June is identified as Pride month to commemorate the 1969 uprising at New York City’s Stonewall Inn, the historic protest against discrimination and violence against the LGBTQ community. Tired of being beaten and mistreated, they came together to begin the demonstrations that gave birth to the Pride movement. We have come a long way in the past 50 years, but the recent proposal to have a Straight Pride in Boston reminds us of how much further we still have to go. The organizers of this event claim that “straight people are an oppressed majority” and need to fight for the right “to express pride in themselves without judgement and hate”. These folks could just be going for irony, but for the sake of argument, I’m going to examine this statement.
I identify as straight and I’m having a really hard time remembering the last time I had to come out to anyone. It might be because I have never had to. I have never had to worry about how my orientation might make a friend, my family, or my colleagues feel about me or think about me. I’ve never had to sit someone down and say, “I have something to tell you” and then worry that the words I am about to utter next will change everything between us. I am also fairly certain that no other straight person has had to come out, either. Why? Because every day is Straight Pride day. Straight couples hold hands, hug, or even kiss in public daily without being accused of flaunting their sexuality, without worrying if they will be verbally or physically assaulted. A wedding between a man and woman is celebrated without question and they can expect to be congratulated by onlookers and not held in contempt. And when they travel abroad for their honeymoon, they won’t have to worry if their marriage will be recognized. We straight folk enjoy heterosexual privilege that allows us to live and love freely without even thinking anything about it. Not so for my LGBTQ friends.
Many times I have been on the other side of “I have something to tell you” and it is always an intimate and beautiful experience. Sometimes what follows the phrase is something absolutely joyous – I’m in love, I’m getting married, we’re expecting; and sometimes it is something that requires sympathy and support – I have cancer, I’m getting a divorced, I’ve had a miscarriage. Whether happy or sad, the news that is being shared is an indication of love and trust. I am being let into the inner world of another and it is a great honour. It is especially so when what follows “I have something to tell you” is an expression of sexual orientation or gender identity. It is why I prefer the term “letting in” instead of “coming out”. Karamo Brown from “Queer Eye For the Straight Guy” once explained that coming out gives power to the other person to accept or deny while letting people in allows one to keep the power.
On the occasions that friends have let me into their LGBTQ world, I will admit to feeling emotional and conflicted. Emotional because they have shared this beautiful part of their identity with me, and conflicted because in their eyes is that flicker of worry and it pains me that I am part of the culture that creates that concern. It’s not right that the concern is there. It’s not right that we even have to have this conversation. It’s not right that even now, here in the Lower Mainland of Vancouver, hanging a rainbow flag to celebrate Pride month is met with opposition and hate.
So, to my LGBTQ friends and family, I am ever so grateful and honoured that you trusted me enough to let me into your inner world. And I promise you that I will continue to do what I can to make this a world where no one will ever have to come out again. Love is love, and love will always win. Happy Pride.