Viewpoint: Happy Pride Month

BY KEITH ORR

Happy Pride Month.

I am a proud gay man. I hope you find Pride in your queer identity. Pride in our queer identity is important.

We are different in ways other than our sexual partners. There is a reason our community is at the vanguard of popular culture. The feminist movement's agenda has always been pushed by the lesbian community. The entire post World War II literary movement was arguably shaped by gay and lesbian authors. The direction of classical music was led by Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein.

I have been writing and talking about the genesis of creative thought since my high school valedictory address, but I still can't tell you why our community has its own culture. I can tell you we have a unique and diverse culture which we should celebrate year-round.

We have a lot to be proud of as members of the LGBT community. June 26 is the first anniversary of the Supreme Court's Marriage Equality Decision. A branch of the U.S. Military now has an openly gay leader, Eric Fanning, as Secretary of the Army. Gay musicians and actors are discovering they can be out and still practice their art and be appreciated by a wide fan base. Unions are protecting LGBT citizens in the workplace. We have a president who has evolved into a champion of our causes, most recently standing up for transgender students across the nation.

While we can, and should, be proud of these accomplishments, we have a long way to go. Marriage Equality doesn't help the homeless trans woman whose life is in danger every night. The repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell doesn't help the gay middle school kid whose life is filled with relentless bullying. It's easy to be full of the spirit of Pride Month while you are dancing in Hart Plaza this weekend. Our greater challenge is to remember our Pride when we aren't surrounded by other queers.

Can a lesbian talk to her co-workers on Monday morning about her weekend up north with the girlfriend? Can a gay man talk about going to the Tigers game with his husband? Can a trans woman go to a reunion of her naval submarine shipmates, from an era when women weren't allowed on submarines? These are tests of our LGBT Pride.

Does dancing your ass off help the homeless trans woman or the bullied kid? I think the answer is "yes." Being around other queer folk is the way we become confident enough that we can project our Pride in parts of our life which are not as affirming.

Straight people have their life affirmed every day in movies, television, newspapers, music, in their families, and in their workplace. We need spaces which affirm our lives. There aren't many such spaces. Community centers, bookstores and bars make up the majority of our safe spaces. There aren't a lot of community centers. There aren't many bookstores. And bars aren't an option for everyone. One month each year we get "pop up safe spaces." Michigan has Pride festivals all over the state. Whether it is in Marquette or Detroit, Grand Rapids or Ferndale, Traverse City or Kalamazoo, we can be proud of our diversity.

Again, I am a proud gay man. I am also a Michigander. It is less easy to be proud to be a Michigander in these challenging times. As we celebrate the one year anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, we must not forget that the suit was vigorously opposed by Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette.

As we watch the return of property values following the great collapse of 2008, we cannot forget that Michigan still allows housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The economic recovery is slowly adding jobs. Unless you belong to a union, those jobs are not protected if you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. These protections should be enshrined in Michigan's civil rights act, known as the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. While we suffer discrimination in the workplace and the marketplace, our Legislature wants to enshrine discrimination into law with Religious Freedom Acts. Hateful bathroom bills are being proposed.

Perhaps we need a "Republican Legislators Pride Month" so they can learn how to create law and policy they can be proud of. I don't see this happening, so we have to kick them out so we can have a Legislature we can be proud of. Pride Festivals are fun. Just as important as the fun is the energy, activism and pride we take home with us from those festivals.

We need pride not only in ourselves, but in the width and breadth of our community. We need to celebrate our diversity and channel our community's vast resources to effecting change in our home state. I want all of us to be able to say, "I am a proud member of the LGBT Community." I also want us to be able to say, "I am a proud citizen of the state of Michigan."

Keith Orr is an activist, musician and proprietor of Common Language Bookstore in Ann Arbor with his husband, Martin Contreras.
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