Personally, I give a slow nod to the Boy Scouts of America for reversing their decision resulting in the fact that they now allow avowing gay youth to participate in their program. Slow because it really is about time and I think they ought to allow gay leaders as well. But, every small step forward is at least going in the right direction. The blow-back for their decision is just starting to emerge. We knew there would be some. And, I’m certain the BSA knew there would be some as well. In fact, the anticipated blow-back is probably why it took them so long to take the step they have finally taken. So, how should the rest of us respond?
Should we hurry up and sign our sons up for scouting as a show of solidarity to the BSA for finally getting it right on the issue? Should we boycott any group or organization that gives the BSA a hard time? Should we remain silent until they take their newly open door all the way? Is there a correct group response to support the BSA, counter the blow-back, or continue to add pressure? Simply put, not really. The BSA is really just one organization that seems to have put their finger in the wind to discover which way it’s blowing. Others led the way. More will continue to do the same. Some will resist until they die.
If someone had told me, even a year ago, that I would write several blog pieces about Gay Rights in the next year I’m sure I would have said they had the wrong blogger. A year ago my family was treading water in our very personal struggle. My son still felt unsafe in many of the circles of people who touched our lives. In all honesty, he probably felt unsafe with most of us because he was just beginning to stand up under the burden of a newly embraced facet of his identity and didn’t know if any of us were willing to share the weight.
As I wrote that last statement, I was struck by how odd it could feel to someone in the LGBTQ community to be identified so completely by his or her sexuality. The only time a straight person is identified as straight is in contrast to a non-straight person. Otherwise, we are more inclined to be identified by a role we take on–student, lawyer, mom, football player, etc.–our gender, or our ethnicity. Interestingly, all these identifiers become potential targets for discrimination which is also true for someone from the LGBTQ community.
As real as the discrimination against the LGBTQ population is and as long as the changes in laws, behavior, and attitudes have felt in coming, especially to those directly impacted, the rest of us are finally changing. As deeply entrenched as our prejudices toward the LGBTQ population were just ten years ago the changes I now see appear amazingly fast–and (again from a personal, non-community member’s perspective) relatively peaceful. When I think of the racial tensions and resulting discrimination which still exist, the disparity along economic lines between racial groups that still exists, and the differences in educational opportunities between whites and the rest of the population, especially with regard to Hispanic and African American communities, that still exist, I realize how small our steps have actually been toward establishing racial equality. By contrast we seem much closer to establishing real equality at all levels for the LGBTQ community.
One reason for the difference in our ability to overcome our prejudice against the LGBTQ population verses a particular ethnic group might have to do with the visibility of what we are prejudice against. Ethnicity and gender are difficult if not impossible to ignore therefore establishing a preconceived prejudice against gender and ethnicity is easier. I am a white woman. When you see me for the first time you know those two facts about me. You don’t know, however, if I am gay or straight just by my appearance unless I somehow purposely advertise which I am. The more straight people are exposed to what we deem “normal behavior” by non-straight people–shopping, playing sports, living in neighborhoods, gardening, etc.–the less able we will be to maintain our prejudices because our focus won’t be on an unknown identity but rather on an observable behavior.
Obviously we will always find pockets of prejudice. People are rather stubborn that way. But the reality for our LGBTQ family, friends, and selves is that the tide is turning. Momentum is going in the right direction. As more famous faces “come out” and less flamboyant LGBTQ individuals feel safe enough to be seen in the every day lives of the people around them, we will be forced to see our prejudices for what they are–unwarranted fear against something we don’t actually understand.
June is PRIDE month. Parades and meetings are happening in various parts of the nation. PRIDE has helped the LGBTQ community find its voice. Organizing as a community has helped provide needed resources and information to struggling members of the LGBTQ population. It has also help to educate the rest of us and call attention to issues–such as teen suicide and bullying–which affect all of us. Sadly, the more outrageous expressions of PRIDE have long been used by conservative religious and political groups to stir up fear and feed the flames of hate and discrimination. As my son heads down to LA this year in order to attend his first major PRIDE event I feel my heart in my throat. He is an adult. He is wise. But he is also vulnerable. And, this mama is nervously excited for him, praying he will be okay, and angry that I feel afraid–not that his plane might crash but that some hate-filled person could bring him harm. I long so desperately to live in a different reality but until I do I guess I need to get used to this lump in my throat as it beats with pride for my sons and daughters who will not allow fear or a difficult path stop their adventures or silence their voices. (Today Mr. Bruce–that heart beats for you)!