By: Bob Minor
There's still a need for opportunities to show that LGBT people are not only here but are glad they are. I'm not sure the best way to do it is through today's versions of Pride Festivals, but nevertheless, I'm convinced that any opportunity for LGBT people to show to others that they like who they are is a gift to society as a whole.
Most people have gotten use to the idea that LGBT people exist. They might even have come to tolerate the fact that some could be attending their church and providing them with their music.
They might have come to know that they could be working with some. And they might even suspect that they have an uncle or aunt that's one of those people.
People are accustomed to laughing at them on network sitcoms. As they have with many minority groups, they're tickled with the idea of LGBT people serving up their food and entertainment.
They might deplore the attacks on LGBT people and the suicides of lesbian and gay teenagers who were bullied by their peers. And they are likely to think that the Phelps family's Westboro Baptist hate group that works out of a Topeka, Kansas compound has gone too far, especially now that they picket the funerals of straight people too.
Through the activism of past generations of LGBT people and their straight allies, many people have come to tolerate LGBT people. And that is progress.
But when we probe further, we see that many people don't mind LGBT people around as long as straight people don't have to be reminded of it - as long as (and here is the language that's used of any minority group who doesn't act enough like the majority) they don't "flaunt it" or "shove it in your face."
Now, what this refers to is any time an LGBT person does what the majority always does - kisses their partner goodbye at the airport, holds hands with their beloved as they walk down the street, puts their partner's picture on their office desk, talks about the events that their partner attended without changing the pronouns, inserts their engagement or marriage announcement in the local paper's section for that, brings their partner to family and other gatherings, etc.
And when an LGBT person does this, people will often accuse them of pushing their sexual lives on the rest of the world. The prejudice teaches that if two gay men or lesbians are walking down the street together they must have just had sex, must be thinking about sex, must be going to have sex, or must be flaunting their sexual practices in some way.
One of the arguments used to support marriage equality by some is that it will get same-sex sexuality under control, out of the streets and behind closed doors. It will, at least, put their sex lives under the same constraints as those that are supposed to inhibit straight people.
Out and open Pride challenges the limits that all this implies. It expects more than tolerance and begrudging acceptance.
It says that anyone can be proud to be LGBT and that everyone should celebrate and cherish the diversity that LGBT people can represent. It marginalizes bigots even further by refusing to be defined by them.
The most bigoted, after all, want to stereotype LGBT people as they do any minority. Sick, lonely, psychologically flawed, unhappy, envying straight people? Yes. But proud and looking like an appealing way to live? Absolutely, positively not.
To the extent that the extreme bigots are insecure in their own sexual orientations, they will fear that if LGBT people appear too happy, secure, and free, if being "gay" looks appealing, their children and everyone they care about will choose to be gay. That insecurity makes them desperate to fight the mainstreaming of LGBT humanity in the schools with claims that such fairness and equality actually "promotes the gay lifestyle."
And that insecurity gets covered over under religious and pseudo-scientific arguments.
Out and proud LGBT people open up all people to be able to come out of their closets as full human beings. And that scares the status quo.
They challenge the accepting churches that still don't want to take a public stand for equal rights. They say that when they worry that if they do, they'll become or be known as "gay" churches, they are actually still saying that whatever they mean by "gay" would be a bad thing.
They will allow those religious and other institutions to grow in their spirituality by facing whatever it is that they fear, whether that be the opinions of others or the full valuing of LGBT people. And if that fear is that straight people will become a minority in their congregation, are they afraid that they will be treated the way minorities are treated in this country and in the history of religious institutions?
LGBT pride will free heterosexual people to act "gay" if they want. They can challenge the stifling limits in which the straight role confines them.
They need no longer to be afraid that when they wear the wrong color, drive the wrong vehicle, cherish close same-sex friendships, choose the wrong careers, shop in the wrong places, present themselves in the wrong manner, walk, talk or gesture in the wrong way, and on and on, they should be afraid that they will be thought of as gay. And they themselves might actually stop worrying about whether their freedom from these limits means they are "gay."
Pride will allow everyone to learn from what LGBT people have to teach society by their differences and even open up the appreciation of diversity so white people can better value the differences in the cultures of peoples of color.
It might actually help us move beyond a limited comfort level that says "they're okay; they're just like us." It can help us face our fear of those not like us in some way while seeing them as also sharing our common humanity.
Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas, is author of When Religion Is an Addiction, and Scared Straight: Why It's So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It's So Hard to Be Human and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society. Contact him at www.fairnessproject.org.
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