Is this our last Pride celebration?
Pride Means Finding a Place where We Belong
So, come on baby, dance that dance
Come on baby, dance that dance
Come on baby, let’s dance tonight…
In my twenties, I worked with an organization that provided services for LGBTQ youth. I loved doing this work; it’s part of what propelled me into the kind of social work I made my career out of. I taught an LGBT 101 workshop at different schools, worked with their hotline and counseling programs, helped out with various GSAs (gay-straight alliances). One of my favorite things, though, was working with the Friday night drop-in program at our youth center.
Every Friday we’d have a group of kids gathering at the center. We’d have music and dancing in one room, a drop-in counseling group for anyone who felt like they needed it, space for the kids to just hang out and talk. We had a big screen TV, snacks and all kinds of things that made it both a safe and fun space for teenagers. And each week we’d have a different theme. Halloween, of course, was a big deal. But we also had karaoke night, “Gayme” night, Gay Jeopardy, movies. Every couple of months we’d work out the next set of themes and special activities, and, of course, we observed the usual milestones throughout the year. Regular calendar holidays, of course, but also things like Pride, the beginning and end of the school year, and of course, the end of summer.
We tried to create programs that would help connect the kids with LGBTQ history and culture, that were fun and built community and kept them safe. We wanted the kids to celebrate themselves. Their whole, true selves. Our end-of-summer theme was always themed around the Donna Summer song, “Last Dance.”
I’ve had that song and that event on my mind a lot over the last week.
Looking Ahead to Pride Month… With Trepidation
It’s May. I’m looking at my calendar and thinking about Pride Month. I want to be planning my Pride Month essays and thinking about what events are happening around here other than Disney’s Gay Days. I want be checking my Pride gear and shopping sales for new swag. In Orlando, we have our big Pride celebration in October, coinciding with National Coming Out Day. I assume it’s because the weather is much more bearable. But June still brings out lots of people celebrating queerness.
This year, I’m not in the spirit, though. This year I’m really, really afraid.
Undeniably, it’s been scary for a lot longer than just the last couple months. I’ve talked about it here a few times already. About the “Don’t Say Gay” laws and the antitrans legislation that’ve been passed in so many places. The governor of Florida signed anti-trans legislation last year on the first day of Pride month. So it’s nothing new. But last week’s leak of the upcoming Supreme Court decision about Roe v Wade has me even more terrified.
It’s Never been Easy
I’ve never not been a little bit scared about being queer. As much as I talk the talk and walk the walk, there’s always a little sense that the Sword of Damocles is right overhead. I’ve got the privilege of passing. Most of the world wouldn’t know I’m queer as a football bat unless I choose to make it known (and that, in itself, is both a blessing and a curse). But that doesn’t mean I don’t worry about it. There’s always the fear of rejection (or worse) when someone finds out, whether it’s because I come out to them or they find out some other way.
There are worries about how being out might affect my kids. There are worries about employment, because fewer than half the states (plus Washington DC) prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Health care providers may not know, or care, how to address the factors that influence the health disparities affecting LGBTQ communities. It was only a year and a half ago that the Supreme Court insisted that housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identitiy was covered by fair housing laws. In other words, that landlords and the like couldn’t discriminate against queer people. And it wasn’t actually codified until 2021. Is it any surprise at all that LGBTQ people experience mental health issues at a significantly higher rate than others?
“Queer” was a Mental Illness
It also wasn’t that long ago that being queer was considered a mental illness. At least according to the American Psychiatric Association. It was only in 1973 that the APA removed homosexuality from the DSM. (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.The book used by mental health professionals in the United States that lays out the criteria for diagnosing mental illness.)
A year before that, fifty years ago this month, Dr. John Fryer made a speech at the annual APA’s annual meeting. I’m not that far from fifty. It was such a big risk for him to do so that Dr. Fryer had to be convinced by activist Barbara Gittings to make the speech. And when he gave the speech, he did it wearing a wig and mask, an ill-fitting suit several sizes too large for him, and using a voice-changing microphone. He’d already lost jobs and residencies because he was gay, and making the speech put his career at Temple University at risk. In one case he’d been told, “If you were gay and not flamboyant, we would keep you. If you were flamboyant and not gay we would keep you. But since you are both gay and flamboyant, we cannot keep you.”
Dr. Fryer’s speech began “I am a homosexual. I am a psychiatrist.” He went on to talk about the ways that his queer colleagues in the APA had to hide their queerness from other psychologists and hide their professions from other queer people. The identity behind this “Dr. Anonymous” wasn’t revealed for over twenty years; coincidentally, he came out the same year I did.
Do you know what else happened in 1973? Roe v Wade was decided by the Supreme Court.
The Right to Privacy
It might be hard to imagine how the two are connected, but it comes down to the right to privacy. So much of LGBTQ civil rights (which is a misnomer to begin with–it’s really human rights) ends up in the courts and is decided by applying precedent set in right to privacy cases. And Roe v Wade was decided as a right-to-privacy case, the idea being that the choice to end a pregnancy (or not) is a medical decision to be made between a patient and health care provider. And so, with the Supreme Court now prepared to eliminate that protection, other privacy-based protections are also on the block.
This isn’t just my paranoia. It’s how legal precedents work.
Gay Marriage and the Supreme Court
The draft ruling leaked last week makes specific references to two incredibly important rulings. Obergefell v Hodges, which made the legal protections of marriage available to all same-sex couples, and not just a state-by-state decision. And the 2003 decision, Lawrence v. Texas, which legalized sodomy, something which, let’s be honest here, a lot of not-queer people enjoy, too. That decision reversed an earlier decision, 1986’s Bowers v Hardwick, when the court decided that consensual sodomy between two adults could still be against the law, even if the participants were in a private home.
Sodomy and the Supreme Court
Back in the 1970s, a number of states rewrote their sodomy laws to only apply to same sex couples. And quite a few more simply began only applying the laws to straight-appearing couples. These laws were then applied in ways that allowed for things like employment discrimination or bans on adoption and foster care for queer people by claiming that they were a risk because they belonged to a class of people defined by a behavior that could be made into a crime. Those laws were tested in 1986 and upheld. Dooming another generation of queer people to live their lives thinking that their very existence was a crime. And a younger generation to come of age thinking, likewise, that their very existence was a crime. I don’t want to go back to those days.
It’s only logical that I’m scared about what could come next. As a queer person living in a state that isn’t queer friendly. As a parent. And as a disabled person. (That additional factor limits my ability to just pick up and go somewhere else. There’s also the fact that this is the state my children are being raised in.)
Pride Means… We Don’t Go Backwards
Partly, I’m scared that the forty-plus years of history I’ve seen unfold so far are already going to start repeating themselves. Or undoing themselves. I’m a late Gen Xer. I was born after Stonewall… but not that long after. Nancy Regan’s “Just Say No” project is inseparable from my childhood memories. And last year when I wrote about HIV I talked a little bit about about queer history and the legacy of my generation. What happens if we have to go underground again? I’ll tell you what happens, because I lived it. People like me will grow up thinking there are no queer role-models. Thinking that who they are is just wrong.
Because straight people almost automatically have straight role-models. But queer kids aren’t usually born into families that teach them how to be queer people. And we need those role-models just as much as the straights do. I wrote about that a few weeks ago. Queer kids need people around them to teach them how to navigate things like minority stress. When you share a minority identity with the adults in your family, with other people around you, you have a built in support system. Someone you can go home to when things are overwhelming. Someone to help you recognize and accept your own queerness and even learn to love it.
Pride Means… Queer Rights are Human Rights
But what happens when we start seeing all of these things rolled back? Even the bold voices may become a little quieter as we learn to navigate a world that suddenly feels more dangerous. We saw things like suicide rates among LGBTQ youth decline after same-sex marriage laws went into effect. We know social policy affects things like mental health. Not only that, those voices of support are also going to be working even harder to keep themselves afloat. We know what it’s like when the lights are dimmer. When your rights are called “special rights” not “civil rights” or “equal rights” or “human rights.” I’ve seen years of forward motion, of progress. Of things getting better. I don’t want to go backwards. And I’m scared that we will.
I can’t celebrate the idea of losing all the progress we’ve made. Even if that progress puts pressure on us as queer people to conform to heteronormative ideals–to set up an expectation that we should wish for things like monogamous marriages, children, and houses in the suburbs when that isn’t what everyone wants. The joy I usually feel in June is threatened right now by the idea that so much could be undone.
That the rights of non-birth parents could be threatened…and in some places the rights of birth parents may come under attack. That bigots may be emboldened to try and pass more and more restrictive laws that will push people back into the closets, that will threaten their lives and well being. All other feelings about police aside, I can remember seeing police marching in the NYC Pride parade with their faces hidden because they were afraid to be outed. I don’t want to go back to that. And I don’t want anyone else to either.
Pride Means Protest
Pride is always a mix of celebration and protest. Learning to live and love your authentic self, to honor the political and social victories. Celebrating change. Celebrating community. Sometimes grieving together. After many, many years of intense grief and loss, things changed a little and we were able to pour more energy into fighting discrimination and to celebrate our victories. And now we’re faced with the very real possibility of going backwards. It’s a very scary time. How do we celebrate and hope and stare down the very real threats that are in front of us all at once?
“Hope is the thing with feathers,” Emily Dickinson told us. (When she wasn’t busy having a hot-and-heavy affair with her brother’s wife.) Well you know what? Hope and drag queens have that much in common. And let me tell you that I hope my Pride celebration this year is filled with as many feathers as the drag queens are wearing. I need it. We all do this year.