In 1978, I graduated from high school and set off on a grand adventure of moving six hours away from home to attend college. When I saw an organization on campus that supported the rights of gay students, I joined. Although I knew I was a person with a high amount of empathy, I did not yet have a name for it then, but I was one of the As in LGBTQIA+.
Let’s start with the acronym: L is for lesbians, G is for gay, B stands for bisexual and Q is for queer or questioning. T is for those who are transgender, meaning a person whose gender identity does not correspond to the sex assigned to them at birth. This group is currently being villainized by right-wing leaders and pundits in this country and beyond—not to be confused with another group of villainized individuals who like to dress in drag, which simply means dressing as the opposite sex, typically for performance and entertainment purposes. The I is for those who are born intersex, which refers to the condition of having both male and female sex organs or characteristics that affects .02% to .05% of the population. And the A stands for asexual, aromantic, agender or allies. The first two refer to individuals who experience little or no sexual or romantic feelings for anyone, and agender is a person who does not identify as having a gender, or nonbinary.
Just a quick note on the current attack on the transgender and drag community: Decades ago, anti-gay pundits villainized homosexuals for grooming and preying on children. Today, it is the transgender community and drag performers who are being attacked with this same fear—a ridiculous idea considering that LGBTQIA+ representation will never turn straight kids gay, and the overwhelming majority of sexual perpetrators are parents or family members, not transgender folks and drag queens.
I identify as an ally, which is why I’m writing this blog. When I attended the club on campus in support of gay rights, I only knew about the existence of men who liked men and women who liked women, and many of them were still in the closet, hiding who they truly were. I could only imagine how horrible that would be, having to pretend you were something you weren’t and being unable to express your love for someone in public. I remember imagining a world where homosexuality was the norm, and all the heterosexuals were forced into hiding by both public opinion and government policy. They would have to pretend to be attracted to gay people and may even engage in gay relationships to fit in and not be discriminated against.
I never understood why straight people were so affected by the bedroom preferences of other people. Even the Christians who believe being gay was a sin—they could have that belief, but didn’t the Bible also tell them not to judge or they would, themselves, be judged? It was very confusing to a 17-year-old from a small rural town attempting to make sense of it all.
In 1982, I went to see the movie Making Love with Harry Hamlin, Kate Jackson and Michael Ontkean. I found it to be a beautiful movie about a tortured man living in a marriage with a woman, and after being awakened to his attraction to men, he began living a double life. The film did an excellent job generating empathy for people who weren’t even able to live the life they wanted and often hurt others with their necessary deception. When there was a steamy kissing scene between two men, the entire movie theater exploded in disgust and much of the audience walked out. I didn’t understand that. I have always thought love is love and it makes no difference who people love. It is loving that is important.
After I graduated and started my career in the counseling field, I met many members of the LGBTQIA+ community. For some reason, my openness allowed people to feel comfortable talking with me. I made many friends as a heterosexual, cisgender female (cisgender or cis means you identify with the gender assigned to you at birth). I was born female and I identify as female, therefore I am cis—an identity that provides me privileges trans people don’t get to enjoy. Although I never asked for that privilege, I was born with it, so I feel it is my duty to step up and call out whenever I see discrimination and vilification of the LGBTQIA+ community.
There was one woman I knew who was afraid to come out because she was concerned she could lose her job. At that time in the state where I worked, teachers could be fired for homosexual activity because of a morals clause in their contracts—hard to imagine this was the reality many people lived with. Eventually, my friend did come out to a select few before taking it public and speaking about being a lesbian to help others understand. She fell in love and wanted to get married, but the only state in the entire country that married gay people was Massachusetts, and she and her partner lived in Pennsylvania. Even if they traveled to Massachusetts to get married, Pennsylvania wouldn’t recognize their union.
It didn’t seem fair that people couldn’t marry who they wanted. They couldn’t inherit and didn’t have the same rights as heterosexuals if their partner was hospitalized. Due to harassment, gay people didn’t put pictures of their loved ones on their desk or engage in public displays of affection for fear of repercussions. I couldn’t even imagine not being able to hold hands in public or to steal a kiss—simple pleasures afforded to heterosexuals that gay people couldn’t enjoy.
It was a relief for the community when, in 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Obergefell v. Hodges that all state bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional and legalized it in all 50 states and made all states honor any out-of-state same-sex marriages. Even with this, LGBTQIA+ folks are aware that being themselves in public can be a dangerous act due to the misplaced hatred of others. I remember what was done to Matthew Shepard and how he was beaten and left like a scarecrow in a field to die in 1998 for the sin of wanting the sexual company of a man. His death shined light on the plight of many in the LGBTQIA+ community.
It is much worse for the transgender community, especially in this political climate. People who are trans literally fear for their lives. According to the Williams Institute—a research center on sexual orientation, gender identity law and public policy—transgender people are over four times more likely than cisgender people to be victims of violent crime.
The shame and rejection members of this community have had to deal with is terrible. I love that June is Pride Month to signify the community is proud of who they are and will not be shoved back inside the closet of shame. I support love between consenting adults. I want to use my heterosexual privilege to help others who want to understand and support this community. I hope this helps. Will you join me in standing for love instead of fear?