The opportunity to work for social change by being an ally to the LGBTQ community and helping to coordinate the first Pride Celebration in Buckhannon was a highlight of my year. The outpouring of support and gratitude from members of our town was heartwarming and inspiring. Many people expressed delight at participating in this first time event. Other people were shocked that Buckhannon would have a Pride celebration, after receiving death threats while growing up gay here.
There are many divisive issues in our society. Equal rights for gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals are part of the most controversial social movement in history. Just mentioning gay marriage brings heated emotional reactions to the most docile human beings. Unfortunately, many problems associated with social acceptance of people in the LGBTQ community stem from fear, hatred and lack of interaction. Growing up in a small town, being different can lead to being called “gay,” and being gay can lead to physical and emotional harm through violence and outrage. Discriminatory behaviors begin in the dehumanization of people. Judging someone in the LGTBQ community as less than human allows the violence to continue.
Further intensifying the fear and loathing are lack of education and perpetuation of stereotypes and misinformation. Society associates same-sex attraction with sexual perversion. LGBTQ lifestyles are portrayed as unnatural and offensive. Often, TV shows portraying gay couples tend to sensationalize flamboyant lifestyles that are anything but the reality. In truth, we are all just people, trying to love each other in our way, the best we can.
Ellen DeGeneres came out as a lesbian on television. She was the first openly lesbian actress playing an openly lesbian character on TV, and her show highlighted many LGBTQ issues. The responses to Ellen revealing her sexual orientation were mixed. Many felt that it was a long time coming; it was 1997, after all! Others felt that she should have remained in the closet. Many hated her for what she had done to American morals. Looking back, she showed true courage by risking everything in order to bring light to a previously dark subject. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was the rule of the game back then, and many people who simply wanted to find love were forced to stay chained to the publicly imposed shame of sexual or gender differences. This is the baseline of the life of a person who feels these differences from an early age.
When you are straight, you worry less about who you love. You don’t have to look over your shoulder walking down the street, thinking someone might attack you because you love someone of the same sex. When you are straight, you do not have to question why you love a person of the opposite sex. When you are straight, you are accepted in society, at least on a most basic level. You were born a man, you act like a man, and you love a woman; or you were born a woman, and you stand by your man.
But when you are not straight, loving becomes complex. This is not an option. No one ever wakes up one day and shouts, “I think I will be a lesbian, so I can be a social outcast, bullied by my peers, and perhaps considered a human anomaly by my neighbors!” Homosexuality is not a lifestyle choice that people make for themselves. According to many medical texts, mental health professionals and scientists, sexuality is genetic. As stated by experts, “whatever weird and wonderful force that creates a straight, gay or bisexual person, happens in the womb.” To those who believe this is a choice, choose being gay for a while.
It is unfair to use religion as a basis for fear of differences in sexuality, since this leads to punishment and persecution. Fundamentalist Christian arguments profess that the Bible forbids homosexuality. But the truth is, love is love. According to Reverend Lyle Sorrell, an ordained LGBT-affirming Christian pastor, “Jesus taught us to love and follow his commandments, the greatest of which is love.”
Love is human nature. Love brings intense happiness into life. Relationships, whether between a man and a woman, or between two men or two women, provide pleasure, fulfillment and satisfaction. When love becomes the center of the issue, the promotion of human rights and social change is significant.
For many of us, knowing how to support the LGBTQ community can be a challenge. According to Hayley Miller of hrc.org, there are many ways to be an ally. First, be honest with yourself and with the people in your life. Learning what you can by seeking resources and asking questions can help in being informed and supportive.
Second, show your support by sending gentle signals. Let people in the LGBT community know in subtle ways that you are an ally. Next, be courageous. Stand up for people in the LGBT community by condemning discrimination and prejudice and by educating others on LGBTQ issues. Then, offer reassurance by showing respect and compassion. Show that you want to do the right thing, and that you are sensitive to feeling and issues. Allow advice if something you do or say is upsetting.
Finally, let your support guide your decisions. Support businesses with anti-discrimination policies. Stand up to discrimination by saying you don’t appreciate demeaning jokes or comments about LGBTQ people. Work toward developing a real foundation of understanding and acceptance of many forms of love. In small communities like ours, there is still much work to be done.
In all relationships, love is messy. It is complicated and difficult. Yet, love is the light that illuminates the darkness. We can let love shine into our hearts and know that love forms the web that connects us to one another. When we realize that love comes in many shapes, beings, bodies and forms, we begin to understand each other in more deeply connected ways. If love is beyond your capacity for this issue, tolerance is a good place to start.