Since I am the hyper-volunteer that I am, I’ve been helping out with the PRIDE employee resource group where I work, as part of our diversity and inclusion initiative. Not surprisingly, you meet gay people in such groups. I’ve made a new friend there, who lives in Seattle and works at a company we recently acquired. C is a bit younger than me, but we share a lot of memories of the past.
When no one else is at our meetings, we chat about stuff, and yesterday we got to talking about the differences between being young and gay when we were young and how it is now. Looking that far back, it becomes very clear how much things have changed for the better in North America. It also confirms how much I admire my gay and lesbian friends from the 1970s through 1990s, who really lived on the cusp of a more accepting world. This led me to some thoughts as Pride Month in the US starts.
Both of us remembered that when we were in high school NO ONE admitted being gay, and there were just whispers about certain theater types and flashy dressers. Whew, I feel bad for some of the guys, especially, who were pressured into dating women and must have felt really uncomfortable. Not to say that it was easier for women…and none of us even really grasped the possibility of being trans back then. I know lots of people who have children from the inevitable marriages that happened back then who treasure those kids and are grateful to understanding former partners.
When I went to college, so many young men were coming out. My friend had similar memories of college being the first place where people felt safe to be themselves. Today, young people are so much freer (as a whole, not saying there still aren’t issues) to be open about figuring out their sexuality, loving whoever they want to, and not feeling forced to make a permanent choice. The fluidity nowadays is something I wish we had when I was young.
And while there is still a lot to fear for minorities today, fewer people feel like they must hide to stay alive. There are still workplaces and other spots where people my age are careful, though. Why, even ten years ago a friend of mine called his husband “Joan” at work to deflect an intolerant supervisor. And I hesitate to wear my Pride outfits in Cameron, even.
One reason that I have chosen to be an LGBTQIA+ ally for all these years is that I saw how dangerous it could be in the Gay 1990s for people to speak up for themselves when faced with homophobic behavior. My gay buddies used to stand up for me when people said sexist things in my presence, so it was only fair for me to point out homophobic speech and action when I saw it. That’s the job of the ally, to show that we do notice these things and won’t accept them.
I’m here, noting when I feel uncomfortable, use an improper pronoun, or say something inappropriate, and I make sure to acknowledge it, then move on without making it into a “woe is me, poor cisgender ally person.” Being an ally may sometimes be hard, but it’s merely a choice for me. Being gay is NOT a choice and not something you can take a break from if it’s hard.
What makes me, my friend in Seattle, and so many others of us who are getting older right now very happy is seeing progress, seeing happy and productive people out there living authentically, and watching as society inches toward equality and inclusion, at least here. We are not forgetting those who live in parts of the world where people who are not cisgender males by birth are not at all safe. I guess our work just has to keep going!
Love to all of you.