Flipping the Peacock…

June is one of my favorite months of the year, for many reasons. As a teacher, I have always enjoyed June because it is the first chance most of us in the trenches get to unwind and breathe after the craziness that is a 180-day school year. In addition, I have fond memories of annual beach trips with family and friends to North Litchfield, Pawley’s Island and Edisto Beach. Finally, if I am being quite honest, I enjoy the days where if I don’t want to leave my house I don’t have to and if I don’t want to change out of my pajamas, I don’t. There – I said it.

This year, however, June is even more important. I would go so far as to say that this June is momentous or historic. What makes this June any more special than any of the other Junes? Why should this one stand out and be celebrated? The answer can be found in tiny little bar on the island of Manhattan in Greenwich Village – The Stonewall Inn.

On June 28, 1969, 50 years ago today, the Stonewall Inn was one of the few gay bars in operation in New York City. The mafia-owned bar with no liquor license was the favored “safe place” of many of societies outcasts at the time (LGBT teen runaways, trans people, prostitutes, minor drug dealers, etc.) and was subjected to monthly police raids. The raid in June 1969 happened on the 28th, but it went differently than previous raids. This time, the fairies stood their ground and fought back.

According to most stories, a large crowd gathered and began questioning why the officers were mistreating and arresting patrons of the bar. Waiting longer than usual for the Patty Wagons to arrive, a butch lesbian names Stormé Delervarie repeatedly escaped from and fought with officers to avoid being arrested. She reportedly yelled “WHY ISN’T ANYBODY DOING ANYTHING?!” before being hit repeatedly with batons and roughly shoved into the wagon. When the crowd saw her bloodied face, they went berserk. At this, Stonewall Sheroes Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera threw bricks in the direction of the officers and through the front window of the bar. And just like that, the modern Gay Rights Movement was born.

Starting in June 1970 and continuing every year since then, a Pride Parade has been held in June to commemorate the Stonewall Riots. As time has passed, the entire month of June has officially become Pride Month; and like clockwork, every year come the grumblings from privileged people in our society asking why a pride month is necessary. That question is quickly followed by someone chiming in to ask why there is no straight pride month.

Usually, I just ignore the question because I feel it is so stupid that to acknowledge it with a response would be to give it more credit than it deserves (which is none). Not this year. This year is too important to the movement to not answer the question. So, to finally silence the critics, here are the reasons why Pride is important.

1. It is a Reminder of our Historic Contributions

You cannot be proud of who you are if you do not acknowledge the past, and history is full of important LGBTQ people who have given the world so much. And for the record, I am not just talking about Broadway musicals, either. Some of the most influential people in world history were LGBTQ people, including Alexander the Great, Hatshepsut, and Leonardo Da Vinci. The world would have been very different now had Alan Turing, a gay man, not created the computer that eventually allowed the Allied Powers to crack the Nazi codes and bring the war to a much quicker end.

Without LGBTQ people, the first woman in space wouldn’t have inspired hundreds of girls into becoming scientists and astronauts. There would be no The Matrix franchise and countless other movies and books. There would be no Sheldon Cooper and no Ellen Degeneres. There would have been no March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. There would not have been heroes on a highjacked airplane who saved lives by sacrificing their own to take back the plane on the morning of September 11th.

2. It is a Love Letter to our Chosen Family

When it comes to our families, LGBTQ people have not always “won the genetic lottery.” Many LGBTQ people are disowned by their families and thrown out into the streets. The majority of homeless youth in this country identify as LGBTQ and while in that moment most people believe they have no place to go and nobody to help, we pick each other up, and we form chosen families. These families run deeper than most biological families, because these families are built on unconditional acceptance and love. In the two video clips below from the historic and groundbreaking FX series Pose, you can see aspects of how Chosen Families form and function. The first clip highlights house mother Blanca’s relationship with Damon, one of her children throughout the first season. The second clip shows how similar house mother’s can be real mothers with an argument between Blanca and another one of her children, Lil Papi.

I have yet to attend a pride related function that wasn’t completely filled with love and warmth. It is nothing but supportive chosen families loving each other and showing their families off. Even the street preachers and protestors are met with love and support. If you have never been to a pride event before, this reason alone is a reason to go – just take some tissues with you for the happy tears that will invariably flow while you are there.

When the world followed President Reagan’s lead and turned his back on the LGBTQ community as thousands of young men began dying of AIDS we picked each other up from the pits of despair and we raised money for research. We buried our brothers and sisters. We became our own families because that was what we had to do.

3. Its a Celebration of Achievements

In the 50 years since the Stonewall Riots, the world has completely changed for people who are part of the LGBTQ community. What was once considered a mental disorder by doctors is now seen differently. In 50 years we have seen:

  • The End of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
  • The End of the Defense of Marriage Act
  • The Legality of Same Sex Marriage Nation-wide
  • An increased push from major politicians to support the equality Act
  • A sitting Democratic President announce support for same sex marriage
  • The Passage of the Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes Act
  • Openly Gay politicians, included a married gay man currently running for president.
  • Stonewall becoming the first place on the National Historic Monument registry to be recognized solely for its importance to the Gay Rights Movement.

In a span of 50 years, that amount of progress is historic. So forgive us as we celebrate that fact. But if you are a fan of glitter, short shorts, pop music, and yelling “YAAASSSSS QUEEN!,” by all means, come join the party.

4. It is a Chance to be “Normal”

For many people – especially those in more rural or conservative areas – Pride is the only time of the year for people to take advantage of the many things most cisgendered, heterosexual people take for granted. Things like walking down the street holding the hand of their same-sex spouse. Or a quick kiss while you wait on the sidewalk for an Uber. Or walking in your short shorts and tank top to meet your friends for some drinks. Or spending the night dancing with your friends in a club.

It might seem silly that those are brought up, but for most people in the LGBTQ community, it is the truth. There is not a gay person I know who hasn’t received dirty looks, been called a homophobic or derogatory slur, or been on the receiving end of actual physical violence because they were a little bit different. This includes Sean Kennedy, who was a year older than me in high school. He was the first openly gay person I ever met and we had art class together. I always found him funny and he was always nice to me. I learned so much about life in that class from him. Towards the end of my senior year in high school, Sean was tragically assaulted and beaten to death as he left a restaurant in Greenville with some friends because of his sexuality. I often think of him as Pride rolls around every year, because I know I would run into him during one of the events held.

Sean Kennedy. The first and one of the funniest openly gay people I have ever had the honor of meeting and considering a friend.

5. It is Flipping the Bird to All the Negativity.

Society has always had a fear of things that are different from the majority or what is considered normal. This is not just true of people, either. In nature, a flock will attack any bird that is more colorful than the others because being different is seen as a threat. The first Pride was a riot – in the form of a big middle finger to a discriminatory police department. The second pride in 1970 was a middle finger to society telling us we should remain silent. If there is one thing the LGBTQ community has never been really good, however, that would have to be remaining in the shadows away from the spotlight.

Pride is our chance to give those who would seek to keep the LGBTQ community harm or keep us in the shadows a big middle finger. It does not matter whether it is a reality tv President and his homophobic and bigoted followers or if it is a sheriff/pastor who stands in the pulpit urging his congregation to kill gay people. Our middle finger message to both and all the others in between is simple: We exist. We are NOT going anywhere. That in spite of all your attempts to silence us, to change us, to hate us, to scare us, and to kill us, we are not going to be defeated. No now. Not ever.

Why do we have pride? We have pride because we take all the hatred, discrimination, fear, violence, homophobia, anger, and rage that is constantly rained on our community and we THRIVE. How? By turning the rain you have thrown at us into a fucking rainbow. And for that, we will always be proud!

-WB

Two Years Later, Pulse Still Pains our Pride

This is the Second Post in a series of posts that will run throughout the month of June. June has been Pride Month for many years. To honor that history, I will be talking about different aspects of why I am proud during Pride Month.
To read the first post on pride in Chosen Families, click here.

As long as I live I will never forget waking up on June 12, 2016. School was out so Humphrey and I were sleeping in, but when I woke up I had tons of text messages and news alerts on my phone. In the early hours of the morning, a cowardly gunman* walked into Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida and opened fire with semi-automatic weapons and went on a killing spree. Before taking his own life after a hostage standoff that lasted for several hours, the gunman killed 49 people. A club that I have been to twice before, now held the bodies of 49 people. 49 people whose only crime was dancing with their fellow members of the LGBTQ community. 49 people who were the brother of someone. Or the daughter of someone. Or the mother of someone. 49 people would not go home that morning.

Pulse-nightclub-memorial

Two years later, the pain has not diminished. The sorrow and the hurt have been moved to the back burner, but they are still present. To be completely transparent, I have not fully processed my own feelings about it. It hurt too much to work through them at the time; but in an effort to honor the 49 beautiful people who were robbed of their dance that night, I dedicate this post to their memory. I will continue to feel proud this month, because they can no longer feel proud for themselves. Tonight’s post, I take pride in the bars and clubs of my community. Tonights post is pride in OUR places.

The Complex.

The Armory.

The Abbey.

The Castle.

Haven.

Sanctuary.

The Factory.

Olympus.

The Fortress.

Pulse.

If you look at all those names of Gay Bars past and present, what do they all have in common? What do all of those names say or symbolize to you? Every single name on that list projects one of two things: Strength and Safety. The reason for this is simple. Even in 2018, The United States of America is not always a welcoming place to members of the LGBTQ community. We are harassed. We are discriminated against. We yelled at. Spit on. Beaten. Raped. Killed. All of these things are done on a regular basis and have been done for years. Sometimes society cares (mostly when it is a white LGBTQ person). Sometimes society does not care. In an effort to make life the best we can for ourselves, the LGBTQ community did what it has always done. We rallied around ourselves. We provided each other with bars, dance halls, and night clubs. Places were we could simply BE.

Nightclub Shooting Florida

If you are a heterosexual cisgendered person, you will never know what I mean by that. Especially if you are also white. I don’t say either of those things to be exclusionary or inflammatory; if I could somehow connect my consciousness to yours so you could feel what it feels like I would. But this is not Avatar and James Cameron did not write the story of our lives. I wish you could feel the feeling I am talking about. Maybe then my community would not have struggled so long. But take comfort in NOT having to feel it. It is better that way. There is less sadness. Less Shame. Less Loss. Less Worry. When I thought about feelings to try and describe that feeling, those are the 4 words I would combine to describe it.

Sadness. Sadness in your gut when you see heterosexual couples sit on the same side of the booth at a diner or lay on a blanket at the park.

Shame. Shame in yourself for caring what other people think of your shorts and your tank top as you walk towards the club in November (Yes some of us do wear tank tops and short shorts in November. Deal. With. It.).

Loss. Loss of equality and protection when the word faggot is yelled at you from across the street or a passing car. Or God Forbid the loss of a friend who was simply killed for living while gay (For the record, my friend was Sean Kennedy and he was the first gay person my age I ever met who was confident in his own skin and nice to me. And he changed my life because of it).

Worry. Worry that creeps into every other thought that runs through your head because you are in public with your significant other and are terrified someone will see you and tell your family, your place of employment, or your friends.

In order to suppress those feelings – because for some people they never go away – we did the only thing we could and gave our bars and clubs names that project strength and safety. They became our churches when we didn’t have a Sanctuary to go to. They became our castles and retreats when the world would not protect us. They became the very beating hearts of the gay community. That is part of the reason Pulse was aptly named and part of the reason it devastated my community. The attack on Pulse was an attack on the heart of the gay community. For some queer people, gay bars are the only place they have ever truly felt safe. If we don’t have those spaces any more, what else do we have?

28167431_10160006809000048_3723469264959415588_nAsk any of your close family and friends who are part of the queer community about their first trip to the gay bar. I promise you that in addition to the name, they will remember their age, their outfit, their drink choice, and who they went with. I was barely 18 years old and my first bar was The Castle in Greenville, South Carolina. It was the most exhilarating feeling in the world- there was terror and excitement all at the same time. I must have had a terrified look on my face because a drag queen named Robin Redgrave came over to me, hugged me, and pushed me towards the bar so she could buy me a drink. I was half-way through the first sip when she saw the X on my hand and slapped the drink out of my hand (which she then finished herself). I had never felt so welcomed and at peace surrounded by so many gay people in my life; and all of it happened in a run down, leaky when the rain came building. The Castle wasn’t much, but it was mine. And that was all I needed.

Pulse affected me and still affects me more than I realized. I couldn’t watch the news without watching Anderson Cooper breakdown on live television as he read the names of my dead brothers and sisters. I couldn’t listen to the radio without hearing the first responders say their dreams will be haunted by the ringing of cellphones of the deceased as family members tried to check on their children. I couldn’t read the news online without seeing the story of a mother (Brenda McCool) who jumped in front of the gunman and used her body to shield her son from the bullets. To this day, I still cannot watch the video of Christopher Leinonen’s mother tearfully talking to the media as she waited for the news of her son.

To those around the world who rallied around us, you will never know how much that meant to us. In one of our darkest hours, you gave us the strength with your hugs, your love, your vigils, your memorials, and other messages of support. Because of you, we were able to grieve for our loss, but still remember that rainbow that comes tomorrow. To the celebrities who wrote songs in their memory, we thank you.

And to those of us who still wish harm to us, know that we found strength in our sorrow. And our love for each other will not be broken and if you doubt that, he a warning from every queer person’s fairy gaymother:

I did not go out for months following the Pulse shooting. A lot of us did not. We did not know if we should and we did not know if we could. Would it be disrespectful to those who were killed? Would we be safe? Would we be able to escape if something bad happened? We did not know how to answer those questions so many of us subconsciously chose not to go out. Further removed from our shut in status, this saddens me. Because it means for one brief moment we let that piece of shit who riddled our safe space win. Because not going out would have been a slap to the face of those who could no longer out. Because for one brief moment, we let the hate shine darker than the love. Time eased the pain, but we continue to worry about our safe spaces. Worry about our friends’ safety. Worry about our own safety.

To this day I do not go out as much as I used to. Partly because I am getting old and partly because gay clubs typically aren’t welcomed in city downtowns so they end up in building on the outskirts of town that only have one entrance/exit. But I make it a habit of going to safe place in our community at least once every couple of months. This month will be no different. This Saturday I will go and honor our PULSE with my people. Out in whatever outfit I want with my people. I will dance with my people. I will drink with my people. I will laugh with my people. I will feel safe with my people.

And with my people, I will remember why I go. I go to The Fortress because Edward, Stanley, Luis, and Juan cannot.

I go to Sanctuary because Eric, Peter, Kimberly, and Luis cannot.

I go to The Armory because Eddie, Darryl, Deonka, Alejandro, and Anthony cannot.

I go to Olympus because Jean, Franky, Amanda, Martin, and Daniel cannot.

I go to Haven because Mercedez, Xavier, Enrique, Ramon, and Simon cannot.

I go to the Factory because Oscar, Miguel, Javier, Jonathan, and Joel cannot.

I go to the Abbey because Jason, Cory, Juan, Luis, and Shane cannot.

I go to the Complex because Jerald, Leroy, Tevin, Jean, and Rodolfo cannot.

And I go to Pulse because Brenda, and Christopher, and Angel, and Frank, and Paul, and Antonio, and Joseph, and Akyra, and Geraldo cannot.

This post is for them. And when I do a shot and dance to Whitney, or Cyndi, or Beyonce, or Mariah, or Ariana, or Celine, or Adele – that will be for them to.

-WB

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