Op-ed: When It's More Than a Flag, It's a Feeling
I joke sometimes that I'm on a perpetual quest for videos that will make you cry. One of The Advocate's most popular stories ever was a shared video that you probably saw somewhere, if not on our website. "It's Time" introduced us to a fictional couple who met, fell in love, then got engaged. But to make the point that our romances look like everyone else's, the viewer doesn't find out until the end that we're watching the story of a gay couple.
Back in November 2011, it was maybe the most beautiful ad for marriage equality I'd ever seen. Naturally, that became the headline: "Possibly the Most Beautiful Ad for Marriage Equality We've Seen."
But there sure has been a lot more where that came from.
Most recently, I got up the courage to finally read "Eighth-Graders Surprise Gay Teacher With Heartwarming Video." The reporter mentioned the story in our morning meeting, wrote it up, and the next thing you know it was climbing the ranks of the "Most Popular" list.
Christopher Harrity has worked for The Advocate in some capacity for 20 years. Among his many responsibilities is creating screenshots for stories like these, but when a particularly touching video comes along, even he's wary to watch. For the same reason, I waited a day before reading about the "heartwarming video." When I eventually clicked, it was so early that few others had arrived at the office to catch me teary-eyed.
The teacher's story, it turns out, is about how his students took advantage of the class's “YouTube of the Day” to share a music video for "Same Love" by rapper Macklemore. The chorus repeats over and over about being gay, "And I can't change / Even if I tried / Even if I wanted to." When the video ended, the kids applauded and told their teacher, “That was for you, Mr. K.”
The teacher wrote about it afterward, "The whole class applauded again — for me this time — and then I cried. I cried the proudest tears I have ever shed."
What I know for sure, because I spend way too much time poring through statistics about what's popular on our website, is that LGBT people have a thirst for inspiration. We want to be lifted up and taken out of our offices and into a world where a country like Russia would never vote to ban all talk of homosexuality out of some irrational fear that we'll corrupt children. We'd like to believe that what happens in Russia is not likely being silently cheered by the people who ban gays as troop leaders in the Boy Scouts.
Sometimes the extremes of what we cover at The Advocate makes it difficult to gird yourself with a typical journalistic cynicism. Over the years, I've heard a lot of seemingly heartless jokes among reporters, who escape into a gallows humor. Journalists normally deaden our senses with exteriors like scabs, hardened by observing the hurt we often cover. Then there are these inspiring moments that take you more by surprise than the hate crime.
From looking at the numbers, though, I'm starting to think you all are a little like me. You read the stories about florists refusing to serve our weddings or about a Supreme Court justice lamenting the passing of the days when homosexuality was criminalized. But more than anything, you're looking for signs that we're going to be OK.
If you are like me, then I have good news. Because inspiration is everywhere these days. My cousin and her girlfriend were married this weekend on a beach in Provincetown. Her parents beamed as they looked on; her brother was the officiant. That happens all over the country rather routinely nowadays.
On Flag Day this month, my mother-in-law and father-in-law stood at a busy intersection and waved an American flag and a rainbow flag. They live in the Bible Belt, in Panama City, Fla., and were joined by maybe 20 other supporters.
What happened next, though, explains what is so bittersweet about all of the inspiring stories. Implicit in the article about the teacher crying tears of joy was his concern that acceptance would be out of reach. Maybe he'd worried like a lot of teachers that being openly gay would be asking for trouble from some conservative set of parents. Even the impetus for the inspiring "It's Time" video is discrimination. The Australian filmmakers were actually campaigning — still unsuccessfully — for marriage equality in their country.
And when my loved ones waved those flags along U.S. Highway 98, my father-in-law said, "We were trying to send a message that all Americans deserve equal rights, acceptance, and respect." Some passing by greeted that message with shouts of "Faggots, you will all burn in hell," "Read the Bible, you’re going to hell," or "I don't believe in your lifestyle, God will punish you."
The "vast majority" of comments from passersby were positive, my father-in-law said. That's the way it goes in most everything. I'm not one of those perpetual optimists who wants to refocus only on what's happy about that story, or any story. We still have to take the bad with the good.
LUCAS GRINDLEY is editorial director for Here Media. He lives in Los Angeles with his husband and two foster children. Contact him on Twitter @lucasgrindley.