Like most LGBTQ folks, I look forward to June each year, when I can celebrate what it means to be a part of a community of people and the festivities that come along with it. It truly is a celebration. But this year in light of a global pandemic and the unrest around the recent tragedies that have stemmed from racists acts, it doesn't feel right to celebrate. Instead a time for deeper reflection and subsequent action.
As I reflect on Pride month I think of the many people who risked their lives and fought tirelessly for equality. Put themselves in harm's way to stand up against the systems that were oppressing them. And those who continue to struggle to be treated equally, with respect and dignity even outside the LGBTQ community.
You see, I'm newer to the LGBTQ community. Up until six years ago, I was denying my identity as a gay man. Deep down I was not proud of who I was. I was living behind a veil of self-doubt and loathing, tons of fear, and what I thought were other people's expectations of me; societal rules, male rules. I struggled so hard to hold onto those fears and projected expectations at my own expense, the expense of my former wife and at the expense of fostering a deeper relationship with my children.
Yes, I'm out and proud! I accept myself and in return am able to be more accepting of others. But what I've learned, it doesn't end there. Because even in the LGBTQ community, a traditionally marginalized community, there exists a framework that allows me as a gay white male to have privilege while people of color and transgender people continue to remain marginalized.
It's awesome to be part of a diverse community of people. However, I am only beginning to understand that is not enough. What the last few months have taught me is the need to move forward with intent and courage to break down the systems that perpetuate racism, not only within the LGBTQ community, but outside of it as well. And with my white privilege I need to do more to protect and care for people of color (David, change as above) and transgender in a vastly different way than I have in the past. I am scared, and am uncertain how, but I know it's no longer an option to just stand by.
What actions do I take to challenge the systems that perpetuate racism and oppression? As a parent of school aged children, take action in their school community. As a gay man, take action in my LGBTQ community. As a runner, take action in that community. Find better ways to use my privilege to speak up within these groups, to disrupt and dismantle the systems I've helped create.
I also know that I need to continue to educate my children on how their actions or inaction has an impact on others and model behavior that reflects positive action. I have always espoused treating each other equally, being kind and empathetic towards others. It is only now that I am talking with them about how to be anti-racist. It's hard and I'm uncomfortable having this conversation, as I am sure it may be hard for you to have these conversations with your child(ren). Protecting them will not afford them the opportunity to learn and grow.
I need to keep the conversation about race and racism going with them. This includes the fostering of: 1) accurate knowledge and pride about one's racial/cultural identity; 2) accurate knowledge and appreciation of other racial groups; and 3) an understanding of how racism works and how to combat it.* I can hope that in turn they lead with attitude, values and behavior that contribute to making this world a better place for all.
And so maybe this year we reflect on Pride a little differently, and in the context of unrest globally. Use our strength as a community that we've built over the last five decades to support and uplift our Black brothers and sisters, so that in turn we can move the needle forward for all.
*Derman-Sparks, Louise, Tanaka Higa, Carol, Sparks, Bill. Children, Race and Racism: How Race Awareness Develops. www.teachingforachange.org