It’s National Coming Out Day! Today is the start of a new opportunity to help our LGBTQ family and friends feel supported and encouraged. Today, we can each make a commitment to create a safe space for our children to be who they are, not who we, someone else, or the world tells them they should be. We can make a promise to our children that it gets better and mean it. We can work to make those changes that will provide our children with equal rights, equal protection, and equal opportunity under the law, no matter who they love.
This weekend, I took my kids to the 40th Atlanta Pride Festival and Parade. I’d really wanted to get the kids down there last year, but Patchfire and crew bailed on me, and I wasn’t ready to brave the crowds with Babypie being so young. This year, however, we set off on our own on a grand educational field trip to the Pride celebrations.
Since I can’t let anything be just about fun (ask Captain Science; he’ll be happy to tell you that) and because I wasn’t precisely sure what to expect at the festivities, I got some conversations going before leaving and on the trip down to the parade. Captain Science and I talked about what he might see at the parade, about why Pride was celebrated, about what certain words means and what certain causes were about (like repealing DADT). We talked about how some words were originally derogatory (like “dyke” and “queer”), but have been reclaimed by the people who were once called those words — I related it to how people used “geek” or “nerd” as an insult for smart people, but now more smart people are saying, “You know what? I am a geek and proud of it!” We talked a lot about love and how it’s never a bad thing; if it’s a bad thing, then it isn’t love.
On the drive down, we talked about power and enfranchisement/disenfranchisement over U.S. history — that right now, straight people have all the rights and gay people only have some of them; if you go back 50 years, white people have all the rights and black people only had some of them; if you go back 100 years, men had all the rights and women only had some of them. We took it further back and talked about political/social power all the way back to the feudal system–when one person (the king) had all the power and nobody else had any unless the king said so–and how change in how many people have power is happening faster. We talked about ways in which more people having a part of the power is good and ways it might be bad. Tank shouted out that it could be bad because they might not do what you want them to do. Smart boy! We talked about what you do when people you share power with don’t agree with you. Captain Science was so engaged in the conversation.
At the parade, we stood next to a young man and woman who took Babypie’s picture (she was in the back carrier, wearing rainbow Babylegs and waving a Pride flag) and to an older man wearing a neck brace, who overheard me saying “at least it isn’t a coconut” when someone from a float threw bags of potato chips at us and asked if I was from New Orleans. It turned out that he’d moved from New Orleans 25 years ago to be with the man who is still his partner. Both couples helped the kids catch beads and candy and colorful bracelets. We got t-shirts and a neat rainbow bandanna that I wore for the rest of the day. Captain Science’s favorite float was one with the Peanuts characters dancing on it. Tank liked the marching band best. I loved the PFLAG groups, the men dressed as colorful fairies with giant Carnival-style wings, and especially the band of angels, who stood briefly and symbolically in front of the small group of loud homophobic “Christian” protesters with their hate-filled signs (a group that necessitated another conversation with Captain Science). The barrier they created between the hate of the protesters and the love of the parade attendees was more than merely physical.
After the parade, we got swept up in the moving crowd and walked down to the festival. So many people, happy and dressed in rainbows! Couples and families and big groups of friends, every age, every race, all of them beautiful. Tank was complimented on his shirt (which said “Hellooo Gorgeous!”) and Babypie received all manner of comments on her cuteness and fierceness (she was faux-slapping at people in the line for the ATM, which amused the guys next to us to no end). One young man praised Captain Science for carrying the big bag full of our stuff. Another stopped us, smiled, and said, “It starts here with tolerance, young ones.” We were given stickers and candy, Tank’s fondness for trifolding brochures was indulged at multiple booths, I bought a “Repeal Don’t Ask Tell” shirt and renewed my Human Rights Campaign sponsorship, we donated a dollar here and there to a few groups, and we split a delicious rainbow-frosted cupcakes. Tank was surprised when he saw a woman whose upper body was painted in a rainbow (in lieu of an actual fabric top) and said, “Mama! She’s nekkid!” though he did agree with me that they were just ninnies (the word we use with the babies for breasts) and not really that big a deal. We came home tired and with bags full of Pride swag.
I do think that young man is correct: it does start right there with tolerance. My kids are growing up knowing that whether they are gay or straight or anything else, there’s a place in our family and a place in this world for them. They won’t have to be remembered on some future October 20th, because they are loved and they know their family won’t allow anyone to bully them for their sexual orientation or any other reason. More importantly, they aren’t being raised to view being gay (or bisexual or transgendered) as wrong or weird; it’s just another way to be. They can’t conceive of a reason why gay people should have fewer rights than straight people. I hope that by the time my kids are grown that the world will reflect that same set of beliefs.