. I thought about how I have changed my attitudes on this issue over the years. I began my adult life as a hater of LGBTQ, and I am ending it as their friend and fellow advocate for human dignity. I am grateful for the friendships I’ve known with members of the community over the years.
Don’t hate what you don’t understand. Reach out, and you may find some cherished friends. I know I did, and I am grateful for them.
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