As we get ready to set up our tents for another PrideFest we should take a moment to be grateful for how far we have come. Then we can start proudly “strutting our stuff”: tattoos and earrings, biceps and pecs, drag and leather, tight shorts and cowboy boots, ‘gaybies’ in strollers, pets on leashes, colorful wife beater tank tops, the soundtrack courtesy of Lady Gaga.
We will hold hands and kiss our legal husbands and wives while walking through the booths of our community newspapers, bars, clubs, gay friendly establishments, gay businesses, civic associations, gay organizations, even the Log Cabin Republicans, all proudly flying the rainbow flag, basking in the Florida sunshine.
Between a beer and a hot dog, a bag full of trinkets and a raffle, we will pat each others on the back and say: “Yes, there is nothing wrong with being fabulous.” If cigarette companies were allowed to promote their ‘fags' Virginia Slim would have a great booth emblazoned with their slogan from the 70's, "You Have Come a Long Way, Baby.” Even though our city inexplicably did not make, yet again, “The Advocate’s Top 15 Gayest Cities in America,” all things considered, we are fortunate to live in Greater Fort Lauderdale/Wilton Manors.
Yep, we are fabulous... but immensely jaded, bordering on uncaring.
While we show off our Balenciaga belts we never think about how the other half still lives in the Bible Belt. In the Hinterlands and the Deep South, LGBT people of all ages, especially teenagers, are living a nightmare of fear and depression. Important protective factors such as family love, community support and safe schools are completely missing. Growing up is scary when there is nobody to relate to. Thus many contemplate suicide, as the only way out of pain.
They are caught in a time warp of religious intolerance, alienation and disconnect, open discrimination and bigotry. They are made to believe that hell is waiting for all gays, that we deserve AIDS, that we are not fit to act as parents or even be upstanding productive citizens.
Those repressed gays and lesbians, far removed from South Florida, and from the Top 15 Gayest Cities in America, are living without foreseeable hope. With time they become captive slaves of their own self hate and low self-esteem. They are so used to disguise themselves to others that in the end they become disguised to themselves.
On the other hand, out and proud gays are too complacent. We should be up in arms demanding comprehensive laws to protect all sections of society- with no exceptions. Our agenda should be setting the pace of social change by demanding a ban on all forms of discrimination, with true and enforced crack downs on hate crimes. Prevention programs for sexual minorities should be in place to tackle issues of stigma, labeling, bullying, plus safe and effective referrals.
Many important battles have been won but the cultural war is far from over. Arkansas banned local governments from expanding anti-discrimination protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity, a move criticized even by retail giant Walmart who said the prohibition damaged the state's image.
In Georgia, a bill called ‘Religious Freedom' Bill would forbid the state government from infringing on a person's religious beliefs unless the government can prove it has a compelling interest. Some North Carolina lawmakers are convinced that court officials should be exempt from having to perform same-sex weddings or issue marriage licenses to gays because of the workers' religious beliefs. The utter stupidity of all these Religious Protection Bills, popping up nationwide, is that they would begin to unravel decades of civil rights achievements in this nation and ultimately they would begin to unravel protections for religious people themselves. The mumbo jumbo gets even more preposterous when one listens to Scott Lively, the anti-gay pastor who has been charged with committing crimes against humanity for his involvement with the passage of Uganda's "kill the gays" law. He is warning divine retribution not seen since the days of the Old Testament if the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage this term. Citing scriptural "blood moons," set to take place in 2015, Lively said that the "official endorsement of 'gay marriage' by the only nation in the history of the world (other than ancient Israel) to be established on a Biblical foundation (blatantly untrue), is an act of defiance against God not seen since Noah's Flood."
While there are many progressive Christians around the world with a true sense of compassion and moral integrity, the oppressive Bible thumpers of mid America are the product of outdated, suffocating, traditional Christian values that prefer ritual to reflection, obedience to individual discernment, meaningless confessions to genuine atonement.
In its highest form, Christianity is a test of one’s mettle, a challenge to live in the image of Jesus, the incarnation of all virtues. In its lowest form, it’s a spiritual Walmart, where absolution comes cheap and the swallowing of a wafer, a Sunday service, or a candle and a prayer are all it takes to even things out with God.
I'm not saying you should not enjoy the upcoming PrideFest, by all means dance your socks off, get moderately smashed, smoke a joint, come by SFGN's booth and win a prize, have fun, be yourself, be 'absolutely fabulous' but stop and think for a moment, get involved, make a difference in someone's life, and, if you are so inclined, say a little prayer for Pat Robertson, right wing Republicans, and all the other hate mongers.
As the Dalai Lama said, when asked why he prayed for the Chinese invaders of Tibet, whose atrocities against his people can never be forgotten, "Oh, we must pray for them. Because they are the ones who need prayer most of all.”