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It's that time of year again: gay pride season. It's the time of year when beer tents get hoisted up, Dykes on Bikes get revved up, six-foot-tall boys in dresses get dolled up, and lots of people get fucked up, all in the name of cultural equality, a celebration of a stand taken by drag queens and others when a community in New York snapped from the tensions of homophobia.
Many expect me to rant against pride festivals as I have in my book and other writings. Many expect me to remind everyone that 30 minutes at any one of these events give the religious right enough good footage to raise $30 million against us. Many expect me to go off.
But I started staring at the garden here at Park Howard (isn't your house named?) and started thinking locally. Everyone knows one of the reasons I don't attend my local pride celebration in Long Beach, Calif.--my husband Andrew died May 21, 2001, during Long Beach Gay Pride Weekend. This year, while my city celebrates, I'll be walking in San Francisco in the Bay to Breakers 12k for Leukemia. And yet I thought of Long Beach, and there were things, gay things, of which to be proud...most of them people.
I first thought of my friend Daniel, who gets up every day and takes a bus 1.5 hours each way to and from work. He works at a college and started in an entry-level position. Now he's progressed up the ladder and is well on his way to a great career. He lives alone with a cat that he rescued and spends time caring for his apartment. He walks and bikes a lot, and he frequents the local coffee shops instead of the chains. He was willing to open his home to his brother for six months to give him a helping hand when he himself is just getting on his feet. He's a writer and photographer, and he hopes to get published. He's gay, and everyone knows it, but it simply is. He's out to his family and at work. It's just a part of his life. He's having a party for pride (he lives on the route so feels obliged). We've debated my views on it often and then laughed. I'm very proud he's gay. I'm proud that he represents another face of being gay to the world. When his art is known, and it will be, I'll be happy there's another out, proud photographer and writer. He fills me with gay pride.
And then there's Jason and David. Jason is an accomplished graphic designer, and his boyfriend is becoming the same. Jason is a true supporter of gay people and their projects, such as simply making sure magazines like the Lesbian News get out or designing fliers promoting a special at local gay clubs. He was an art director for a national dance music magazine before becoming a teacher at a college, where the staff not only knew of David but had met him many times. David is so young and yet so smart, reading everything from politics to entertainment news, learning new things, and all the while being open about his relationship. These two fill me with gay pride, and they're right here in Long Beach.
When I think of gay pride in Long Beach I don't think of rallies or AIDS walks, politicians or pomp; I think of the people. People like Ken McKenzie, who was there for me when Andrew died and again two years later when I lost my mother. He's been there for many families in Long Beach, gay or straight, and been an active resident of the city through his mortuary business. Through the years I've seen his ads in this or that gay newspaper, showing a support for his own community as well. I've seen him waving from a vintage vehicle in the parade or consoling a couple who had lost their child. He fills me with gay pride. I think of another friend, Matt, who has taken his addiction to the party life (and drug of choice, meth) and turned it into speaking engagements and workshops on staying clean and sober. I think of Jon Q., who has kept the bar Choices open and running when many thought it was down for the count. I think of Erik, who went from high school history teacher to part-time teacher and swim coach and part-time successful real estate agent. Or Frank Groff, a fabulous publicist; Justin Rudd, a community activist (and Rosie, his equally famous bulldog); people, I think of people, not the party.
When I think of gay pride on a national level, I don't think of Will & Grace, GLAAD, Queer as Folk, or even Ellen! I think of people who really know about pride, people who simply live out and proud in places where that can still, in 2006, cost them their livelihood at best, their life at worst. I think of a gentleman I met in the hill country of Texas, living an out life with his lover in Marble Falls. I think of states like Massachusetts and California that continue to try to codify equality for gays and lesbians on some level. I think of families all around the country, gay parents, living, working, schooling--beside every other family. I think of the tea I just had at the Huntington Museum in Pasadena, Calif., with my niece Heather, my ex-roommate Sean, his mom, and his grandma. Sean talked about his boyfriend, Aldo, and his promotion at the aquarium; his mom told us about the last political rally she attended; and his grandmother and I dished about American Idol. When I think of pride I think of families, real families of all kinds.
While there are many causes to fight for, many editorials to fire off, sometimes, when you look at the same box a different way, you get different views. This year, when asked what I think about the season of pride, I'm responding that pride has no season. That each of the people I've mentioned and every town, every family, every person celebrates pride every day by their very out, proud existence. This year I'm thinking not of the TV or movie failures, not writing about how Logo is measuring up, or even if Brokeback Mountain should have won the Oscar. This year I'm looking for and finding a sense of pride in my community.
And the pride doesn't stop there. This year I'm going to remember to be proud of most of the people in this world who could give a rat's ass that you, me, or the fence post is gay. I'm proud of all the employers that do the right thing and offer domestic-partner benefits, all the companies that incorporate same-sex partners into the fabric of staff parties and company dinners. I'm proud of the schools that stand behind their gay teachers and their gay-straight alliances. I'm proud of all of the politicians that do the right thing and vote for equality of all Americans on all issues, not just some. Hell, this year, I'm even proud of a church taking another to task through ads that say if God doesn't judge or segregate, neither should you. While I'm an atheist, I say God bless 'em.
There's a lot wrong in our community. There's a long wrong in our country. There's a lot wrong with what we call "pride" celebrations. But this year I'm proud to say, so what? There's also so much of which to be proud, and if you ever doubt it, just look around you. There are role models out there, people just being who they are, true to themselves unapologetically every day. Some don't get a parade, many aren't apt to march anyway, and some may never buy a pride necklace or dance next to a beer tent. But I'm proud of them just the same. Heroes aren't far away. They're everywhere. Search for them, you'll find them. The cliche here would be to say that there may even be one inside of you. But why is the thought of that a cliche? Today, a hero is anybody who is out and proud every day, as low- or high-key as they want to be. If events of late have taught us anything, it's that coexisting peacefully side by side is by far the most heroic of all things--and something of which to be very, very proud.
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