ColumnsWhat A World

Fear Not

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Notes on Pride, priorities, and…Pittsburgh?
by Nancy Ford

There is a big part of me that rejects being happy about the death of anyone. In fact, it is mind-numbing that, going on two decades into the 21st century, humankind is still resolving its conflicts by hitting each other with sharp objects until one of us stops moving.

But it’s difficult not to rejoice in last month’s news of the death of that Pepsi-drinking, porn-watching, gimp-kidneyed motherf**cker with the hat, Osama bin Laden.

Seriously. How did intelligencia not know Osama had been living in a villa in Pakistan, not in a man cave in the side of a mountain, for eight years? Did Osama have no snoopy neighbors who occasionally came knocking to borrow a cup of sugar or flour or marijuana?

Yep, sources confirm that the man had a weed garden—the good kind—eliminating any doubt that Osama was indeed one Radical Muslim. If Osama was toking on the chronic, he was also ordering pizza. Maybe we could have found him by checking the caller ID at Abbottabad’s local Domino’s.

And maybe if 14,500 or more LGBT servicemembers hadn’t been released under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell since 1993—too many of them essential Arab linguists—maybe, just maybe we would have found him a lot earlier.

What will become of that tricked-out Osama house? Perhaps a bright entrepreneur could buy it cheap, fix it up, and flip it into a restaurant. “Osama’s House of Pork” would annoy terrorist pretenders to the al Qaeda throne while simultaneously serving freedom and bacon to the oppressed region. Win/win!

Kudos to all concerned on the Seal Team 6 operation: Congrats, Obama; heck of a job, W. But we are naïve to believe a new monster will not soon appear now that Osama is gone.

Americans need something to fear. In the ’50s it was communism. In the ’60s it was segregation. In the ’70s it was feminism and flammable spandex. In the ’80s and ’90s it was HIV/AIDS. In the ’00s it was the gays. Today, it’s still the gays. And Muslims. Gay Muslims are just asking for trouble.

One of my greatest fears as a lesbian is, admittedly, something of a puzzlement.

My heroes are those who have worked tirelessly for queer equality, those who have faced physical danger, emotional rejection, financial ruin, and worse to advance “the cause.” But lately, with the coming elimination of DADT, and more and more states signing on for marriage equality, and Lady Gaga and Glee, as our gay community finally takes its place at the table where we’ve had reservations for so long, I’ve come to fear that so very, very much assimilation may not be a good thing.

Before you start screaming “Traitor!” hear me out. I fear, with this growing, almost “normalization” that—how can I put this delicately?—we won’t be special anymore. There’s a fine, fine line between acceptance of our culture, and losing our culture. Have my heroes been too effective?

For many years, our Pride festivities epitomized to me a very special celebration of gay men and lesbians striving to present our community and ourselves in the most positive, visible, and powerful light. We paraded so that not only the general public, but especially so that we ourselves would realize that we are everywhere, and that we can be trusted not only with glitter but also with positions of authority and honor.

That radical notion came to fruition here in Houston when voters looked beyond rhetoric and religious superstition to elect a very well qualified woman—a lesbian—to their city’s highest office. Mayor Annise Parker’s inauguration in 2010 positively reflected visibility, power, authority, and honor.

Then, like a chafing pea under my princess, a quote from that clever Talking Head David Byrne reminds me: “Creativity comes from torment. Once that’s fixed, what do you draw on?”

It’s not like we’re sitting back and resting on the fruits of our labors. Our lesbian organizations continue to work loaves-and-fishes-level miracles to provide not only mammograms to the uninsured, but also the most basic food needs to women living in desperate poverty. Queer kids, or simply those who “look” like them, are emotionally and physically bullied bloody in our schools every day. Despite 30 years of prevention education, gay men are newly infected with HIV at an inexplicably high rate. And despite a recent Gallup Poll indicating that more than 50 percent of Americans now approve of same-sex marriage, the federal government does not.

There’s still plenty of torment to draw on. That’s why, I’m afraid, we need Pride to be more than a parade. Beyond Gaga and Glee, we also need to remember what we’re parading about.

To re-inspire my own Pride, this year I’m trying something different: I’m heading north to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It’s hometown to Andy Warhol and Patty Labelle, who headlines their Pride Festival on the appropriately named Liberty Avenue, where Queer as Folk is set. If I see Emmett, I’ll tell him you said hello.

I migrated south from that region of the country for sunnier lands in 1981, in search of my gay tribe. Ironically, Pittsburgh is now considered one of the gayest cities in America, even beating San Francisco. Perhaps I can so go home again, Thomas Wolfe. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Whether you are in a parade in Texas or Pennsylvania or Timbuktu or cheering one on from the sidewalk, no matter where you may be, celebrate Pride in your own way. These are our High Holy Days, the anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, historically one of the most important launch pads to our equality. Celebrate it by coming out to a cousin, or to a co-worker. Or, as a first step, just come out to yourself. Be your own parade.

You have much to be proud of. Don’t be afraid.

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