The Rainbows are on display! Yep, it’s that month again. The month when the parking meters on Montana Ave get wrapped in rainbow streamers. When the corporations go out of their way to have special advertising to remind the world, but most especially their gay and lesbian clients, how supportive they are and LGBT friendly their business practices are.
As a gay man I have to say that the idea of a month devoted to the celebration of love and openness is a welcome change from the terroristic behavior I experienced as a young man in Northern California. Coming of age in the mid-80s was an experiment in how much trauma can we load onto a community and still have them be functional. Growing up in the age of AIDS, the ‘almost pandemic’ of my youth pushed my generation to the edge of its ability to tolerate pain, experience the tremendous losses and still find something to celebrate in love.
The epidemic impacted me in ways that still today echo in my psyche. I will never forget the experience of viewing the Names Project – the giant quilt that was made up of rectangles dedicated to a lost soul. It was in Moscone center, that the sections were laid out, with walkways in between and all you could hear were the muffled conversations and the sobbing and shedding of tears of the survivors. The project was the gay community trying to find a place for people to vent their pain that didn’t involve protests, or burning down the structures of a society that abandoned them in their hour of need.
Today’s freedoms and the changes of society’s attitude were born out of the losses of those tens of thousands of men and women to a disease that still carries with it a stigma of moral judgment. The youth of today, who celebrate their freedom of sexuality and gender selection, enjoy the freedoms that were paid for with the pain and loss of a huge portion of the gay community.
It’s progress that today a young gay boy can come out at 12 to his parents, join the Gay/Straight alliance at his school, find a young crush, share his budding love with his friends and not be judged, bullied or abused for being who he is. He will not grow up, hopefully, with the psychic scars of being a ‘faggot’ every day at school. His best lesbian girlfriend will likely be able to share he loves and crushes and not have to suffer the loneliness of an unrequited love. They will find a common support in each other, and in their circle of friends. Their parents will likely have little or no distress or concerns for their life and wellbeing. It will be a stark difference from what I went through, and still experience in the oddest of moments and ways. The memories that surface, of the comments from the other boys bring up fear, pain, anxiety, tears and anger – even some 30 years later. When I came out to my mother her primary concern wasn’t was I happy or in love, was I in need of help or assistance to navigate a hostile world, no it was, “for God’s sake don’t get sick” – meaning don’t get AIDS.
It’s been 36 years since the height of the epidemic was taking men by the score daily. Today, you’re more likely to die with HIV, than from it. That’s progress.
As we celebrate the freedom of Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender rights this month, let’s remember that people paid for this with blood, sweat, tears, loss of careers, family and loves. Progress is great, but it’s expensive.
Have a conversation with someone you know who is gay. Ask them what their experiences have been, good and bad. Listen to them. Give support to those who are coming out, share your love with those who have been out and fought the fight.
I like to say that human sexuality is a 7 lane highway and most people are in the bike lane. If we can remember that diversity is the human condition, and remind ourselves that we all have battle scars, every one of us. Straight, Gay, Bi, Poly, Trans or whatever you want to call yourself, you have scars. So does every one else. Be tolerant of them, for it’s the only way they, and you, heal.
David Pisarra is a Los Angeles Divorce and Child Custody Lawyer specializing in Father’s and Men’s Rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at email@example.com or 310/664-9969. You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra