By Michael Hamar
June is national pride month, a month set aside to remember, celebrate, and empower LGBT individuals and our contributions to our communities and society at large. This pride takes many forms and ranges from LGBT individuals and our allies participating in festivals, parades, parties, demonstrations, and marches that announce that we are not ashamed of who we are or who we love. Moreover, it is a means to underscore the fact that we will not be bullied into silent until we have achieved full freedom and equality under the civil law and the Constitution.
Not everyone who is LGBT will agree, for example with Donald Trump – aka Der Trumpenfuher on my personal blog – or with the competing political solutions offered on either the Republican or the Democratic sides of the political aisle. We do agree, however, on equality and inclusion. Some may call for more Government intervention and others may desire less Government action. Nonetheless, during pride events we refocus on the reality that we can and do strive for the same outcomes and rejoice at the progress made to date, knowing there are still battles to wage; and we can agree to wage those battles together as a community. All of these thoughts and feelings come together and receive much deserved attention during pride events.
There are some who would argue that with marriage equality now an accomplishment, the need for a national pride month is no longer needed. Sadly, in 2017, such thoughts are wrong, in my view. In fact, pride is arguably in some ways needed as much now as ever. For the first time in nearly a decade, there has been no presidential proclamation of pride month. Instead, Donald Trump addressed an anti-LGBT group of Christian extremists who push a message of hatred and animus towards LGBT individuals. On top of this, Trump has rescinded many of the Obama administration executive orders and department policies that protected LGBT citizens from employment discrimination. If this isn’t disturbing enough, North Carolina-based research firm, RTI International, tracked 20 years of data on school bullying and concluded that widespread targeting of LGBT youth has “not improved since the 1990s.” In fact, the study report (called Violence and LGBTQ Communities: What Do We Know, and What Do We Need to Know? “) found that “Some forms of victimization, particularly those affecting youth, appear to be worsening.” As icing on the cake, on June 6, 2017, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in testimony before the U.S. Senate that it is “not the Department of Education’s job to prevent discrimination against students in cases in which federal antidiscrimination laws are murky, such as with LGBTQ students.”
On a related note, it should be noted that the Department of Education’s proposed budget would cut billions of dollars in funding for public education while increasing money to support school choice programs, including providing funding to assist students to attend private and religious schools. Disturbingly, DeVos would not definitively say whether private schools receiving federal funds would be punished for religious discrimination or discrimination against LGBT students. Instead, she maintained that these schools would be required to follow federal antidiscrimination laws (which currently do not bar anti-LGBT discrimination), but said the Department of Education would not be issuing any directives beyond that.
In this increasingly toxic atmosphere, it is more important than ever that LGBT youth receive pride month’s message that being LGBT is not something shameful or which must be suppressed to in order to literally survive. Even older LGBT individuals need the positive message that pride events put forth. Still another group, namely, those “in the closet” also needs to see the positive message embodied in pride events which can assist in finding the strength, courage, or resignation to finally be honest with not only themselves, but also friends, family and co-workers.
Internalized homophobia and the self-hatred in engenders can be very toxic. For many years I was within this latter category. Denial and/or self-hate can go on for years until finally some event triggers a day of reckoning and the first steps towards self-acceptance. In my case, it was a family medical emergency and then the loss of a sibling that forced me to face myself, if you will. Regardless of the particular details, each coming out story has similarities, but also strong differences. Each of us has a unique journey. Recently, my friend David Nygaard, a local jeweler (who coincidentally lived in my old neighborhood in Virginia Beach) asked that I share his unique coming out story and insights in this pride month column. Here are David’s own words:
Sometime life takes us on a gradual course change and other times our life can turn on a dime. This was a “turn on a dime” kind of day, the day after my 53rd birthday. It was fairly ordinary up to that point when I had just finished playing pickle ball with an old friend. I just didn’t feel right- but then again, I hadn’t really been exercising in a while and I was out of shape. So, feeling a bit winded, like any guy I said “let’s go grab a beer.” I was a breath from just going home to sleep it off, because, “maybe it’s just the flu.” What I didn’t know at the time was I have having a massive heart attack, the kind that only has a 35% survival rate.
We each drove to the restaurant, but I still wasn’t feeling well, so he offered to drive me to the ER. I declined because I was sick to my stomach and didn’t want to throw up in his car. By calling an ambulance, he saved my life; shortly after being picked up, I passed out and nearly coded.
I was glided through the ER and a series of procedures, taking each in turn, and it wasn’t until they had finished with me and I had settled into my hospital room at about 2AM, that I reflected on my life at this juncture. Ten years ago I was happily married and successful with six kids; five years ago I was bankrupt and in the middle of a horrible divorce and custody battle. Two years ago I was lucky enough to fall in love a second time, but this time, to a man named Matt.
Sitting alone in that hospital room, I decided life is too short to live according to other people’s expectations. It was time to shed the labels that just didn’t fit me any longer, and to stop living in the shadows; my new relationship deserved a fighting chance in broad day light.
Last month I took my first step in an interview and for the first time I spoke publically and openly as a gay Christian man. I had of course introduced Matt to my family and some friends, but it was now time to take that next step. I had reached a point where, with the help of a good counselor, I was ready to be public about our relationship. I knew that if I couldn’t be honest with other people, we could never have a chance at love. Matt and I had taken a good six month “sabbatical” to give each of us a chance to understand our relationship better. The heart attack was my lynchpin. For me, I came to realize my life was better with him and it didn’t matter what other people said or thought. If I wanted this relationship, I needed to take the necessary steps to make “us” successful.
After the article hit, I had many supportive comments from friends. I was sad at the stunning silence from many others, but maybe they also need some time to process. I think we all can use some grace these days. My conservative Christian friends have a lot of misconceptions, and even a couple friends have begun a friendly conversation. I guess I’ve added a face, a voice, and in some cases, a long friendship to this discussion. Ideas are easier to dismiss than 20 or 30 years of friendship.
I’ve been to Pride a few years show-casing my custom jewelry designs, and expressing my support for gay marriage and equality, but I’ve gone as a vendor. This year, I look forward to the Pride events because for the first time, it’s my turn to be there as a member of the gay community… and Matt will be at my side, of course!
I want to sincerely thank David for sharing his thoughts and experiences. I would also stress, as David indicates, that “coming out,” to use the popular term, is not easy. David and I can both attest to this reality. In some ways, it is the most difficult thing I have ever done. Some, thankfully, have less difficult paths than others.
For members of the straight community it is also important to understand that coming out is not a onetime event. Rather, it is an ongoing process. Every time one meets new people, be it at social or work situations, the decision must be made of whether it is safe to be honest about who one is. From experience, I know firsthand the momentary pause of thinking whether it is safe to reveal who I am or not. Educating others that you, as well as other LGBT individuals, are decent moral persons and deserving members of society is an ongoing task. I’ve been “out” for 15 years now and have a fairly high profile in the local LGBT community and have been married to my husband for over 3 years, yet I still experience at times that moment of hesitation and fear of rejection when meeting new people. Just imagine how the newly “out” feel or those who are wrestling with the decision of whether or not one should “come out” or not.
During the month of June, or the week of June 12th locally, members of the LGBT community and their allies can come together and embrace who they are and one another. Just as importantly, they can send a positive message to those beginning their coming out journey as well as those still in hiding in the closet – and the larger society. We are all equally human and equally entitled to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We may differ on tactics to achieve this goal, but pride month provides a unifying message to all of us.