Happy LGBTQ+ Pride Month!
I’d like to share with you my own experience in coming out as a gay man 35 years ago…
I was 25 years old, very reluctant to live any other life than the “straight” life that I was living, dating women… and crushing on men. I stayed in my subconscious closeted reality and assumed that I would play “the game” for the rest of my life. So much easier, so much better. For everyone.
But then I met Tom – and he knew. He invited me to have a drink with him, meet him at his house. I pass by that house all the time; it’s very close to where I live now. I can’t find Tom, but that house brings back so many memories… amazing, wonder-filled, happy, passionate memories. Tom was a great first date. I consider myself lucky that someone like Tom gently brought me to my true self – my gay self. We dated for a few months.
But that night – that started with a kiss I still remember with great fondness – ended the next morning with my new out-and-proud smiling self, walking to my car and having a terrifying heart-stopping thought, “Last night I was safe… and today, there are people in this world that want to kill me.”
It was a sobering slap of reality. I couldn’t have it both ways. I couldn’t be out and be safe. That morning was the first day of my new life – an exciting, affirming, loving new life – and yet, there were people with guns in this world that would shoot and kill me now if they could. That was part of the package I was agreeing to. As an out gay man, I was now a target of hate and violence.
Fast forward 35 years… I identify as “gay” still, but more accurate for me is identifying as part of the LGBTQ+ community. I’m a cis-gendered queer gay Latinx man. Why I choose that cocktail of adjectives is fodder for another blog. Suffice to say, I’m a queer elder in 2023.
And as a queer elder, I’m terrified for my community – for my brothers, sisters, and non-binary family that are working on being their best authentic loved selves – in 2023.
🌈 There is a new wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation — many directly targeting the nearly 2 million transgender people living in the United States — at a time when 1 in 4 transgender adults say they have been physically attacked, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation/Washington Post survey conducted at the end of 2022. The rate is higher for trans people of color.
🌈 In a recent online survey conducted at the end of 2022, nearly two-thirds of over 28,000 LGBTQ young people between the ages of 13 to 24 reported that their mental health was made “a lot worse” when they learned about potential legislation banning the discussion of LGBTQ individuals in schools.
🌈 In the past year, 41% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered suicide. That rate is almost twice as high as that of the general population of high-school-aged youth, according to recently released 2021 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And 14% of LGBTQ youth attempted suicide in the past year, according to The Trevor Project*.
🌈 At least 417 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the United States since the start of the year — a new record, according to American Civil Liberties Union data as of April 3. That’s already more than twice the number of such bills introduced all of last year.
Education and healthcare-related bills, in particular, are flooding in at unprecedented levels. Along with a renewed push to ban access to gender-affirming health care for transgender youth, there has been a heavy focus on regulating curriculum in public schools, including discussions around gender identity and sexuality.
🌈 There has also been a shift in focus toward new categories of bills. Just as states followed Florida’s bill that opponents labeled “Don’t Say Gay” — which restricts in-school discussions about sexual orientation or gender identity — several joined Tennessee in proposing bills that would ban drag performances.
🌈 New bills are filed nearly every day, and the landscape is changing quickly. Several states have introduced “forced outing” bills, which would require teachers to alert parents when a student begins going by a different name or pronouns, even without the consent of the student. Sixty of the education-related bills introduced this year are “forced outings” bills, according to ACLU data.
So, Happy Pride, y’all. There’s still so much to celebrate and be grateful for. But I invite you to be enraged and terrified too.
In 1988, 35 years ago, I thought, “Someone wants to kill me now – they didn’t yesterday,” but now there are people that want to erase me from this world.
We’ve come so far since then, made such progress on LGBTQ awareness and equal-rights legislation, and yet, here we are in 2023, backsliding terribly in all the progress we’ve made. And once again, our youth and young adults are waking up to the reality of knowing they, too, are being erased – targets of hate, rhetoric, violence, and cruelty.
Please “Say Gay” loud and proud this month. Exercise your voice, power, and privilege; they are more important now than they have been in a generation. Take action – any action – that tells our queer youth they are loved, respected, and that we are working hard to make them feel SAFE… and proud.
*The risk of suicide is even higher among transgender or nonbinary youth: 48% of trans women, 56% of trans men, and 48% of nonbinary youth seriously considered suicide. It’s also higher among people of color: 11% of white young queer people attempted suicide last year, while double that many Native/Indigenous young queer people did.