This week marks the end of what has become globally Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. It started out, a long, long time ago (at least in gay years!) in 1969 as a rebellion against the terrorism of police brutality in New York at the Stonewall Inn. Long before “Will and Grace,” or the now omnipresent gay uncle or “guncle,” being gay was a crime.
In the 1950s, deception, code words, and a strange set of social mores ruled. If two gay men were talking about a possible third, questions like “is he musical?” meant “is he gay?” This underground language was not different from what all oppressed groups have done. It is a way of identifying each other, and protecting themselves from their oppressors. Think teenage girls and their rapid fire pig latin that no sane adult can follow, and you get the idea.
The history of the gay community is rife with stories of the lengths that people went to avoid discovery. In some bars there were lights that flashed alerting the dancing customers that a raid was about to happen, and same-sex couples would immediately split up and find new partners to become opposite sex couples, which complied with the code on dancing.
The world has come a long way since then. Johanna Sigurdardottir, Iceland’s prime minister, married her long-time partner on Sunday as a new law legalizing homosexual marriages came into force. On the one hand a lesbian was able to rise to the level of prime minister of Iceland. A laudable achievement for anyone, but here’s the back story. She was able to lead her country, but yet she was not allowed to marry her partner of over a decade. They had a civil union, but only this year did Iceland unanimously pass legislation allowing gay marriage.
It’s really a wonderful thing to see the world become more accepting of gays and lesbians. It looks like sometime this year “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” may be repealed and the military will begin the process of acknowledging the homosexuals in their midst, who have been there since Achilles and Patroclus, and likely before even that. The reality is that it will have no long-term detrimental effect on military readiness.
Where all this acceptance makes the greatest difference is in individual lives. This past Saturday, I was at a local event where people got up to speak in front of a room of maybe 60 people. One of the young men took the floor, and began to speak with great poise and ease. He was very fluid and clearly relaxed in front of the audience, until that is, he mentioned his husband. As soon as he outed himself, he became nervous, anxious, his voice fluttered and his poise was off. It was so noticeable that I turned to the man who brought me, and I commented on it, because it is something that I know all too well. Now I have no problem speaking in front of audiences. From two to 200 I can get up and share and be funny or dramatic. I will speak on any topic you throw at me — whether I have knowledge of it or not. But something happens when I out myself. When I say I’m gay I still get extra anxious. I’m still waiting for the tomatoes to be thrown or the condemnation that I’m going to burn in hell.
I know it is nothing more than the echo of the torment that I suffered in high school at the hands of football thugs and insecure teenage boys (which is probably redundant). But the point is that it is still there. After all these years, and all that I’ve accomplished, it is still the hot button.
The good news about acceptance is that with each passing year as the old bigoted people die off, the youth think less and less about it. That’s due in large measure to the drag queens of 1969 who took on the police in New York, to lesbians who fought the medical establishment in the ‘80s and ‘90s over AIDS treatments for gay men, and for women like Johanna Sigurdardottir who break stereotypes and molds.
David Pisarra is a family law attorney focusing on father’s rights and men’s Issues in the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.