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Be Proud

I was a freshman in high school when Matthew Shepard was beaten and left to die in the coldness of Laramie, Wyoming. News of his attack trickled down through my small town’s news and gossip mills—the entire twisted, tragic narrative framed as something problematic and salacious. Few discussed it openly, and those who did defaulted to the deeply flawed victim-blaming mentality: he had it coming, after all. So I policed myself even more, venturing further into my closet’s shadows.

I’d known I was different since I was eight. Without the vocabulary to really capture what I knew, I entertained the thought that I had some innate superhero ability, or some amazingly unique, mutant-like advantage. But it wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I quietly admitted to myself that, in all likelihood, I was gay. Only one classmate actually came out, and he—and his family—were smeared across the front page of the local paper, and he and his boyfriend were given wide berth at the prom. From the periphery of the dance floor, I’d watched them watch each other, my eyes falling to their clasped hands. That’s what I wanted. Still, I never verbalized my truth, made it real, until I was nearly finished with college.

***

The Pulse massacre last year ripped through the LGBTQIA+ community; I was visiting my family in Alabama, and walked into the living room—eyes still bleary from sleep—to my parents glued to the screen, their faces screwed up in horror. My heart rate quickened and I started sweating and I walked out the front door. I kept going for a mile, circling through our family’s land and ending up back at an old, shattered playground my grandparents had helped my parents build. My ex-husband and I were in the middle of separating, and would, weeks after I returned, decide to divorce. But still, we talked through the sheer tragedy of this latest news, hearing our words echo back to one another over the phone, the world suddenly feeling so much smaller, even more fragile.

Months later, as the malignancies of the 2016 election revealed the extent to which this nation is still so deeply racist and misogynistic, I felt a hollowness I’d experienced all those closeted years ago. Again, the future felt so fragile—knowing the ensuing violence espoused from on high would be mapped more vehemently and pointedly onto people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQIA+ people, and women.

***

So many people have been lost over the past year, the vast majority of whom being people of color.

I made the mistake of reading an article today that advocated for dissolving National Coming Out Day. The author was a cis, white, gay man whose utter lack of history and severe cognitive dissonance made me cringe. I disagreed with every single one of his points. Now more than ever, LGBTQIA+ people must be visible; we must show that we aren’t going anywhere, that the future will only get browner, queerer, and—mother goddesses be willing—more female.

Reading his suggestions, I thought back to when I came out over 12 years ago. It was a crucial, life-saving decision; the act of bringing voice to what I’d long since known quieted the malevolent voices in my mind, and stemmed the self-harming actions and suicidal thoughts that’d skewed my perception of what my future would look like. In coming out, I wrested power back from those whose narrow worldviews kept me barricaded within my private torture chamber. My mind could only take so much trauma before it went into a numbing survival mode, blunting senses and joy—clouding my mind’s eye with a grayed shroud devoid of hope.

Being out and visible for anyone is a courageous exercise. And for me, I’m quickly reminded of how much privilege I carry as a white, cis, gay man—the relative security I’m ensured that is so far out of reach for my trans* family and friends, especially trans* women of color.

Dark, uncertain times necessitate that we band together; the more closely bound we are—the more vigilant and outspoken we are, the more protective we are of our neighbors who aren’t afforded the same privileges—the better equipped we’ll be to combat the growing chill, the biting hatred of legislative rollbacks.

This National Coming Out Day, I hope more people come out and don’t tacitly endorse heteronormative behaviors that inform dangerous, violent actions.

Each of us is endowed with a moral compass. And it’s up to us to reorient the national narrative—even by taking slow, iterative steps in times like these—to advance and promote a future in which we’re all recognized as people deserving of basic, inalienable rights.

We must be confident and authentic—and wield those sources of power compassionately.

 

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Together, We Remember and Fight

Andy watches Gwyneth Paltrow drive by in a Land Rover; I scratch my head and try to figure out how far off Christopher Street Two Boots actually is, and how long it’ll take us to order pizza once we finally get there.

Clearly, my stomach isn’t affected by star power. (Especially since Gwyneth probably hasn’t eaten a carb since Hush. Bless her heart.)

***

Soon enough, we’re powering through massive sauce-slathered slices and watching as hipster after hipster pours in for their daily carb fix. And as we look out at passersby puttering along sidewalks, I imagine how much this street has seen, especially with our next stop just a few blocks away.

Two Boots pizza...mmmm...

We finish up, and join the hive buzzing outside. As we remark at a particular mo’s great cowl neck sweater, the air chills and the remaining sunlight filters behind 1 World Trade Center.

A fading view

We turn a corner, dodge some taxis, then walk up to Stonewall Inn. Surprisingly unimposing, Stonewall’s façade is bathed in light, its slightly tattered rainbow flags fluttering in the breeze.   

It still has the BamPow! effect it did when I first saw it earlier this year. And I almost recite exactly what I did back then: So, this is where it happened.
 
***
 
 
To most people, this building isn’t anything special—just another bar with poster ads featuring scantily-clad, ripped models. The same can be said for Christopher Street Park across the way, minus the poster models (on most days, I mean).
 
Stonewall Inn

After the requisite pictures, we venture inside. And that’s when I feel the “something else” about this place. No, it’s not the booze. It’s the ambience, the tacit understanding that these boards, these walls, are hallowed ground to many LGBT Americans.

We sidle up to the same bar where generations of LGBTs and prominent civil rights figureheads initiated romantic conversations or decided to take a stand.

With two cosmos in tow, we leave the tab open and seat ourselves in a dimly lit corner.

Stonewall cosmo, of course

A trio of men carouse at the bar, and two women on a date navigate the awkwardness of ice-breaking conversations. The older bartender surveys the bar with a measured, seasoned eye, and strikes up conversations with a few nervous single guys sitting at the opposite end of the bar.

There’s no pretense. No expectations. Just unencumbered joy.

And I imagine this to be the atmosphere in 1969 when the police attempted to quash this haven and imprison those who railed against them. But thanks to those brave figures, Andy and I, along with all the others, are able to enjoy a drink or two, and absorb the history through osmosis.

***

Framed photographs along the wall depict various scenes before and after the Stonewall riots—the tension and catharsis are palpable.

“I wonder where these people are now,” Andy muses. “Especially that one.”

He points to a young guy seated on the steps of the neighboring business front. With his gaze fixed on something far away—perhaps processing the moment—he pushes his blonde hair behind one ear. Above him, two women share a celebratory kiss, and three men wrap their arms around one another, each smiling directly into the camera. In the foreground, a brunette with glasses smiles wryly, his eyes betraying a mischievous air.

Remembering Stonewall

Looking from the photograph to the present scenes unfolding before us, I think how little has changed. But how everything did.

How one event can propel others forward, out of societal shackles, into action. How ardently and passionately our forbearers have fought for our rights, and how far we still must go. How indescribable it is to have Andy by my side, in a place like this.

Knowing that, in a different time, we could’ve been sitting there, reflecting on our respective days, when the door crashed open and batons started flying. Knowing that there’re still heinous crimes committed against people just for dallying in front of such an establishment.

Knowing that we have the ability to craft a better future for a gay couple who, years into the future, will sit exactly where we are and ruminate about the people who’ve been seated at this table.

And, with hope, will thank us, too.

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Making Do

In the coming days, the average, conscientious American will think about North Carolina for a few minutes–probably as coverage of Amendment One’s passage blips across their television screen or pops up on their smart phone. There will be the shaking of the head, the exasperated sigh, the usual and oft-overused phrases about the South being backwards. But then they’ll be next in line for their coffee, or American Idol will come on, and that’ll be that–kaput for civil rights in North Carolina, at least in their minds.

But for those of us grappling with the after-effects of this hateful legislation being translated into law, Amendment One is everywhere we look. It’s along the roads, it’s on bumpers, it’s in our workplaces. We can’t escape it. We have to listen to the bigoted commentary, the enthusiastic hoots from the bubbas next door about “those fucking faggots.” And we try not to scream.

At work this morning, my friend asked me why I didn’t just move. She emphasized that the best way to exercise civil disobedience is to take myself and my money to more tolerant locales. Sure, I thought about it well before the vote came back. But I told myself that I’ve felt disenfranchised before and have stayed rooted; hell, I grew up in Alabama (insert tired cliché here). Still, Amendment One’s passage was something new for me. What made me sob into my friends’ shoulders Tuesday night wasn’t the outcome, but rather the wide margin–the degree to which so much hateful ignorance still exists. It hurt. And it hurt worse than my hangover the next morning. It still hurts today. And will for a long time.

She waited. And I told her simply, “Raleigh is my home.” That it’s taken me so long to find somewhere that felt so comfortable. That I’ve built a life for myself of which I’m proud. That I’ve been immensely fortunate to have such a strong network of friends who are more than just “family”–they’re family. And I’m not leaving any of it. Or them. Because as strong as we each are on our own, we’re a tremendous force en masse. We laugh, we cry, we fight for what’s right against those who fight for what’s Reich.

And while it’s been a time for intensive introspective reflections, a time for mourning, it’s also a time to galvanize ourselves to reach out. To offer a hand to those who feel even more isolated and alienated than they’ve ever felt before; to the youth who thought this might be a turnaround, that they might see how things get better; to the elderly who thought they’d see that same turnaround. I have to remember that in this time of anger and upset, there’re so many more who are hurting more intensely, who are contemplating darker alternatives. We have to keep the fight alive and the momentum fierce.

Responding to my inquiry about how he’s been faring this week, my dear friend Norman–82 years young–said, “It’s been up and down. Just like an erection. But you just have to make the best of it.”

Phallocentric allusions aside, we all have to make the best of it. Even if there are a lot of pricks in the state.

 
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Threading A Future Together

Moments like these demand such strength to stay upright. An observer by nature, I often soak in what I see and process it through prose, the medium through which I’ve channeled much of my life and that which has become my saving grace so many times before. But today, words fail.

Some might say I’m feeding into a defeatist mentality. That I think it’s over. That it was all for naught. But they couldn’t be more wrong. Am I disheartened that a majority of North Carolinians chose hate and ignorance, thereby causing North Carolina to backslide into the same welter of inequity and disenfranchisement promulgated by its neighboring southern states? Undoubtedly. But am I exceptionally proud of the strides the LGBTQ-ally community made over the past year, in anticipation of Amendment One? You bet your asses.

For the better part of a year, many of us have been fighting the fight: handing out buttons and posting signs in our yards; making convoys to voting stations and participating in phone banks; educating those who didn’t understand the amendment’s wide-reaching implications and bolstering those who did to keep on trucking; planning festival events and organizational activities to showcase the Triangle’s diversity in the hopes of demonstrating how problematic this sort of institutionalized bigotry is and how many it will affect; marching to make a difference and making our presence known. Coming together for a common goal; making a difference when we could’ve easily thrown up our hands and embraced apathy. We’ve made an impact. We’ve grown, we’ve cried, we’ve driven ourselves to the brink.

And sometimes we lose. But Amendment One will not stand the test of time. It will be relegated to the proverbial dustbin with other similarly authored legislation—of the same ilk that once barred other minorities from sharing basic civil rights. It will instantaneously become a horrendous blight on North Carolina’s constitution, and will be an embarrassment for future legislators to repeal. It will undermine North Carolina’s vitality. Businesses will hemorrhage employees who no longer receive benefits for their children or their partners. Everyone will know someone affected. No citizen will be spared. Amendment One is a vector of a legislative epidemic.

Hateful people will always exist. But they won’t always wield majority rule. The issues that concerned generations before mine are disturbingly laughable to us today. What today’s young people care about is making a life for themselves—and doing so together, regardless of our abilities, ethnicities, or gender identities. We realize that the religious right’s latest buffeting will be the last significant wave we will have to endure—that those of us fighting for equality have droves of advocates joining us in solidarity.

We’re all part of a quilt that’s been tattered by hate, bigotry, and ignorance. But it’s slowly being patched together through proactive activism and genuine respect. Because somewhere in the madness, we realize that our respective futures hang by threads. But if they’re sewn together, our bond will never unravel.

And our success will blanket the nation.

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OutRaleigh 2012: All Families Matter, Even In The Rain

The monsoon was in full force as my friends and fellow OutRaleigh coordinators held down a collapsing, wind-torn tent while the vendor scrambled to pack away her wares. While I won’t speak for Rebecca and Kim, I’m fairly certain they’d agree that this was not how we envisioned OutRaleigh 2012 to close.

Minutes before I found the panicky vendor holding down her tent, I was ankle-deep in water after sprinting to stop a road barricade from it’s wind-blown track into busy downtown traffic. Between fragmented thoughts of wondering if my iPhone and camera had been soaked through like my bag and clothes, and realizing how ridiculously long my curls are when wet, I had to laugh at the entire situation.

A year in the making, OutRaleigh 2012 had been planned meticulously. But Mother Nature always has other plans, and we rolled with them with equal parts humor and fortitude. Because as vendors vacated their spaces, and onstage performances came to a halt, we kept going. And so did others. Out of storefronts that I passed in my frenetic sprints to and from soggy vendor spaces, people gathered and welcomed rain-soaked OutRaleigh visitors inside. Kristy Lee, one of our performers, gathered a crowd beneath a downtown business’s porch overhang and belted out her inspirational music. We were all wet, but we were all still there. Taking action, making a stand.

As with any organizational effort in which the LGBTQ community has a significant hand, there were protesting bigots who tried their best to dampen festival-goers’ spirits. Gathered on street corners, they held their religious texts aloft, reciting our collective sins and damning us all to fiery demises. On the KidsZone‘s periphery, a large group coalesced with signs, chanting hatred for young children to hear. But the most personally disturbing scene was witnessing one of the fear-mongers giving their young child an explicit sign to hold. With his tiny hands wrapped around the sign’s base, the boy served as a haunting reminder of the inculcated bigotry the LGBTQ-ally community endures every single day. But in an almost biblical way, the deluge cleansed the festival of those hateful people; they scattered and fled, like cowards usually do in the face of adversity. Those who remained celebrated life, albeit soggy.

And that’s what OutRaleigh is about: embracing diversity and living life to the fullest. We connect with and support one another when hateful zealots attempt to undermine our course, and advocate for our deaths. But we’re not going anywhere. As OutRaleigh 2012 showed me, not only can I count on dear friends to help me weather the storm, but I know there are thousands of others out there who will too.

All we have to do is continue our journey through the best and worst of times, shining brighter each step of the way, finding ourselves in the darkest hours.

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Wonder Twin Powers Activate! Form of: Equal Rights!

Certain days have a way of coalescing life experiences, bringing them all crashing into sharp relief at the least probable moments. And while such an experience didn’t happen during my acceptance speech for my long-awaited Pulitzer or totally deserved Best Onscreen Kiss, it was deeply meaningful, nonetheless. So there, on one of Raleigh’s busiest downtown sidewalks, it happened. Sure, the nearby diners probably wondered why I stood with my neck craned, my mouth slightly ajar like it often is in the presence of chocolate. But tracking my gaze quickly answered their questions, or at least prevented them from pressing “Send” on their imminent 911 calls.

Having such a reaction to a street banner might cause a lot of folks to bless my heart a few times over. But those people often take for granted certain civil liberties and rights that are not afforded to members of the LGBTQ community. With its rainbow color story, the OutRaleigh 2012 banner isn’t just representative of another downtown festival; its acknowledgment by Raleigh is a testament to the impacts seemingly infinitesimal actions can make on a local level, and how those can translate to meaningful change for future generations. And as May 8th draws closer, all of us with a vested interest in equality hinge our hopes on victory.

While I’ve strived to become much more proactive in assuming an activist mantle over the past few years, I haven’t ever really made the connections between simple dialogue, logistical planning, and task execution until yesterday. As part of a larger group of committee members and friends, I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of the year-long planning process to bring to fruition the second annual OutRaleigh on May 5th. Until this experience, I took for granted such festivals, because I thought a bunch of magical nymphs just waved their wands and, abracadabra, instant festival. Not only has this experience proven my Zack Morris phone’s inadequacy for accessing and fielding hundreds of emails, but it’s reminded me just how fortunate I am to be surrounded by friends dedicated to equal-rights protections for LGBTQ individuals and their allies.

Amidst the hustle-and-bustle of bill-paying jobs, we’ve all banded together because we share a vision of a more inclusive, multivocal future. Of course it hasn’t always been rainbows and puppies; there have been tirade-laden meetings, catty commentary, and hair-pulling frustrations aired. But even those aren’t all bad; they’re signs of something being built, of passions writ into something formative.

Maintaining momentum can always be difficult. But with so many other projects, groups, and organizations doing their parts to combat prejudice and deeply sown bigotry throughout North Carolina and the greater Southeast, I have the closest thing an atheist can to faith in a higher power—a faith that people-power changes things. Together, OutRaleigh 2012 syncs with Equality North Carolina, The Vote Against Project, Race to the Ballot, Protect All NC Families, Human Rights Campaign, Alliance of AIDS Services-Carolina, and innumerable others to embolden each person to effect change—to help author a more tolerant landscape for us all.

So as May 8th draws closer, and as you weave through OutRaleigh 2012’s festivities this Saturday, take a moment to look around. Not necessarily at the bounce-houses, or the onstage performers—but at one another. Because our collective future depends on each and every one of us coming out against intolerance.

All together now: Activate!

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Que’er Still Here, Beyond the Generational Divide

With the political landscape so intensely polarized, the LGBTQI community has become the most convenient scapegoat for political panderers. It seems that any zealot can put on a suit, use a healthy dose of booze to blur away images of all of their past mistresses or misters, and recite innumerable ways in which the LGBTQI community’s “agenda” has undermined the country’s traditional basis–you know, the one steeped in the bloodshed of North America’s native populations.

Laughable at best, these “arguments” fall apart faster than a Saltine in water. Traditions are meaningful, but are social constructions that change with us; after all, we’re the social creatures that create them. We can easily embrace more inclusive traditions–ones based in acceptance and equal rights protections. Still, politicians manipulate entrenched generational norms to justify partisan politics–to perpetuate a legacy of disenfranchisement. But it is very possible to transcend generational bigotry. And it starts with you.

Growing up in a liberal Catholic household in small-town Alabama, my sister and I knew what it was like to be different. While our more conservative maternal grandparents, Nanie and Papa, circulated the small town social scenes with grace and style, we were contradictory and stirred the pot more than occasionally. Less Flora than Mirarchi, Laura and I were more interested in pulling our father’s finger than pulling out a chair for our grandmother. So it was no surprise that the day I intended to come out to my family, I waited until after dinner, after Nanie and Papa left, before calling my parents and sister back to the dining room table for a wee chat.

After the whole shebang ended, my mother insisted she be the one to tell Nanie and Papa. To this day, I still don’t know how my mother told them or how they initially responded. But as time passed, Nanie would make allusions to alternative “lifestyles”–her olive branch–even though we never really sat down and spoke candidly about my social life. Several years later, when Papa was diagnosed with cancer, things changed.

Papa became a shade of his former gregarious self. When I’d speak to him over the phone, the wear in his voice was palpable; intensely invasive surgeries had prolonged his life, but robbed him of his energy. Suffice it to say I didn’t feel like peppering either of them with details of my latest catastrophes in boyfriendom. After all, I figured there was always time. Years later, as I sat across from Papa in his hospice room, I knew I wouldn’t have any other opportunities. With no leave left at work, I had to return to North Carolina. It was my turn to feel robbed.

Since I’d come out, the two of us never sat down to talk. In some ways, I think he preferred it that way. I respected that; after all, he and Nanie still wanted to be a part of my life. Even so, anxiety kept washing over me; it was the same feeling I’d had when my paternal grandparents died–that they didn’t know about this part of my life. I realized I’d been repeating the same mistake for years without really knowing it.

But this was it. It was incomprehensible to me that I’d never see him again. We chatted about this and that. The drain of the conversation began taking its toll, and he began drifting off. So I assured him that we’d watch after Nanie and got up to leave.

That’s when he stopped me, hesitated momentarily, and asked, “So, are there many gay people where you are? To be near?”

I lost it. Never had I heard him utter the word “gay,” much less in reference to me. It wasn’t a request for a tell-all, just an acknowledgement. And that was enough.

“Yes, yes there are. I’ll be fine.”

“Good. I love you.”

“I love you too.”

I turned, walked to the door, and looked over my shoulder at someone I thought had become a stranger. But he’d been there the whole time. Just waiting.

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Making Coble Culpable

As I walked up to the podium, I was seething with anger–so much so that I actually shook through most of my speech. It takes a lot for me to get this angry, but I was incensed by Paul Coble’s decision to speak not only for other commissioners who disagree with him–Betty Lou Ward, Ervin Portman, and James West, I commend you–but for all of Raleigh. Of course, Coble is not the only one to espouse such hatred from on high. He is of the same ilk as the Westboro Baptist Church’s hate-mongers, just more fashionably conscious in his choice of sheep’s clothing. With cavalier, grossly overgeneralized statements, he dismissed the issue, demanded a vote, and got his way. And all I could do was think how nice it must be for him to serve in an elected public office and feel as though he can say anything without consequence.

But I am one of the LGBTQs who lives with the consequences of statements such as his. I endure the hate speech, the hate crimes, the perpetuated institutionalized violence. I try to use reason and sound facts to legitimize an aspect of my life to those who have no business being a part of it. I neither embody nor perform the slanderous, outlandish, and problematic stereotypes mapped onto me, because I am no one’s puppet; I control my life’s strings.

Thoughts such as these ran through my mind as I hastily jotted-down my brief speech in a downtown coffee shop an hour before I walked up the courthouse’s steps. And while others took their turns to speak, I could not help but latch onto Coble’s expressionless face and his agitated body language. Each time an ally or member of the LGBTQ community spoke against the resolution he authored, as well as against Amendment One, his demeanor mimicked that of a petulant child. He refused to make eye contact, and did everything he could to convey that each and every one of us was wasting his time. Sadly, I expected nothing less. Maturity is not something with which age endows us; it is something built, something learned through experience. But since he has never had his life forcibly shoved beneath a societal microscope for bigoted voyeurs to poke, prod, and dissect, it is unsurprising that he can wake up every morning, look in the mirror, and be proud of his reflection.

As the worn cliche goes, actions speak louder than words. In authoring such a hateful resolution, and trying to fly it under the proverbial radar, he and his supporters become complicit in every act of violence against LGBTQs in Wake County, the Triangle, and all of North Carolina. He and his supporters are bedfellows with bullies needling vulnerable school children. He and his supporters have blood on their hands for every LGBTQ or LGBTQ-perceived child who feels less than human and finds suicide to be the only answer; for every LGBTQ senior who is left with sores and bruises in their nursing home bed by bigots charged with their care; for every act of “correctional rape” exacted upon a transgendered person; for every abduction and murder of an LGBTQ person or ally. Hate breeds hate; its implications cannot be deflected. Hate is a human invention–a social construction; it is a learned behavior. Being an LGBTQ person is not.

I am not going anywhere. I will continue to stare hatred and bigotry squarely in the eye. I will continue to show others that they are not alone. I will continue on my mission for equal rights and protections under the law until I am satisfied or dead. Power does not come from an elected position; it comes from within–from an ability to empathize, understand, and respect your fellow person.

With younger generations caring more about finding their financial footing in this economically uncertain world, leading sustainable lives, and being a part of a social network and community, Coble and his minions are quickly becoming the minority. We will be victorious. We will be equal.

I already am.

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Just Call Me Toots: An Open Letter To [Insert Bigoted Politician Here]

Dear Putzy Politician:

I’m not one for self-promotion, for tooting my own horn. It’s unseemly, and doesn’t really jive with the southern gentleman I was groomed to be. But every now and then this southern belle has to let the fro free and tell Ms. Manners to take a hike.

And while I wish I had an incredibly engaging and riveting anecdote to segue into the meat of it all, it’s been a long day, and not even a jar of Nutella has enough sugar to keep me sharp. But I think the point I’ll try to make will be gleaned from a little tale about a kid named Matt. Why, that’s you! you exclaim. Well, buckaroo, you’re right! That’s an A+ for you. Now, shut up and listen.

Like I was saying before my ADHD got in the way: I’m not one for self-promotion. I prefer self-deprecation; it’s much more apropos, and it’s easier to employ when I eat my feelings. Perhaps this penchant stems from my late-bloomer status–the feeling that I was always behind the proverbial curve, that I never quite fit in. I was always the last to be picked for four square, the first to get bloodied in a “friendly” game of dodgeball. Even now when I laugh or smile, I still partially cover my mouth, as if to prevent a rogue piece of food from being launched by phantom headgear-like contraptions that haunted my adolescence. I still lisp occasionally, or stutter mildly with my Ss and Cs; still, I think two years of speech therapy in lieu of PE was the way to go. Had I tossed a ball instead of rolling my Rs, maybe I wouldn’t have had to devour Boost bars to speed the puberty fairy along. Regardless of being the boy who was never considered “relationship material” by most middle school girls, warranting a decided “No” to be circled heavy handedly on every romantic epistle passed in class, that blob of braces and low self-esteem blossomed into the awkwardly quirky late twenty-something writing this recollection and staving off sleep in the hopes that a point will come out of all of this rambling and smack you across the face.

Sure, back then I might not have been the hottest thing with my oversized glasses, generic Air Jordans, pastel Duckheads, and bright green Umbros. But I have a few more things to offer now; and I’m not talking about my ridiculous penchant for zippered shoes or amazing hair. I have pride. What, you demand, that’s it?! That’s your point? Well, sort of.

Pride is a tricky devil that informs a litany of unmentionable behaviors and takes a variety of guises. I sometimes anthropomorphize my pride as one of Dorothy’s confidants, the Cowardly Lion. From that, it might not sound as though I’d be the one you’d want by your side in a bar fight. But if Dirty Dancing taught us nothing else, it was that nobody puts Baby in a corner. When his friends are in danger, ye olde Cowardly Lion steps up the game, and Baby takes center stage. And that’s what I do. No, not dance. Pay attention! I step it up, wrench myself from my comfort zone, and make it work–defend the Scarecrow from fire, oil the Tin Man, and tell Dorothy to get a TomTom, stop and smell the poppies, and let me try on those shiny shoes. What I’m saying is that each of my friends knows that I’m in the fight to the end, and then some.

And I am. Regardless of what you and other bigots intend to enshrine with legislative zeal, I’m not budging. It took 27 years, but I’ve finally found somewhere that fits my definition of “home;” and it’s Raleigh. While you may claim to defend god-fearing married heterosexual North Carolinians from me and my deviant ways–my alleged corruptive powers of persuasion, subterfuge, and immorality–I defend the state I know North Carolina can be from you and your unconstitutional attempts to impose your archaic interpretations of history and religion onto the state’s population. I implore you to hear me: I am not going anywhere. I will continue to stare each of you hateful, ignorant people in the face and demand to know why I–a living, breathing, bleeding, tax-paying, volunteering citizen–am somehow inferior. I am not a gay man. I am a man. I am a person. And I will be treated like one.

If I can survive dental contraptions, puberty, car accidents, fire, broken bones, shouted epithets, physical confrontations, and emotional slander, I can assuredly survive whatever you and your ilk throw at me. Sure, I never made a game-winning pass in flag football. But I scored once.

And on May 8th, I plan to score again. And again. And keep pushing for more victories until we’re all united.

Even if we don’t play for the same team.

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Calling All Allies: Yes, You.

I looked down at the three LGBTQ encyclopedia volumes donated to the LGBT Center of Raleigh in my name and could feel the lump form in my throat. Stoicism and I have a complicated history, and I’m usually able to buck up and tough it out. But these three shrink-wrapped books laid waste to any resolve I had not to cry. Maybe it was my vodka cran. Maybe it was the chilly weather. Maybe I was a gay, unhinged.

No; not really. What crystallized in that moment and got the waterworks going was the realization that my family had made tangible their complicity in the fight for LGBTQ equality. My family has been behind me for six years, since the moment after I sat across from them at our dining room table, summoned the courage, and squeaked out, “I’m gay.” But these books were something else. They were a call to arms.

A call to LGBTQ allies: “Y’all are up to bat!” With the passage of the anti-LGBTQ bill through the NC Senate last Tuesday, on the heels of a well-attended rally against the amendment, it’s more evident than ever that we need support, not just from renowned equality groups, but from every single friend, relative, acquaintance, and coworker. Sometimes the LGBTQ community can be overly insular, a leave-it-to-us mentality undoubtedly borne from historical precedent. Bigotry targeting LGBTQ individuals has tracked through time: From concentration camps, where pink and black triangles relegated LGBTQ individuals to some of the most intensive, tortuous work details; to the streets outside the Stonewall Inn, where emotional thresholds were reached and trampled over; to last Tuesday on Halifax Mall, where I stood with friends and supporters rallying against bigotry being ensconced in constitutional terms.

Nothing is accomplished by looking dejected and shaking your head when you hear news defaming LGBTQ individuals. To effect real, meaningful change, you have to act. Whether that means contending with a bigot bullying someone, or driving that extra mile past Chick-fil-A to eat at an establishment that doesn’t discriminate against a minority group, you have to commit wholeheartedly; there’s no room for half-assed activism. You may not think little things like that do anything. But for every persecuted person who learns they have allies in strangers, for every cent that goes into the pockets of another business that promotes equality in lieu of funding discriminatory legislation, we all become stronger. We show the bigots that we’re still here. That we’re not going anywhere. That it is they who will have to leave.

I’m not asking much–only to do your part. Everyone can. In the wake of the NC Senate’s vote, I’ve been heartened by responses from my straight friends, new and old. Some of them have had their eyes opened; some have had enough of the hateful rhetoric. One even sparred with a coworker over the issue when the subject came up in my absence. Yet some allies act as though it’s not their battle. Perhaps it’s a matter of reflexivity: they subscribe to the notion that “I’m not part of the community, so why should I care?” While you may not be, you likely know someone who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community. You may have children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, godchildren who are questioning. Take action for them, for those who haven’t yet found their voice. And when you feel that slightest bit of hesitation to take up the activist mantle, just imagine a legislator pointing to your loved one and declaring, “You are not my equal.” Let that sink in. Think about how such hateful ignorance has reverberated through time, and what problematic practices and events have been guided by it. And imagine that being inflicted on someone whom you hold dear.

It’s not easy to be different. I can surely tell some tales. And it’s also not easy to stand with the minority. But the fact of the matter is plenty of people are doing just that, and are becoming more informed and are reaching more people. My mother is attending a conference with other parents of LGBTQ children to promote LGBTQ tolerance within the Catholic Church. One of my dearest friends told me that she plans to collaborate with other educators to initiate the formation of a Safe Space at her university. And another friend told me today that she is becoming a volunteer at the LGBT Center of Raleigh; she’s no longer content to watch the show from the sidelines–she’s had enough.

Unknowingly, each of these brave individuals may be saving the lives of those who feel as though they have nowhere to turn, who’ve become victims of silence. Silence is bigotry’s bedfellow and deafens more than a hundred Westboro bullhorns. Because in that silence, people are lost; they are forgotten; they are deemed unworthy of support. Moreover, overt, senseless violence and apathy share a disturbingly thematic thread: an inability to empathize, to realize the consequences of what you choose to do or not do. If you see or experience injustice, do something about it–devote your voice to chants of LGBTQ solidarity, informed debate, and biting wit requisite of ripostes to close encounters of the bigoted kind. Don’t back down to hate. Fear-mongers spewing hatred deserve to be called on their accusations. Because their arguments have no legislative or constitutional grounding; it’s all theological, which has no place in government.

Now, nothing I’ve written is groundbreaking, and I didn’t intend it to be. I’m not a bleeding-heart liberal; I’m a hemorrhaging liberal. Because I hope the mess will attract some attention to the scene and prompt others to ask why I’m bleeding out so forcefully. And I’ll tell them, let them chew on my message–really digest it.

And hope they’ll do something about it.