That post was linked to from several other journals, the email version of it was forwarded around widely, and I ended up getting 53 LJ comments (a record for me!) and dozens of private emails telling me how powerful and touching it was.
I just re-read it, and it still rings true.
"This isn’t someone else’s issues – this matters to ALL of us. No matter whether you are gay or straight, none of us is exactly the same. We all have our own little slice of the rainbow. And by standing up and saying to every other slice of the rainbow that they deserve to be out and proud, we claim the same for ourselves."
I've just decided that I am going to make sure that I will be in San Francisco this weekend so that I can make it it to the march on Sunday, joining with the same poly-contingent that I walked with last year.
Here is a repost of the letter. If this touches you, please share it. And if you are anywhere close to San Francisco, come to the parade. It will move you.
Greetings Everyone –
The San Francisco Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Pride Parade is this weekend, and I have decided to be a part of it. Doing this means a lot to me, and I would like to share with you my reasons why.
My best friend in high school was named Robert Colbert. He was smart, talented, extremely creative, and when we moved to Miami my sophomore year he quickly became one of my first friends. He also happened to be gay – and I was one of the first people that he felt comfortable enough to tell this to as he worked through his coming out process.
It just didn’t seem like a big deal to me.
Unfortunately – his parent’s were not so supportive, to put it mildly. Neither were most of the students or teachers at his school. The people around him made him feel like there was something wrong with him. He was surrounded by hate, not acceptance. And in the end, he couldn’t take it anymore. Particularly when it was coming from his own parents. I wish he would have just held on for a few years until he could have gotten away – gone to college, escaped. But he lost himself in his pain. And in the end, my best friend Robert killed himself.
I have always carried around a lot of sadness and guilt around Robert’s death. Maybe if I had been more often there for him, I could have helped get him through. Perhaps I could have seen it coming, and stopped him somehow. Three of Robert’s main outlets for his pain were talking to me, talking to his other best friend Mindy, and posting his poetry and stories on the BBS I used to run. When I started dating Mindy – Mindy, myself, and the phone line for the BBS were often tied up every night, leaving Robert literally with no one to call… Mindy and I were distracted with each other, and in the process we left Robert too often alone with no support from family, friends, teachers, or his community.
I know his actions in killing himself were not my fault, but… It just hurts – and I’ve always wished that I could go back, and somehow make a difference.
All through college I kept a rainbow ribbon tied to my backpack in silent memory of Robert, and as a protest against hate. But I’ve never really spoken up until now.
But last week I saw a link online to the story of a 16 year old boy from Tennessee named Zach, who just came out as gay to his fundamentalist Christian parents. And it wasn’t going well. His parents are sending him off this summer to a reprogramming camp called “Love in Action” to “cure” him. A program run by a madman who has been quoted saying that he would rather see gay youths commit suicide than pursue a sinful life – because at least in killing themselves they have a hope of salvation. You can read his story by following the links below, including the rules of the “camp” that he is being sent to. It chills me to the bone to think that this evil is being propagated under the banner of God’s love.
& [Zach's original blog has now been deleted]
One excerpt: "I would rather you commit suicide than have you leave Love In Action wanting to return to the gay lifestyle. In a physical death you could still have a spiritual resurrection; whereas, returning to homosexuality you are yielding yourself to a spiritual death from which there is no recovery."
Reading these links chills me to the bone. It is Robert’s story all over again – and I find myself shaking with anger. THIS IS NOT OK! I NEED TO RAISE MY VOICE!
My heart just aches thinking about this sort of thing happening over and over and over and over again in our society. Kids permanently damaged by hate, and fear, and shame… Gay men and women forced (still!) to live in hiding, rallied against even by our own president. While other countries are slowly moving to outlaw discrimination based upon sexual orientation, here in the US state after state is going so far as to even bake discrimination against gays into their state constitutions via amendment… Our president wants to add discriminatory language to the national constitution under the misleading guise of defending marriage…
These attitudes in our society are what killed Robert…
THIS HAS GOT TO STOP!
And I’ve realized that I am part of the problem.
Though I’ve always been cool with having openly gay friends, I realize that I’ve also carried around in me more than a little shame and defensiveness around being lumped in to any non-straight group myself. “Yeah, it’s cool to be gay – but I’m not…” I would get embarrassed – what would my family, friends, coworkers, relatives, strangers, anyone think… What would they think of me if they thought I was gay? Or bi? Or anything else “not normal”? Would I be treated different?
And by carrying around this embarrassment – I am only propagating the whole subversive idea that there is something to be embarrassed about.
There is no more reason to feel embarrassed about being gay than there is to feel embarrassed about being straight, or black, or tall, or smart, or red headed, or… And for every one of us that carries around these feelings of embarrassment and shame, who fears being mis-labeled, or who goes so far as to be pretending to be anything that we are not for fear of how others may react – we are only propagating the problem.
I know that it is easy to think that sexuality should be something private and unspoken - and that ideally we all shouldn’t need to know or care the orientation of anyone else. I used to think this too, and to wonder – what’s the big deal, why does there need to be such a massive parade?
But now I’ve realized that the parade isn’t just for the people marching in it – it is a loud declaration to the Roberts and the Zachs of the world who are struggling, who are feeling alone and ashamed and different. This is how we tell them that it is ok. That they are ok. That they deserve to be proud of who they are and not ashamed.
The first time I went and saw the parade a few years ago, I was blown away – and left in tears. One image that stands out in my mind was of an old man riding on the back of a motorcycle driven by his daughter, holding up a sign saying “I am an old-fashioned conservative Christian, and I love my lesbian daughter.” The thought of that sort of unconditional parental love and support brings tears to my eyes, wishing that Robert could have felt that.
I can only imagine if Robert had had openly gay teachers in his school to look up to as a role models. Or if his parents would have had openly gay friends or coworkers they might have gotten to know, and through them gotten over their own fears long before Robert came out to them. Imagine if every suburban block in America had a gay couple raising a family, participating in block parties, coaching soccer teams, joining the PTA… It is easy to hate the unknown – but harder when it is your friends and neighbors. There is no us and them, just people not that different from you living their lives as best they can.
This is why the parade is important. This is why it is important that we let teachers and doctors and lawyers and politicians and day care workers and truck drivers and soldiers and so on all be out about who they really are, and not ashamed. This is why we need to let people publicly marry and declare their love – no matter their gender mix. Good parents should be able to adopt without fear of discrimination. Etc. Discrimination based upon sexual orientation needs to END.
Until we eliminate these divisive practices – good people like my friend Robert will continue to suffer and die…
There is no us and them, and this whole attitude of grouping people into differently valued buckets is exactly what leads to the hate and shame and feeling of isolation that killed my friend Robert. And which leads to all of us denying parts of who we are.
The whole point of the Pride parade, and of the rainbow flag is that we are ALL included, and that we do NOT need to fit into any particular mold.
This is what love and acceptance and pride are all about – and everyone is entitled to feel PROUD OF WHO THEY ARE, NO MATTER WHAT THEY ARE.
Me – I am going to give up feeling any shame because I may not fit into any formulaic bucket.
I am proud to be a polyamorous(1) somewhat-bisexual(2) and increasingly-kinky(3) geek(4). And if my being out about who I am helps even one other person feel ok about who they are, or helps them to be better able to love and support those around them, all the fear I have felt in writing and sharing this letter will have been worth it. It is relatively easy to share things like this in San Francisco – but, sending this out to the extended family, distant friends, and random strangers… That is scary. But if my taking a stand causes someone else out there to pause for a moment and think, to open their hearts, to let go of some deep held shame or hate… Perhaps the ripple effects may end up saving a life. That is worth it. And if this letter touches you in any way, please – share it. Pass it on.
As I sit here looking out my apartment window at the rainbow flags flying up and down San Francisco’s Market Street, I am thrilled to be living in a city that supports and honors the full diversity of the human rainbow.
But the thoughts of Robert in Miami, and of the 16 year old Zach in Tennessee remind me that we have a long way to go. Every big city and small town needs to go through a transformation in attitudes around sexual orientation and discrimination. Red and blue states both.
This isn’t someone else’s issues – this matters to ALL of us. No matter whether you are gay or straight, none of us is exactly the same. We all have our own little slice of the rainbow. And by standing up and saying to every other slice of the rainbow that they deserve to be out and proud, we claim the same for ourselves.
And that’s why I am marching in the Pride parade on Sunday. To show my support, and to stand up and be counted.
I miss you, Robert.
- chris dunphy (www.radven.net // radven.livejournal.com) email@example.com
PS: It seems to me obvious that if you look in your heart, you will know that we are all made in the image of the divine and that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with any sexual orientation. But if you are at all swayed by some of the hate-mongers who try and use the bible to justify their hate, please consider this – there is just as much language in the Bible condemning crustaceans and those who eat them. If you think that homosexuality is literally a sin because of how some zealots are interpreting language in a 2000 year old book – take a look at www.GodHatesShrimp.com, and prepare to start protesting in front of every Long John Silver’s. The central message of most religions is one of love and acceptance – and that is one we all should rally behind.
(1) Polyamorous -- My heart is wired to be open to multiple simultaneous deep and loving relationships. In other words – I am not monogamous. Not that there is anything wrong with monogamy. That is just another slice of the rainbow that is not right for me. The important thing is being open and honest with everyone involved. There IS something wrong with dishonesty and cheating – and that is definitely not part of polyamory.
(2) Somewhat Bisexual – I have never had sex with a man, but I am open to the concept. The majority of my physical and emotional attraction is towards women, but saying that I am 100% straight denies me my true slice of the rainbow.
(3) Increasingly Kinky – I’ve begun to explore the kinkier side of my sexuality, and have discovered that it is a way to explore deeper areas of connection and sensation. Again, nothing to be ashamed of.
(4) Geek – I’ve always been proud of my geekness…. *grin*