As we get ready to set up our tents for another PrideFest we should take a moment to congratulate each other on how far we have come. For a weekend we will proudly “strut our stuff”: tattoos and earrings, biceps and pecs, drag and leather, tight shorts and cowboy boots, gaybies in strollers, pets on a leash, colorful wife beater tank tops, the soundtrack courtesy of Lady Gaga. We shall hold hands and kiss our "husbands" and "wives" while walking through the booths representing our community newspapers, magazines, bars, clubs, gay friendly establishments, gay businesses, civic associations, gay organizations, all proudly flying the rainbow flag, basking in the Florida sunshine.
And of course, between a cocktail 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 "The Advocate’s Top 15 Gayest Cities in America" all things considered, we are fortunate to live in Greater Ft. 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 lives in the Bible Belt. Out there, in the Hinterlands and the Deep South, gays and lesbians 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 of them 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 one step removed from bestiality, that we are not fit to act as parents or even be upstanding productive citizens. They do not boast, like us, of having 150 friends on Facebook. They do not know first hand what a Pridefest is. The closest thing for them is the annual Big Chili Cookout at the County Fair.
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with a true sense of compassion and moral integrity, the oppressive Bible thumpers of mid America are the product of outdated, suffocating, traditional Christian values that prefer ritual to reflection, obedience to individual discernment, meaningless confessions to genuine atonement. If we catch them on a good day, and find them in a condescending Christian mood, they will tell us:"Dear, we hate the sin, but love the sinner".
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 Wal-Mart, 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. Those repressed gays and lesbians, far removed from South Florida, and from the Top 15 Gayest Cities in America, are living in fear and without foreseeable hope.
They have no concept of what the pursuit of happiness is. 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, fabulous 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, true and enforced crack down on hate crimes. Prevention programs for sexual minorities should be put into place and tackle issues of stigma, labeling, bullying, plus safe and effective referrals.
The Trevor's Project is on the right track, but it's not enough. Furthermore, nobody's life should be dictated by a Church, a Government, or by a majority vote of the Supreme Court. The time has come for our own Tea Party instead of another T-Dance.
With this I'm not saying you should not enjoy the upcoming Pridefest, by all means dance your socks off, get moderately smashed, come by SFGN's booth and win a prize, have fun, be yourself, be 'absolutely fabulous' but stop and think for a moment about the 'abject fearful.’ Get involved, make a difference in someone's life, and, if you are so inclined, say a little prayer for The Rev. Phelps, 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.”