June is Pride Month but I don’t feel proud.
Thirty-five years ago I was a teenage boy growing up in Phoenix, Arizona. One evening I was walking with some friends across the street from a bar that catered to gay clientele. A few men walked out of the bar and without provocation my friends and I started yelling insults at them. I can’t recall exactly which words we yelled, but I’m sure they were the most recent slurs for homosexuals.
We ran off into the night, laughing and high-fiving our imaginary courage believing that we had taken someone different down a peg. My parents would have been ashamed if they had heard what we yelled. I would be ashamed if I heard my sons do the same.
I think of that evening 35 years later and I’m embarrassed I thought the actions of that night were appropriate, acceptable or funny. I could make all sorts of excuses to justify it: It was the ‘80s; they shouldn’t choose to be that way; God will pass judgement on them for their perversion; if they don’t like it, they shouldn’t go to bars like that; they had it coming, et cetera, et cetera. The list of excuses and justifications is endless.
My perceptions started to change a few years later when I met Brad. He and I worked at the same store, became friends and had great conversations about literature and music. I remember he introduced me to Frank Zappa and launched my lifelong love of the Talking Heads and Led Zeppelin.
One of the elderly cashiers warned me that Brad was gay and to be cautious of him. I told her I was more afraid of her than of him. I would love to say that I instantly became more accepting and respectful to the LGBTQ community but I can think of other moments well into my 20s where friends and I disparaged them.
In the ‘90s I was in the Army when the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy came into effect. Maybe the intentions of that policy were good, but it struck me as an attempt to sweep something uncomfortable under the carpet. Many soldiers I served with were no more accepting of an alternative lifestyle than my teen friends and I had been. We avoided bars in Olympia and Tacoma that embraced that culture and openly mocked those who did.
I know better today. I’ve matured somewhat and, more importantly, as a civilian I’ve had many more opportunities to interact with people whose lifestyles are different than my own. I’ve made many new friends and heard their stories. It’s no great mystery: the more I interact with those with different views and preferences the less they become “them” and the more they become just people with the same hopes, dreams and struggles as me.
I’m embarrassed by how I used to think, judge and behave. I’m embarrassed by a culture that gave tacit approval to that behavior. I’m embarrassed that I yelled terrible things at someone who was likely struggling with their own sexuality while I was young enough that I didn’t even know what mine would be.
I’m embarrassed that we’re still having this conversation today. We’ll celebrate our freedom soon with flags and fireworks. But will we choose to extend freedom to everyone, without exception?
Freedom for me at the expense of another is not freedom, it’s oppression. Freedom to have my views protected but another’s denied is not freedom, it’s privilege.
Freedom to express my gender, my sexuality, and my faith while denying someone else the same is not freedom, it’s selfish. I cannot boast that I believe in liberty if I don’t believe in freedom for you.
I long for a culture that allows everyone the freedom to love without judgment, threats or discrimination. I long for a country that supports, comforts and loves those who are different. I long for a nation that shares liberty with all, regardless of their adjectives.
I will find pride there.
Andrew Homan of University Place is a network administrator at the YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties. He’s one of six reader columnists who write for this page. Reach him at NoelNHoman@gmail.com and read some of his other work at www.andrewhoman.com