Tag Archives: Pride

The Quiet Activism of Truth

Dear Christopher,

Recently I was at Spot Coffee with friends.  There was a big sign on the wall for Pride Week, which started earlier this month.  It made me think about how many years we have been celebrating Pride Week in Buffalo and nationwide.  Gay rights activists have made this happen. Their decades long efforts contributed mightily to the current state of gay rights now.

pride flag

One example is the proliferation of Pride events throughout the nation. To see the expansion of our own Pride Parade from the early days of the 90’s to now is amazing.  In addition, when I was teaching high school then, there were no Gay-Straight Alliances in schools.  Now there are 63 from schools all over our region.  Many march in the Pride Parade. Activists helped to make this happen. Thankfully activism works, perhaps slowly and not always in a straight line. And I count you as one of those activists.

When you told us you are gay we were changed. Since you were so honest, Dad and I knew we could not be silent either.  It spurred our activism, albeit in quiet ways. I wrote op-ed pieces for our local newspaper, joined PFLAG, hosted gay-friendly events at the college where I taught.  Dad told his jock friends at the high school where he taught and raised their consciousness so that even the new physical education director became more aware of LGBT students and teachers.

So many achievements are due to the many gay rights activists, from the Stonewall drag queens to the Act Up marchers, to the Pride Parade founders. But also there is the quiet activism of telling the truth about your life.  That is what you did back in 1993.  That is what thousands of gay people did over the last several decades.  That truth telling activism caused a societal shift that led to marriage equality as well as the new visibility and rights for the LGBT community. Even staunch church goers had to change when they knew they had family or close friends who are gay.  Even Republicans, who used gay rights as a wedge issue for voters in the 90’s, changed when they knew they had gay sons or daughters.  A prime example of that is former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Of course that does not mean bigotry is dead.  After this past presidential election it has reared its ugly head.  Unfortunately, our current Vice President, Mike Pence, has promoted anti gay legislation when he was in congress and when he was governor of Indiana. Even though we have so many Gay-Straight Alliances in our community, it took the threat of a law suit by the ACLU to get one local principal to allow one.  But the inroads made both legally and culturally will not change (I hope).

Last month I had breakfast with both my granddaughter Zoe and my grand niece who made that clear to me.  Both girls told me that no one cares if someone is gay or straight or trans.  No one cares about that anymore.  It’s up to the person, they said. (I love the wisdom of teenagers!) But I think polls have shown that attitude is true among most young people today.  So I have to hope that society will continue to evolve.

Scan 1CRD and Dad

Your honesty has had many branches.  Besides your family and friends, your students know who you are on the first day of your high school classes.  To be sure that everyone knows you have photos of your husband and children for all to see. I am sure you are a powerful role model to any gay students.  Something you did not have as you were growing up! Now across two coasts and in the middle of the country your extended families are gay affirming and very proud. There is your brother Mark’s family in Maryland, your husband Patrick’s family in Long Island as well as Philadelphia and Orlando.  And us, in upstate New York, trying to be sure our friends and colleagues are aware of gay issues.

Telling the truth has it’s own important activism.  That is not to discount the more voluble activists.  Their work is vital.  But quiet activism can speak loudly too.

Love & Happy Father’s Day,

Mom

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The Line from Stonewall

Dear Christopher,

freedom ridersLiving long has its rewards. (It’s problems too, but we won’t go there.) During my lifetime I have seen several movements that brought sweeping changes to our country. When I was growing up the Freedom Riders were making their dangerous journeys down South to integrate restaurants and everything else. They were brave and noble and made a huge impact on so many of us growing up in that era, both black and white. The nation was changed radically by the whole Civil Rights movement. We saw in the papers and on TV white people in the South shout horrible epithets at African-American school children trying to integrate schools. It could not leave one unmoved. When I started teaching in a mixed race school system I saw first hand both the racism and the need for change.

How it saddens me to see these same issues rise to the fore yet again. But to have the conversation in a supposedly post-racial society is important. Racism remains alive. Some of the opposition to our president seems to have no basis in reason, but a knee jerk emotional racism, perhaps unrecognized.

As a teacher it disturbed me when my wonderful African-American male students would tell me how they were harassed in stores. Dad and I had male colleagues of color who told us they were stopped and questioned in their own suburban neighborhoods. I met with Black parents who told me they had to harshly punish their children to prepare them for a larger society that would judge them because of the color of their skin.

Police and teachers, like other civil servants, get the brunt of the blame. But it goes much deeper. It is built into the societal system. Yes, those underpaid over worked civil servants can do something. But the constructs of a racist society need a fundamental re-ordering. Not only these killings of unarmed Black males tell us something is very wrong, but the high incarceration rates of men of color. Bad schools seem to begin a pipeline of African American youth right into prison. When we in the U.S. have higher incarceration rates than even South Africa we have to do something drastically different.

Isabella and I saw the demonstration in front of Westlake Center. I wish I talked to her more about it. Too focused on shopping I guess!! It was small, composed of young people. But haven’t young people always been on the cusp of change? The demonstrations for Civil Rights, the demonstrations against the Vietnam War, even the Stonewall riots and subsequent gay pride actions were largely made up of young people. That gives me hope. We do need change. Maybe the young will lead us.

But a social movement that had the most impact on our family was the movement for gay rights. Recently I read about the Stonewall riots and their aftermath. I am amazed how awful it was for gay people before drag queens and gay homeless kids started fighting with police that day in 1969. The police were the perpetrators of stonewallviolence against gay people, but they were also part of a larger society that turned people out of jobs and even hospitalized or imprisoned them for being gay. The FBI collected information on gay government workers and had them fired. Senator McCarthy’s infamous hearings did the same. It was a dangerous time to be gay. But the street protests begun there on Christopher Street started a movement. Started a way to be gay and proud.

The line begun at Stonewall to this day makes our lives as a family so different. Maybe in the bad old 50’s and 60’s we would have lost you as a son. We would not have you in our lives because you would feel a need to be closeted. Yet, here we are, ready to celebrate a family Christmas, in provincial Buffalo, with family and friends clamoring to see you and your family. I wish I could thank those Stonewall rioters. They have cleared the way for our family.

While it’s easy to blame police, and maybe they deserve some blame, but also we have to look into our society and our selves. Bigger changes have to be made. And while homophobia has not disappeared, nor has racism, some real changes can and should be made. Laws outlawing discrimination cannot change people’s hearts, but they certainly can change behavior. And that is a great start.

Love, Mom

Largest Pride Parade Ever

Dear Christopher

When I think back on my experiences as a teacher at Hutch Tech High School over 20 years ago, I am struck at how much has changed.  In the midst of my tenure there I learned that you, my 25-year-old son, were gay. One of the people I turned to for support was a colleague and friend, Mike, who also happened to be gay.  He eased my fears, especially my health fears for you.  At that time there was still no controlling the AIDS epidemic.  Besides, I saw that he and his partner had a stable life together surrounded by family and friends. Not lonely men going to clubs each night.  Was that my secret fear?  That you would be alone in the world?  Maybe.

wny prideAt that time, Mike felt he could not be out to his students. He told me very few (if any) gay teachers were. In fact some administrators openly discriminated against teachers they thought were gay. I knew students whispered about certain faculty members.  So to confront this blatant homophobia he and I hatched a plan to apply for a small grant that brought LGBT books to my classroom.  A very tiny step, I know, but so major at the time we had to get approval from the principal. I asked my students to move beyond their comfort zone and read LGBT books and report on them.  After some nervous laughter at first, they were more than willing.  Some of the books disappeared from my classroom library, which I thought was good since it meant some closeted student took them home to read.  Maybe it gave him or her some needed support.

On a recent lunch with Mike, he told me how many students marched in our Buffalo Pride Parade this year as part of Gay Straight Alliances.  This parade was the largest ever.  When it first began 20 years ago there were very few marchers and very few observers.  The newspaper and the TV stations did not even cover it.  That all has changed. There was great fanfare in all the media about the largest parade ever.

Gay Lesbian Youth Services promoted the parade among the many local GSAs.  There were over 250 students and parents.  Now there are 24 GSAs marching in the Buffalo Pride Parade. My former school, Hutch Tech, had 27 students and parents participating. Back then we did not even imagine there could be a GSA. What a thrilling change.

glys

 

 

Though gay and lesbian young people are coming out earlier and finding gay allies, make no mistake, I am not under the illusion that all is right with the world. There is still violence directed at gay people.  There is still prejudice.

But the Pride Parade this year illustrates how far we have come.  Not only because of a changing society but also because of brave men and women like you and your friends who have told their own stories.  Organizations such as GLYS have helped schoolteachers and students in high schools brave enough to initiate and support GSA’s.  To bravely march in parades that call attention to pride of identity is an achievement.  The closet is dark and lonely.  No longer should any young person (or old person) have to hide in shadows.

Love, Mom