HEY, GAYS, IT’S TIME TO GROW UP

I once attended Austin Pride escorted by an armed bodyguard after receiving two death threats in the weeks leading up to the celebration. Am I some sort of gay hating bigot? No, I was president of the Austin Pride Foundation, and the threats were linked back to my own community.

Nearly 10 years ago, as founding president of the APF, I told the LGBT community that it was time to be more inclusive. Our community had been growing and thriving. One-by-one, states were passing legislation to legalize gay marriage. I and others felt that the shift in our culture was a call for a different kind of Pride celebration, a more inclusive one. More inclusive of people of faith, more inclusive of gay parents, more inclusive of allies, and more inclusive of those who don’t feel compelled to attach the whole of their identity to their sexuality. So Austin Pride 2010 reflected that viewpoint and those values.

For this, I was dragged through the digital streets.

Did I make mistakes back then? Sure I did. But when it comes to the core of my message, I was right, and I’m still right. We do need to be more inclusive. More inclusive of the diversity that spans our community and all the characteristics that make us who we are. That includes people who are young and old, white and brown, ‘more gay’ and ‘less gay’ than we are.

But here’s something else I’ve come to realize: as a community, we also need to grow up.

We are a diverse, multifaceted, wildly intelligent, and influential community. Our contributions are countless and our impact immeasurable.

But we can also be petty, divisive, and sometimes downright cruel to one another. A cruelty that can exist all the way from communities of faith, to dating, to tribal stigmatization. We have plenty of folks who want to tear us down, deny us our rights, or dispose of us completely. We don’t need to do that to one another. We need to grow up.

I’m nothing like my brother, but I still love and respect him. You may not be anything like me or I like you, same idea.

We have made real progress toward achieving the rights and protections that we—and those whose shoulders on which we stand—have protested, lobbied, fought, and bled for. Yet our greater inclusion in the mainstream of culture brings with it a greater responsibility to ourselves, to our movement, and to those who will eventually follow in our footsteps.

The spotlight that is always on our community will burn especially bright this month. The things we do and say, and the way we represent ourselves on the celebration stage, won’t just earn us more likes or followers. Our words and actions will create impressions in the minds of the media, our young people, and our potential allies.

We have so much to celebrate this June. Legal protections have moved our way in several states. Colorado elected the first openly gay man to their governor’s office. Pete Buttigieg is the first openly gay Democratic presidential candidate—and he actually has a snowball’s chance!

As you celebrate this month, I hope you’ll celebrate what I called for nearly a decade ago—a celebration of the very best among us and within us. Bear in mind that doing so will require a level of maturity that recognizes that it is more important for the movement to be celebrated, than for an individual to be sensationalized.

Pride always makes me remember my own coming out. Growing up gay in rural Arkansas wasn’t easy. Coming out there even less so. I remember my fear, but I also remember the fear my parents had for me. The only impression they had of gay people was what they saw on television—not a flattering picture back then. I hope that, as we show our pride this month, we can offer today’s young person and his or her parents a better vision for what it means to be a member of our community.

Happy Pride!

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