June is Gay Pride Month. It marks the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots which started the gay rights movement. Back in June of ’69, the New York City police raided a gay bar. Back then, it was common practice to harrass minorities of any kind to try to break up any potential hot spots of civil unrest. Gays were just one more target. However, one night in June, in a bar called The Stonewall Inn things didn’t go as planned. When the routine raid occurred, the patrons decided they’d had enough. They were gathered peacefully in a local business establishment minding their own business and not harming anyone when the police arrived to arrest anyone they could find. It was the age of anti-war protests, civil rights protests, and a gathering sense of the power of groups versus individuals. So they protested. And a riot broke out. It lasted three days. The most important impact of the confrontation was the realization that we weren’t going to be treated this way anymore; that we had rights and we were going to fight for them. People were hurt and killed and both sides of the confrontation, and things were ugly for a while. But a sense of pride was instilled in the gay men and women who were there that move throughout our nation, and eventually encompassed the world. This is an overly simplified version of the event, but we really don’t have hours of time to go into all the ramifications.
Gay Pride isn’t about being proud of being gay. It’s being proud enough of being a person to acknowledge the totality of the person. For me, being gay is such a small part of who I am. When I first came out, I was hiking with a gay friend who was sort of mentoring me through the process. The movie Brokeback Mountain had just been released. I went to see it on a blind date with a guy about my age, and after the show we were at a small diner discussing it. He was going on about how great the movie was and how brave to show the gay mystique so honestly. I was not as enthusiastic. To me, it was just a boring movie about unrequited love that had been done to death. Take out the gay angle and all you had was a very bad version of Romeo and Juliet. He didn’t like that assessment and asked “What kind of gay man are you?” Needless to say, we never had a second date.
So I was telling my friend this and griping about the other guy’s attitude. I said, “I don’t want to be defined by gayness! I don’t want to have to like something just because it’s gay. I have an identity far beyond being gay and I have a lot to contribute to our society besides that.”
And to me, that’s what Gay Pride is all about. It’s everyone finding their strengths and talents to contribute to society, and not being defined by Gay. Being proud of your life and of yourself and is what Gay Pride celebrates. At least, it is for me. And I’m proud of the men and women who have gone before, the quiet heros who have helped build the stairway that we’re all climbing to reach whatever ideal is there.
For me, coming out was an easy process. Well, not exactly easy, but relatively painless. I worried and stressed and lost sleep, but in the end, that’s all I lost. I didn’t lose family, or friends, and faced very little hostility. I know others who lost everything, or part of everything. And I know others who lost nothing. It’s a mixed bag.
So for Gay Pride this year, I decided to be most proud of my friends and family. I’m proud of the fact that they accepted a part of me that I kept so hidden for so long that for a long time I didn’t even know it was there. I’m proud of the fact that they all cared and still do. I’m proud of the fact that to most of them, it was no big deal; that I was still the same person to them. So for that: Happy Gay Pride!