June is pride month, and as a company that’s owned by two gay men, I want to take the opportunity to talk little about pride, why it’s important to the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transexual) community, touch on what it’s like coming out, and what it means to be out. If you want to read on, that's great, but I also get it if you want to jump out now. If you didn’t know we were gay, and that’s offensive to you, well... now you know.
So... about gay pride.
Why is June Gay Pride month?
On June 28, 1969, the police raided The Stonewall Inn, a small bar in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan. The Stonewall was (and still is) a haven for Gays, Lesbians, Drag Queens, and other “outcasts”. The police quickly lost control of the situation and the raid spilled out into the street, drawing a crowd, and rioting began. It sparked several nights of protests in the neighborhood, firing up tensions that had long existed between the police and the LGBT community.
Within weeks of the protests, Greenwich Village residents began to organize, forming activist groups that would fight for equal rights for the gay community. One year later, on June 28 1970, the first Gay Pride marches were held in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago. A movement was born.
Since then, June has traditionally been Gay Pride month, with parades & festivals all around the world.
Coming out is simple, but also incredibly complex. The simple version? Coming out means publicly stating that you are LGBT. The complex version? Well, you might want to pull up a chair, it might take a little while to dig into it.
Coming out is a public declaration of a very, very private aspect of your personality. The vast majority of the world is straight, and never has to think about "being straight". They grow up, date, have sex, maybe they get married & have kids. But when you’re a gay youth, you instinctively feel that that world isn’t the right fit for you. Often, before they even know why, they just know that they're... different. Before Stonewall, the world was incredibly hostile & unaccepting of the LGBT community. Being gay was a shameful secret that had to be hidden at all costs. If people were to find out, you would be shunned, arrested, beaten, or even killed. Being gay was stigmatizing, and teens coming into their sexuality are incredibly sensitive to things like that. Fitting in is everything. So the overwhelming majority of us stayed “in the closet” - hiding our sexuality & trying to pass for straight.
If you are straight, try to imagine what that’s like for a minute. Imagine having to spend every waking minute hiding your attraction to, your love for someone, out of fear of rejection or physical harm. Imagine having to lie to everyone around you about the core of your nature - who you love. It’s physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. This is part of why the suicide rate is higher for LGBT teens. Some studies have shown that the LGBT teens are 5 times more likely to attempt suicide. How fucking hard is that to think about?
So we come out. We tell the world who we really are. Thanks to Stonewall, and the millions of people who have marched and fought for our rights since then, it's much safer, but there's still a long way to go. Coming out is one of the bravest things an LGBT person can ever do because they are risking losing their friends, their family, risking being turned away, kicked out, or worse.
Coming out is also a uniquely personal event, even if there are similarities. My own coming out is, I’m sure, similar to many others. I knew I was gay when I was 8 or 9 - before I even knew what “sex” was. It wasn’t one specific thing that clued me in, it was just how I “felt”. I first found the words for it in my early teens. Keep in mind this was in the late 70’s, and the Gay Rights movement was still in its infancy. It wasn’t something a kid in suburban New Jersey would have heard about. I first had the courage to admit it to myself when I was a junior in high school. An “artistic” teen, I kept a journal, and hidden in there were the words “I think I’m gay”. It wasn’t until my freshman year in college in the spring of 1984 when I had the balls to say it out loud to another human being. It was like a huge weight being lifted off my chest. I had come out, and I never looked back.
Overall, I’ve been incredibly lucky. My friends & family have almost all accepted me, even if they didn’t understand at first. But these things take time. It’s incredibly important for people to realize that there are thousands, likely millions of gays and lesbians who have been shunned by their families. Again, try for just a minute to imagine how terrifying that would be. Imagine having the courage to be honest about yourself, only to have your family kick you out of the house.
One more thing about coming out. It’s not just a one-time thing - we don't just come out one day and then it's all settled. It’s the act of opening a door & letting the light in, but it’s also something we have to do Every. Single. Day. Remember, the world at large sees straight relationships as the standard, so when we meet someone new, their assumption is that we are “like them”. Every time that happens, we have to come out again, and there is always, always, a small voice in our heads that is wondering how it’s going to go. There’s always a tiny hitch of fear. We look for little signs of acceptance or non-acceptance. I've been out for over 30 years, and I'm still coming out.
Trying to cover the depth & diversity of the LGBT community would take forever, and I'd screw it up, for sure. But there are a few highlights that I'd like to talk about, to give my straight crew some insights.
The rainbow flag: It was popularized as a symbol of the gay community back in the late 70s. It's ours now and you can't have it back. We own all the rainbows, in fact. But seriously, it's become a vital part of our identity, and there are variations of it for all of our different groups.
"Family": A part of the coming out process involves finding a group where we feel like we really fit. It's similar to what every person does, but it's more intimate with the gay community, because it's really the first time we feel... at home, where we can honestly and truly be ourselves. A lot of times those circles will call themselves a "family". We may squabble, we may fight, but we are definitely family.
We're not all the same: The gay community isn't one big mass. Hell, we're closer to one big mess sometimes. There are dozens of subgroups - Lesbians (Butch, Fem/Lipstick), Bears (Bears, Cubs, Muscle Daddies, Chubs), Twinks/Circuit Queens, Drag Queens/Kings, Trans (which I won't attempt to explain, because I am woefully ill-informed), and countless others. A true tapestry. Again, infighting amongst the groups happens, but while we may occasionally fight with each other, we also have each other's backs.
HIV/AIDS: Another topic that could take weeks or months of blogs to give it proper coverage. Suffice to say that HIV & AIDS are still something our community has to contend with. Treatment therapies have come a long way, and many consider HIV to be a "chronic" disease - not the death sentence it once was. I encourage everyone to educate themselves about HIV/Aids (The HRC (Human Rights Campaign) has some great resources), and to get tested so you know your status.
Believe it or not, we are still fighting for our rights on numerous fronts. Thanks to Edie Windsor, marriage became legal for us nationwide a few years ago. But there are many conservatives who hate that fact and are working hard to undermine our marriage rights. Religious conservatives are fighting against us in so many ways (conversion therapy, adoption, wedding cakes, etc.) it's, to be honest, exhausting to think about.
We also can't donate blood to the Red Cross. How nuts is that? In this day & age, the Red Cross will not allow a gay man who has been sexually active within the last year to donate blood, only plasma.
So yea, we're still fighting for our rights.
I've had plenty of people ask us how to support their LGBT friends or family. The answer is pretty simple - love us, let us know you love and accept us. Fight for us and help us fight for our rights.
Thanks for sticking with me this long. This is the first time I've put a lot of these thoughts down, so I hope I've done my community justice. I'd love to hear your thoughts, and if you think what I've said is of value, I encourage you to share this post with anyone who may be interested. Please join our newsletter if you're inclined. We're not usually this political, I swear.
Enjoy Pride Month, everyone, and be kind to each other.
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