I grew up in the Marine Corps when homosexual slurs were commonplace. This was during “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and anyone who challenged the use of such a slur automatically invited suspicion of being gay–a label that ended careers and worse.
I used to wonder about “Gay Pride.” What did it mean? Was it just an opportunity “Those People” took to dance proudly down the street sporting only a yellow codpiece (thanks Christopher Moore) and oversize plastic sunglasses? I suspected there was more to it than that–my knuckles have only recently stopped dragging behind me–but didn’t feel inclined to investigate further.
It’s not the horrific acts in Orlando that changed my thoughts. It is not the fact that 49 people were murdered in a place where they felt happy, relaxed, and comfortable being themselves. As horrible as that is, the news is awash with events like that from around the world. My eyes and ears have become accustomed to skipping over them quickly–to do otherwise invites despair.
No, it wasn’t the murders that did it. It was the reaction of the community.
Instead of answering evil with rage and anger they responded with love: Love and support for each other, for the victims, and for the first responders and emergency workers who rushed toward the sounds of battle to help. They lined the streets to donate their blood, they located family members of the fallen and offered support, and they honored the vibrance and joy that the victims brought into their lives.
Where some politicians and loudmouths stepped all over themselves to jam political agendas into the gaping wounds of the fallen, those closest to the carnage abstained, choosing instead to ease, not inflame, tensions and fear. This is a hard-won skill brought about by years and years of experience–the gay community is no stranger to unsolicited violence against it–and it serves as a lesson for all of us.
My son came home from school yesterday and blasted his sister with a new “put-down” he’d learned: “Oh, man, your drawing is so GAY!” His timing couldn’t have been better–I’d been listening to relatives of the victims speaking eloquently through their tears on the radio–and I stopped in my tracks.
“What did you say?”
“You know, her drawing, it’s just so GAY.”
He wasn’t doing it to be anything other than an 8 year old harassing his younger sister. But it showed me that I’d outsourced a critical parenting step to his 2nd Grade classmates instead of handling it myself.
What followed was a conversation that rarely, if ever, happened in the world I grew up in. Over after-school snacks, I explained a bit about homosexuality and made certain my kids understood how hurtful tossing around words like “gay” in a pejorative sense could be. It was during the mental gymnastics I was doing to explain enough, but no too much, about sexuality in general that I realized that I, too, was proud of the Gay Community.
When I stopped to consider the resiliency of the men and women who’ve been attacked and marginalized their whole lives for simply being themselves, I saw in them human characteristics worthy of emulation.
To me, “Gay Pride” used to be a term that only applied to gay people. But after seeing the responses to the Orlando shooting, I share in that pride. The sheer strength of the human spirit on display in Florida should be celebrated and embraced. While I am not gay, I am proud to share in that spirit and carry a firm respect for those men and women who answer anger and rage with love.
In the years to come, after the anguish has subsided and the Pride Parades regain their gaiety, I wish my gay brothers and sisters all the best. March proudly down the street in your cowboy boots and sock, enjoy the freedom of a sundress over your hairy chest, or just stand on the side of the parade and clap. Whatever you do to celebrate, know that you and the actions of the Gay Community in the wake of this tragedy have earned the respect of this Marine Corps combat veteran.
Thank you for demonstrating some of the best parts of the human spirit.
#Orlando, #OrlandoUnited, #OrlandoShooting, #Respect