OPINION: "What Exactly Is the Gay Community 'Proud' Of?"

5:01am | The title of this piece is not mine — hence the quotation marks — but is taken from a
comment made by "Dave" in response to the post about this month's print edition of the Long Beach Post, which has a cover story I wrote called "Gay Long Beach: A Work in Progress."

Dave's reference is, of course, to the LGBT Pride Parade occurring Sunday. And since Dave — who calls himself "a political liberal and an atheist[,] so don't start yelling at me for my outdated [V]ictorian morals" — says he's "not being sarcastic" and really "want[s] to know," I thought I'd take a shot, one straight-atheist-liberal to another.

The subtext of your question, Dave, is: Why should someone be proud of one's sexual preference — or skin color, gender, etc.? And I hear you. These things are not achievements, not something like winning an Olympic medal or graduating summa cum laude. Being gay is not something you do. And so what's to be proud of? Gays didn't do anything; they didn't achieve gayness.

Then again, being American is not something you do, either. But say you're not proud to be an American, and most Americans look at you like you're a traitor. So don't pretend you're puzzled by people's pride in simply being, because in these United States that sort of pride is the status quo.

But that's not really what "gay pride" is all about. What it's really about is that for pretty much the entirety of recorded history — right  up to 2011 and beyond — in pretty much every place in the world, individuals who are attracted to others of their same gender have been shamed.

(That's not quite right: shaming is the least of it. They've been beaten and tortured and murdered. But we don't even need to go there to make the point. We'll stick with "shamed.")

If you were shamed for a part of your very identity — especially if it's a part that you did not self-determine — what would you do? Would you be cowed by the shaming and emotionally castrate yourself? Personally, I would hope that this is exactly what you would not do.

So let's say you personify my hope, and society's shaming does not cow you. Even so, it probably could not but affect you. How? An understandable reaction would be to rebel against it, to reject it, to go to the opposite pole. Society tells you to be ashamed? Screw that! You're not gonna be ashamed of being [fill-in-the-blank] — you're proud of it!

In 1968, James Brown encapsulated this type of reaction — in his case, to the shaming (and much worse) done to the black community by white society — in one of his classic songs: "Say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud!" Today you can hear the gay community's similar reaction to the shaming (etc.) still being suffered at the hands of straight society (such as by way of Proposition 8 — but we'll get to your question about gay marriage in a sec) in chants like, "We're here, we're queer — get used to it!"

No doubt there are members of the LGBT community who could have answered your question with more experience and eloquence than I. Nonetheless, I figured I'd walk you through why, even from the outside, the question of gay pride is not so mystifying.

Dave goes on to ask: "Why is it a sin (as suggested in the Post article) to have voted for Prop 8? … I just don't understand all of the fuss over trying to re-define the word 'marriage.' Why not simply ask for a law that gives gay couples all of the rights as married couples[?]"

While again admitting that I'm not the best person to explain this, the answer to this one is also straightforward enough that perhaps I won't screw it up too badly.

First of all, Dave, your premise is flawed. The gay-marriage issue is not about redefining the word; it's about stopping government from treating individuals differently depending on whether the person with whom they wish to join in romantic union is of the same or the opposite gender.

And that's exactly what our government does. By being in the marriage business (and let's not kid ourselves: in our society, governmental recognition of romantic unions carries far more practical weight than does that of any religious sect) and withholding marriage from gay couples, the government is denying equal legal treatment to the LGBT community.

Dave, when you say, "It seems to me that the fight ought to be focused on rights rather than on what word to use," both I and the LGBT community couldn't agree with you more. In fact, that's exactly what the fight is about. It's the only thing that the fight is about. We don't care whether (e.g.) the Pope sanctifies same-sex unions as "marriages"; we ask only that our government stop discriminating against them.

In other words, if marriage did not have the force of law, the gay-marriage issue would be a non-issue. But marriage does have the force of law. Maybe it shouldn't, but that ship has sailed. And since it does, equal treatment under the law must be made to mean equal treatment under the law, not "Group A gets designation M and the rights that go with it, but Group B does not."

Dave, whether or not Long Beach is gayer than you think, they're here (and always have been), they're damn well not going to act ashamed, and they demand equal rights. And that's just the way it should be.

If there's a catchy slogan that links these points together, I haven't heard it. But if you head down to Ocean Boulevard Sunday morning, you just might.

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