I remember a story from when I was in graduate school in Boston. I was sitting in an English class on early American literature, and it was a mixture of graduate and undergraduate students. I, of course, having just received my BA in English thought I knew more than the peon undergrads. Most of the dialogue in class was smart but I do remember one girl who always had something asinine to say. Her comments elicited me and the other graduate students to roll our eyes. One particular day, we were discussing Walt Whitman and I brought up the fact that he was gay. This girl said, 'I don't think he was gay. If he was gay, then why would my school in a small Wisconsin town name itself after him?' I just turned around and stared at her. But this sentiment is held by many in our society. What would it mean for someone's child or friend to come out of the closet? What would it truly mean for that person? It's a selfish train of thought. Who cares how it effects you? Think about the person who just came out to you! How does that individual feel?!
I am lucky to live in NYC for the sheer fact that the majority of people who live here are pro-LGBTQ rights. Either New Yorkers identify as LGBTQ or they consider themselves allies. It is easy to forget that in the majority of the US, people do not condone a homosexual lifestyle either because of religious beliefs, sheer ignorance, hatred and bigotry, self-hatred (ie. closet homosexuals) or all of the above. This is especially true since most of the states that allow gay marriage (ME, MA, CT, NH, VT, NY, RI, DE, DC, MD) are on the east coast. However, that doesn't mean that here, on the East Coast, that we're bigot free.
I've already written other posts about gay rights and the whole religious debate saying that it's a sin. I've debunked that argument mainly due to humanity not knowing G-d's message despite claiming to be crystal clear on it. For me, G-d is a being that created all of us out of love. Not one person should be shunned and ignored purely because he or she does not fit within the confines of what most people's limited brains can understand as acceptable and tolerable.
In fact, for me it's a bigger 'sin' to cast someone out and leave him/her out in the cold. Parents who disown their children and kick them out of their homes give their children the gift of drug/alcohol abuse, homelessness, and perhaps suicide. That to me is disgusting and no one who condones that type of behavior should call themselves a G-d fearing anything.
I judge people based on character, not on what I call exterior, 'superficial' categorizations. Meaning I don't critique a person based on race, sexuality, gender identification, ethnicity, religion, etc. If a person has a good heart and a loving spirit, then I can be friends with him/her. However, if a person is lies, cheats, steals, and treats people like crap, then I want to have nothing to do with that person regardless of what box they check off. I try to surround myself with good, kindred spirited individuals. Love and positivity are the most important aspects for me in a friend. I just don't want to waste my time with negative people.
Therefore, I love and accept all of my friends who identify as LGBTQ because I know they are good, moral, loving people. That's all I ask for and expect in my friends. I do hold high standard for people, especially my friends. I think it's because I love and care about my friends so much that I expect the same love and affection back. I have been guilty of smothering friends and tapping out relationships. The only thing I'm guilty of is feeling too much; sometimes my heart aches with emotion. I know that every single one of my friends knows that each of them went through a test at the start of our relationship. If the person passes, we end up being friends for life. And, yes I have many friends who are LGBTQ.
It is for them that I marched in the NYC Gay Pride Parade both this and last year. Last year, I marched with the OFA (Obama for America) contingent and this year it was with the NYC state Governor Cuomo contingent. I could not be more proud to say that I was part of something like that. Marching in the parade is a magical thing. It doesn't matter if you're straight, gay, bi, trans, or somewhere in between. Everyone is loved and accepted at the pride parade. I also need to mention that last year, while canvassing for Jeremy, who was in charge of the NYC LGBT for Obama sub-group, I went to just about every single gay and lesbian bar/establishment in NYC. I trekked through Chelsea, Greenwich Village, and Hell's Kitchen. I made many new friends, like Roxy, a server at Cowgirl; we later hung out at The Cubby Hole (a Lesbian bar). I felt like I merged a bridge between the gay and straight world. And I want every single person to know that I will always be an ally and stand up for LGBTQ issues. I truly believe that the Gay Right's/Equal Marriage Movement is the Civil Rights Movement of today.
In fact, my FB status the day of the march was:
Today, I am marching in the NYC Pride Parade (for a 2nd year) for all of my friends who identify as LGBTQ. I am doing it for you and to show how we all need to fight this fight together. Gay rights is the Civil Rights Movement of 2013! Equal rights is not a joke. Homophobia and bigotry are things of the past. Marriage equality and acceptance of non-heterosexual couples is the future! Ally up, America!
So, yes, I'm a major ally. I rally for my musically gifted uncle, Uncle H, who died of AIDS. I stand up for every single one of my friends who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning. I support every single one of my former students who has struggled with gender/sexuality identity. The future has no tolerance for homophobia and bigotry. Either get with the program or shut up!
I feel so strongly on the issue that after watching a documentary on PBS called 'Anyone and Everyone', a film about parents' responses to their children coming out, I wrote a letter to one of the participants. One of the women in the film, Lanette Graves, a Mormon whose son is gay, ended up melting my heart with her words and wisdom. I was so moved by what she and her husband said that I wrote to her. Below I will write out what I wrote to her and the response:
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Dear Miss Graves,
I had the pleasure of watching 'Anyone and Everyone' on PBS World. I just wanted to take a minute to express how connected I felt to your words and what power they held. What a wonderful and groundbreaking film. It should be in every single school in America as well as being part of dialogues in places of worship all across the US. Being a Jew who is very tied to his religious tradition and customs, it has often baffled me how religious individuals balance religion and tolerance. However, I've realized after all this time, that the two should not be mutually exclusive.
I'm from -------, and I grew up around a lot of homophobia and gay bashing going to a private preparatory school there. Peers would call each other 'fag' or 'gay' without batting an eyelash. However, I've always been very open and tolerant; I never understood the reason for why people go out of their way to make other people so miserable. Then in college, my roommate was gay, and I learned a lot from him. In fact, now he's a Rabbi in Boston; we still communicate from time to time. Then, when moving back after college, thankfully, I had the pleasure to attend a Modern Orthodox Synagogue that has openly gay and trans members. Also, they have had lecturers and workshops on LGBTQ issues only to receive hate and backlash from the rest of the small but vocal Orthodox community there. But I cannot believe in a G-d who supports intolerance and hatred. I just don't understand how the deeply religious can talk about the Bible without understanding the idea of loving each person as an extension of G-d. Within Judaism, there is a concept that as Jews, we all represent Hebrew letters, thereby deeming everyone important and worthy. We each resonate our own song. The idea extends that the Torah, without any one letter, is incomplete; it is not kosher and cannot be used in religious ritual. So I apply it to the idea that, as humans, we all have our own illuminated value and together, we are the most powerful. I believe that we can learn so much from one another, especially when we are from different worlds and contexts.
What you say in the film about religious dogma alienating and misinterpreting is dead on. I found myself applauding your words, every single time you opened your mouth. I took to heart what you said about religion forcing people to live in darkness and shame or how the purpose of religion is love. I just wanted to let you know how your words touched me. At times I got chills or was moved to tears at hearing the words of such an accepting and loving mother. Or, the story of your husband, who called your son, at his coming out, just to tell him that everything was going to be okay. I am a father of a three year old, and I always think about if he is gay and comes out to me later in life, how I would react. Well I know that I would embrace and love him, which is what I have always told myself. As an educator, I have always made it my mission to make students feel accepted and safe within my classroom. I have taught on gay rights as human rights, and I have had former students come out and thank me for making them feel supported. I also have friends and family who are gay/lesbian and I very much love and embrace them. I stand tall for LGBTQ rights as an ally and friend; I hope that people can find a way to find a balance between dogma and tolerance.
To me, it's a no brainer to accept people. What's important to me is that people are good and righteous; it's not about skin color or sexuality. There is too much negativity in the world and we need love and light. And know that I also believe strongly in G-d and the idea that we all have paths and plans laid out. I cannot express to you how connected I felt to your words in the film. I felt a light and a wisdom that I rarely get from people, and it seems that you might have a calling to be an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ rights. It is uncanny the amount of light and love that comes across in the film every time the cameras are turned are you and your husband. I could see you lecturing or writing a book and having roaring success with that. I haven't felt so moved by an individual speaking about LGBTQ rights since hearing Judy Shepard (mother of Matthew Shepard) speak when I was in college (or reading her book). It took such courage for you son to come out to you, and it took even more strength for how you and your husband reacted. You put yourself on a limb and even isolated yourself from family. Truly, you are amazing individuals who could blaze a path in the realm of LGBTQ equality.
I wish all people were as enlightened as you and your husband. Your son is lucky to have you as parents, and if other gay youth had that same support, then we wouldn't have teen suicide and homelessness. So, know that your words have deeply touched this father, teacher, husband, activist, artist, and writer/blogger. You are one amazing individual, and it is evident that G-d's light shines through you. If you're ever in NYC, I would be honored to sit down and talk with you (and your family) because I believe that we share the same values about loving people's humanity and seeing them as individuals worth celebrating. I wish your family many blessings and joy at the reception of this film. You are an amazing person who I'm sure has touched many people besides myself. Take care.
Dear Mr. -,
To say I was touched that both the film's director and Miss Graves read my response and took it to heart is an understatement. One never knows what their words will mean to another. I have learned that speaking up and reaching out is the courageous part because many people think their words will have little effect and consequence. I, however, know better than this. This echoes back to when I had students write to Judy Shepard at The Matthew Shepard Foundation and got a warm response. I also remember when I heard Judy Shepard speak in college. I will never forget her words at saying that she is just a mother and never meant to become an 'activist'. It was her words that made me realize that I wanted to become an activist and never give up the fight to speak up for those who lack the voice or who are ignored whenever speaking up.
Activism and social justice are like breathing for me. I think it is important because of the Holocaust. See, my grandfather and great-aunt escaped with their lives, and just barely. They fled Nazi Germany and had to learn a new language and culture. My grandfather barely had an eighth grade education, but yet he made it in America. See, I think about my great-uncle and great-grandfather who both died in concentration camps. I also think of the countless number of family and friends of family who perished as well. In fact, there is family that we did not even know existed had it not been for some German Historian hobbyists. I think about the countless number of people who are 'righteous among the nations' for saving Jews and other persecuted individuals when the Nazis tried to dominate the world. However, I also think of all the people who did nothing. I do not ever want to be one of those people who do nothing. I always want to stand up and stand out for being righteous and courageous, doing the right thing at the right time.
I will leave you with this poem by Pastor Neimoller:
Because I was not a Socialist.
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Because I was not a Jew.
LGBTQ Reading Material:
- (article) Tattoos, Homosexuality, and Judaism
- The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont
- Fairyland: A Memoir of my Father by Alysia Abbott
- The Meaning of Matthew by Judy Shepard
- Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
- The Boy with a Thorn in his Side by Keith Fleming
- Honor Thy Children by Molly Fumia
- Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai
- Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins
- Density of Souls by Christopher Rice
All pictures below are my own. They are from Brooklyn Pride on Saturday, June 8th, 2013.
All the pictures below are my own. They were taken at the NYC Gay Pride Parade on Sunday, June 30th, 2013.