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Nervous Nelly: Being Openly Gay Takes Courage, Even in 2016

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By Ryan M. Leach

The Houston 2016 Pride Parade and Festival has come and gone. Once again, we enjoyed an amazing series of events brought to us through the tireless (and sometimes thankless) work of the Pride Houston team. If Frankie Quijano and his crew ever decide to move on, our annual celebration is going to take a huge hit.

But in the wake of the Orlando massacre, Pride 2016 took on a more somber tone. Although the parade and festival was bigger and more joyous than ever, there was also a solemnity and a sense of determination not seen since the darkest days of the HIV/AIDS crisis.

I was a little nervous about attending the parade, but I was determined to show my friends and neighbors that we needed to go to that parade and keep dancing. Mission accomplished. I also decided to have a small gathering at my house for close friends and neighbors on their way to downtown. I needed to get some decorations, drinks, and order a cake. After wandering the aisles at the party store without finding any Pride décor, I decided to ask one of the store associates. I had avoided doing this because, frankly, I didn’t want to have to deal with any weirdness if the employee just happened to be homophobic. They were lovely and directed me where to go. The Pride stuff was buried in a section designated for birthdays, but it was there.

Then at the Kroger on Montrose, I asked the bakery lady if they could make a cake with the Pride flag on it. She wasn’t sure what a Pride flag was, but once I explained it, everything was fine. Same thing with the fruit tray I ordered. I was hoping they could make a Pride flag using fruit, but I didn’t have the energy to explain it.

On Pride Saturday, I got into my rainbow-clad outfit and began decorating my house. As I tied rainbow bunting on the upper balcony, I thought, “This might be a mistake. I hope no one comes and vandalizes my house. Maybe they will just think this is for a birthday.”

Then I took my dog out for a short walk before the guests arrived. As cars drove past me I thought, “I hope no one honks or yells ‘Faggot!’ at me. I hope no one follows me to my rainbow-colored house and tries to kill me.”

Around every corner I felt like I had to “come out” to someone. It was exhausting. Clearly, I was dealing with some anxiety about being “out and proud”—which is ironic, since I am one of the most out and proud people I know. I am super-gay, but I still have anxiety about revealing this very normal part of my life.

So, why, in 2016, does an openly gay community activist, OutSmart contributor, and Equality Texas board member have anxiety about telling the lady at the bakery that I want a Pride cake? I am not blind to the fact that at any point, in revealing that part of me, things could go south and potentially become violent. Being openly gay takes courage, even in 2016.

It is certainly true that a lot of progress has been made in the way our straight allies support us. This was made evident when Houston Public Media aired the documentary A Murder in Montrose in June. The film chronicled the brutal murder of Paul Broussard in 1991 near Heaven, the former gay nightclub, over the July 4 weekend. It was a brutal hate crime committed by a gang of suburban teens during a period in Houston when the police and the LGBTQ community were at odds. Twenty-five years later, HPD not only had LGBT representation marching in this year’s parade, but they were applauded and cheered as they started things off. Same thing with the firefighters and church groups in the parade.

LGBT people don’t come out just once. We come out every day of our lives. When we decide to live openly and authentically, especially in a way that is not considered to be “normal,” we do so at our own risk. As a Texan, I try to rein in my gayness when I find myself in parts of town that I think might be less welcoming. I envy those who appear as though they couldn’t care less if others have a negative reaction to their being gay. But if I am carrying this weight with me, then I am sure others are as well.

Orlando has caused me to give serious thought to personal safety, and I see the world in a starker light. I can see my allies more clearly than I did before, and I can see more opportunities to change minds by being even more out than before. I don’t know what that means, necessarily, but I know I need to do it. Orlando has tapped into the last hidden pockets of shame that I developed as a kid, and brought them to the surface.

Harvey Milk was notorious for encouraging people to come out, to be brave, to show their true selves, and to be vulnerable. I think that if there is any silver lining to Orlando, it is that it exposed our community’s vulnerability in a beautiful way. It has also given us an opportunity to be braver and bolder. It has given our allies an opportunity to come out in a bolder way. And I think it has given those who may have been on the fence an opportunity to finally come and join us as allies.

Some of the Orlando coverage ignored the fact that these victims were targeted for being gay—and perhaps even gay and Latino. But it wasn’t ignored entirely, like it was in Atlanta in the ’90s, New Orleans in the ’70s, Oak Lawn in 2016, or all of the other times extreme acts of violence have been carried out against LGBT people in their safe spaces. If 2015 closed the chapter on marriage equality, then maybe Orlando opened a new chapter on full inclusion and equality across the board.

The fight continues. The struggle is real.

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Ryan Leach

Ryan Leach is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine. Follow him on Medium at www.medium.com/@ryan_leach.

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