June is unofficially recognized as LGBTQ Pride Month, because of a demonstration that took place in 1969.
The morning of June 28, 1969, New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in Greenwich Village. Law enforcement could legally justify the raid because Stonewall was serving liquor without a license, but at that time, it wasn’t unusual for police to target gay clubs. What was uncommon is for crowds to fight back.
As officers forced drag queens into a police van, the crowd threw bottles at them. The brawl erupted into a riot, reaching neighboring streets. Police called for backup. Days after the Stonewall Riot, gay, lesbian and bisexual civil rights demonstrations took place in New York. Historically, this was the first major demonstration for homosexual rights.
There have been many accomplishments and losses along the way since 1969, but on the whole, it has been an upward swing toward more universal acknowledgment that LGBTQ citizens are and should be equal to any other citizen. On June 25, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that same sex marriage was a RIGHT nationwide.
Since 2000, presidents have declared June as pride month, which calls attention to and allows us to celebrate the diversity this country has always been known for. This year, the president has remained silent. It’s not only his silence that is disturbing, but (as with other areas of our lives) much of the rhetoric and actions of his administration have been attempts to block, and even reverse the progress made to date.
As I write this, it’s the first anniversary of the horrific shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. This event touched me in a very deep place, and I still tear up just thinking about it. I still occasionally hear venomous comments about it from people who don’t agree with me on the equality issues, and I’m repulsed that people could hate so much. These remarks often come from people who label themselves as Christians. How can it be Christ-like to say such vulgar things about another human being!? I respect their right to their beliefs. But it’s one thing to believe something taught in a church; it’s quite another to focus solely on certain aspects of another human to the point where they are seen as inferior in worth; and then to go even further to either try to make those people change, or attempt to strip them of their right to be who they are.
My belief is that this mindset comes from those who are mentally rigid and emotionally stuck; hence they feel threatened by those who appear different from them. When we don’t understand something, it’s important to research, discuss and educate ourselves. This process of learning more about them usually diminishes the fear because it takes away much of the unknown. Just because someone is different from us in some way is not a reason to intimidate and torment them – unless there is fear. When we feel fear, we attempt to control whatever we believe is the cause of that fear. We narrow our focus enough, to let something we believe germinate until it grows into something else that becomes larger than life. As Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, commented to Chely Wright while he was helping her prepare to publicly come out: There’s no one quite as mean as people being mean for Jesus.
If you haven’t already figured it out, I am a proud LGBTQ ally. I used to believe it was enough to love and respect my friends who are of a different ethnic decent than I am or who are gay. But in 2010, when our friend Chely Wright became the first openly Lesbian Country Artist, I realized it wasn’t enough to just love my friends. That’s like being a bystander who does nothing when someone is being mugged. I had to become more vocal and work to help secure equality. I’ve always found my clients from a different heritage, culture or the LGBTQ community fascinating and courageous. But then I started volunteering at the LikeMe Lighthouse (an LGBTQ Community Center in KC founded by Chely). I started sharing posts about LGBT and racist issues. I educated myself and engaged in conversations. But most importantly, in this process, I met more people and I found some of my best friends – people who do more good in this world than I ever hope to.
Some of the backwards movement, I’m afraid (for now) we may have no control over. I have no doubt that the tide will once again turn in the direction of love, equality and unity. But until that time, what can we do? Many people are actively fighting to maintain and improve the rights of our LGBTQ friends, and it’s being done in various ways – by marching, posting information on social media that highlights discrimination or advances being made, voicing opinions in public and standing up for individuals when we see abuse of any kind taking place, providing safe places for people to meet to socialize and to work together to provide education, emotional support and meeting places for groups who continue this work, providing homes for those without, or just donating financially to organizations who help monitor and promote legislation, education and emotional support, such as the Human Rights Campaign, PFlag or local organizations such as the Center for Inclusion here in Kansas City (formerly known as the LikeMe Lighthouse).
But I believe the bigger answer to “what can we do?” includes, but goes beyond all the above. It’s going to take a paradigm shift for it to completely change. That shift has begun, but it’s going to take time (not JUST time – we have to do something in that time). Although it won’t happen over night, if we look back at progress that has been made in just the last 5 to 10 years, there have been huge strides. But it won’t be enough until everyone can go to work without fear of being fired for who they are, or walk in the streets of all cities in all countries without fear that they will be bullied, physically harmed or killed just because they’re different. And those of us who are allies are extremely important here.
My final point is this: Equality isn’t just for Black and other ethnic groups, LGBTQ, disabled or anyone else who appears different. It’s for each and every one of us.
If I had to point to the one issue that clients present most in my practice – it’s that they are trying to fit into someone else’s idea of who they should be. They feel they have to please someone – or everyone else, but often don’t even stop to ask themselves, “what do I want?” In the process, they tend to lose themselves. They become depressed, anxious, bitter, addicted and sometimes homicidal or suicidal. It never works to live our lives for others, but that’s what those who oppose equality are trying to enforce. They are trying to say, “You have to be more like me.”
We are all meant to be free – free to be who we are. Those who are fighting equality (unbeknownst to them) are actually more imprisoned by their own rigid beliefs, because any time we fight or resist anything – we give it much more power over us.
So you and I have an opportunity before us: Are we going to let the world explode from hatred? Or are we going to lift it to new heights of unconditional love. Even though there is more talk of unity this week after the horrific shooting, apparently targeting Republican congressmen, it’s too soon to know if that will last. Even if it does, we can’t expect our representatives or government to make this happen. It’s up to each of us.
If we aren’t part of the solution, we are participating in the problem.