Last winter a friend advocating for gay rights through our church offered me a rainbow cap. It turned out the thing was comfortable, not cheaply made, and I wear it quite a few places. It keeps my head warm. But it also warms my heart.
The rainbow has come to symbolize LGBTQ rights in this world, and I fully support gay rights on every front. My son is gay and so are many of my friends and associates, and their children two. There is a gay female couple that lives at the front of our cul de sac, which fits the general diversity of our neighborhood with families that are black, Latino, Asian and white.
Recently while making calls for our Luther College class reunion, I touched base with a classmate that I knew was gay back in the day. But that period in history did not welcome people coming out of the closet. We talked at length about his experience during college and beyond. We compared notes about relationships and I was pleased to meet his partner at the class reunion.
It’s interesting to meet gay partners because it helps you realize that it is differences that make relationships work. My former neighbor was a gay man I’ll call Bill partner could not have been more different in personality from his boyfriend. While Bill was studious and religious in demeanor, his partner Derrick was rambunctious and irreverent. He loved to tease Bill’s mother Beth Ann, who adored the attention. Even Bill’s somewhat crusty, seemingly grumpy father Jack loved the celebratory nature of Derrick, who knew how to throw a party, among other things. And good old Jack loved a good party.
Those two gay men looked after Bill’s parent’s as age-related health faded for both of them. The other siblings helped some, but not much. They knew they could rely on Bill who took care of everything from the lawn work to gardening to their health care as needed. Jack almost died one year after contracting West Nile virus from a mosquito bite. Bill tended to Beth Ann in his father’s absence. It was not easy work. The complaint’s of elders can wear you down.
Bill and I had many long conversations about life and religion. He was deeply Catholic, loved to go to church and recommended many religious authors to me. Bill’s reverence for life was obvious, especially expressed through respect and love for his parents. He never pretended to be perfect and addressed his own notions of sin with honesty and pragmatic. But I certainly never considered him what some would consider a “sinful” man. He was quite the opposite.
Bill is one of many such men and women that I have met over six decades of life. While my attitudes about gay or queer men and women were originally shaped by cultural prejudice and fear, those outlooks changed quickly once I got to know people who actually were gay, transexual or gender neutral.
I’m fairly sure that one of my cross country teammates, if not several over the years, were homosexual. One once tweaked by butt in the showers after a workout. I jumped and told him not to do that again, but that’s as far as it went. I’m pretty sure he was conflicted about his feelings and found it difficult to come out in that era. But he had a nervous habit of pulling hair from the top of his head that I think was a redirected aggression from denying his true sexuality.
When I lived in Lincoln Park in the early 1980s, I attracted from gay men in the city. One followed me on and off the bus several times before I told him to stop with the pursuit. Frankly I was a bit flattered but also disconcerted. My sexual leanings simply don’t go that directions.
Yet a friend and I once attended an intentionally wild party on the north side of the city and we wound up drunk and dancing in a dark nightclub. My friend hit the floor quickly but I stood back a bit looking for someone to invite when I turned to a friendly face next to me and asked for a dance. The young man turned to me and said, “I’d love to.”
I was so shook that I took off out the door and ran home. The fear of “being gay” was still rife with me at that time. A long line of friends in sports had imposed their trepidation at “being queer” and in that moment, all those projected fears came together in a single instance. But what if I had stayed to dance that night? Would it have ended my world?
Likely not. It may have awakened me earlier to the notion that gay people are simply that. They’re gay. And they’re people. Their sexuality doesn’t necessarily determine who or what they are. Not in totality.
Which is why, by the time my own son came out to our family, I was fully reconciled to the normalcy of sexual orientation of many types. When my late wife asked my daughter, “What do you think of this,” Emily replied. “I think it means we both like good-looking guys.”
And that’s why I’m proud to wear the rainbow cap when I’m out and about. I’m pretty sure it raises some eyebrows among people who fear what they consider “gay culture” or the so-called “gay lifestyle.” There are many who claim that society is being taken over by people with a “gay agenda.”
If there is such a thing, it only means that gay people want the same rights as everyone else. Yet there are still court cases being tried on grounds that employers should have the right to discriminate against gay people and even fire them for their sexual orientation. Our own military is conflicted about gay rights, and the treatment of transgender people by the current administration is absurd.
It’s all the product of ignorance and for the most part, a product of religious prejudice and fears dating back four-thousand years or more. Select passages of the Bible indict gays as sinful people worthy of death. And some religious jerks still selectively emphasize those anachronism while dismissing other religious laws as irrelevant in the modern age. This is hypocrisy at its most hateful level.
The opposite is much more life-affirming. During a stop at our local Home Depot the other day, a young woman listened to me talking with a water heater supplier on the phone and realized that I might just be a nice person. Plus I was wearing my rainbow hat. Upon hanging up the landline phone at the desk, I smiled at her. She said, “I like your hat.”
I explained that my son is gay and she said, “I came out to my parents too. I’m really blessed that it’s no big deal to them.”
That’s how the world should be about the issue of gay rights. The ugly truth is that there are still people so selfish about their fears they feel the need to impose those illogical prejudices on others through cultural pressure and through law.
I’m going to wear my rainbow hat to challenge those perceptions in every way I can. People should not have to fear being gay any more than folks should fear being black, or an immigrant, or an artist, or whatever their orientation and pursuits may be. Life is far too short for that prejudicial bullshit.
So to hell with Trump and all this divisive dog-whistle bullshit that half the nation seems to admire. It’s all part of the same selfish, hate-based package. It’s a prejudicial, “I’ve got mine” mentality that feeds on notions of cultural entitlement and ugly tradition. I’ve run against that grain all my life, and I’m sure as hell not stopping now.