In the midst of my own life, and the lives of millions of others, an important cultural event of significance has once again cropped up.
The month of June. Surprising, evidently, to numerous news anchors across the country (the clips are on YouTube!), it symbolizes more than the beginning of summer and, for many, the beginning of wedding season.
June is also Pride Month, a monumentally significant aspect in the lives of millions of members within the LGBT community.
Back in high school, this was a grave unknown to me. I was preoccupied with enjoying my summer, laying out by the pool, and freely streaming my favorite TV shows to my heart’s content. But in recent years, it has grown in significance to me, as well as to many others, especially in today’s political climate.
There are some who attempt to mount the argument that if we have a Pride Month for the LGBT, what about a Pride Month for heterosexuals? It’s not too foreign from the argument against February being Black History Month, and attempting to present facts why a White History Month should exist.
It’s tragic, to me, that those who make an effort to display those arguments fail to recognize the importance of why such months exist, because for a good century or two, give or take a couple decades, African-Americans and LGBT have been predominantly under serviced, underrepresented, and overlooked as citizens of the United States. Surely I don’t need to reference the early to mid 1900s, when segregation was a primal fixture of American culture, where you could be denied service based on the color of your skin (or, in other cases, your sexual orientation), or where you could be attacked, lynched, hanged, and otherwise harmed by individuals who were sworn to uphold peace as police officers of their respective counties. The images of African-Americans being blasted by a fire hose for absolutely no reason, or of gay men and women being viciously attacked and stabbed, are still fresh in the minds of many, and it is only thanks to the civil rights pioneers of the time that we have the equality we do today (though, notably, with more work to still be done).
I don’t write this post with the intent of providing a history lesson. Surely there are a few facts I would likely quote in error without doing the proper research beforehand. But what’s important behind why I’m writing this, and why Pride Month exists, goes deeper than what may be seen on the surface.
One of the most divisive figures in society currently serves as the most powerful person in the world. There are those who support him, in some cases blindly; one post I saw had a man speaking out in support of Trump withdrawing from the Paris climate change agreement, and, when asked about it, he said he had no clue other than the fact that “I trust Trump.” The opening of this month has, for the first time in many years, received no formal statement by our government, aside from one by the First Daughter who many believe to be not as entirely sincere as it may appear to be.
We live in an age where citizens, many of which are perfectly normal, law-abiding citizens, are attacked based on the color of their skin, who they are as individuals, or who they love (the lady from Walmart using a racial slur may sound familiar, as a recent event). Many of these were circulated across the web after the results of the election, where multiple individuals throughout the country were attacked physically (and, in many cases, verbally) by those claiming such things as “This is a free country, Trump’s president now.” With no doubt, figures like Tomi Lahren (or, perhaps better known as Tammy Lauren) did nothing but fuel these flames and encourage such public displays of free speech, an action which evidently is not extended to the likes of Kathy Griffin and the backlash she received for her Trump photo.
Two years ago in this very month, after years of fighting, marriage was ruled as equal between same-sex couples, a result that did not come about without the effort of multiple individuals. Within the last eight years, for the first time in this country’s history, the sitting President at the time publicly spoke out in support of LGBT equality. Not only that, he backed up his words with actions, such as the departure of such policies as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
Two days prior to my European tour, I returned to Kalamazoo to grab a few missed things I left in my apartment, and decided to stop by the caf. I happened to come across one of the sheets I had typed up months ago instructing the students on who to contact about scheduling issues, and directly next to my name, someone had wrote the word ‘gay’.
This is something I chose to keep mum on with social media, apart from a picture I posted to my snapchat story and possibly a few tweets (my memory is a bit hazy). I didn’t readily disclose it with anyone, as far as I can remember, and apart from a friendly reminder to the employees about respect in the workplace regardless of who it involves, I said nothing more of the incident. But for one of the very rare moments in my life, I felt attacked, in a way. Yes, it’s a word on a piece of paper, and nothing more. Nobody was screaming in my face, telling me what a horrible person I was and how I was going to hell. But it was still unsettling to see that, to see that someone would take it upon themselves to target me for whatever reason.
A few years ago, I arrived to work my shift for that day, swiping ID cards. As I walked over to the counter, some guy audibly spoke the word ‘Fag’ to his friend, while staring in my direction. While I am enormously thankful these are the only two incidents where I’ve been…targeted, discriminated, whatever you wish to call it, it’s still sad, in my mind, that there are people who exist that, in some way, shape, or form, refuse to let other people live their lives and do whatever makes them happy.
That, right there, is the motivation behind Pride Month, behind why we, as well as any other person on this planet, should take pride in being who we are. Individuality should never be silenced. Being free to live your life should never feel like a second choice. And in-between transgender bathroom rights at schools being placed back in the hands of the states to decide, in a world where the United States Secretary of Education has refused to publicly state any instance that would prompt her to defend a student regardless of their demographics, background, or sexual orientation, in a world where the Vice President of the United States supports conversion therapy and electrocution as solutions to cure what some call the “gay disease,” it is more important than ever to take pride in who you are.
Coming out three years ago has been, for me, one of the biggest accomplishments of my life. It’s something I never thought I would do in the foreseeable future at the time, and I am beyond glad I did. No matter who you are, or where you come from, you should never be afraid of being who you are, and doing what makes you happy, and that, to me, is the big message behind Pride Month.
It doesn’t get better on its own. If you want to change your life, and change your circumstances, you better work. You better be prepared to make the changes that’ll make you happy. Only by learning to live your life fearlessly can you develop the strategies to make your life better, and live the life you want.
The fight goes on. The battle for full equality for every single person continues. And for as long as I live, I will never stop doing what I can to make the lives of those around me better, because that’s what the world needs.
Be who you are, and love who you love, and you will make an impact. Never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.