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Remembering the Other "Others"

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LGBTQ activist and writer Scott J. Hamilton.
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Today is the culmination of LGBTQ Pride Month and the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. Millions of people will cheer the World Pride Parade in New York today.

Add to that the millions who have already cheered in big cities and small towns across the United States, and that equals one helluva celebration.

As a gay man I stand with pride. I’m no more proud of my sexual orientation than I am the color of my eyes or hair. Instead, I am proud of the incredible civil rights advancements we have collectively made. It has taken the drag queens, leather boys, lipstick lesbians, bears, and twinks. It has taken women and men, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, all of us working together to arrive at such a celebration. To consider our past and trace it to our present is thrilling. It is also troubling.

All month long I have been bothered by something. At first, it was a quiet nagging somewhere in the back of my mind. As the month progressed, the parties became louder, and the parades became longer, the nagging turned to concern. And finally to a smoldering anger.

I am considering the other “others” among us: those LGBTQ youth, women, and men who have yet to come out of the closet. My anger in no way rests on these folks. Instead, I am angry that we still live in a country, a society that forces many to believe that they cannot leave the closet.

The irony of this is that the Stonewall Inn was a bar not for the A-List Gays (a term that hadn’t even been coined five decades ago,) but for those even more marginalized. In his 2004 book, Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution, David Carter quotes a Stonewall patron as describing the bar as “...a bar for the people who were too young, too poor or just too much to get in anywhere else.”

The raids on the Stonewall in the early hours of June 28, 1969 were hardly unusual. The Mafia-owned bar and its patrons were used to regular police raids and abuse at the hands of authorities. What was unusual that steamy summer morning was the instant, collective reaction of the people in the bar. Almost as one, they rose up to the police for the first time. And in those pre-dawn hours, history was made and the course of society altered for the better. At least for some.

It’s easy to stand watching a parade and to forget about those who can only watch from afar. These include women and men who may have married young and had children to “prove” to themselves that their sexual orientation could change. It cannot. These folks may long to stand with other LGBTQ people, but know their marriage would end and ties with family might be forever severed.

Others may live in areas where coming out would jeopardize not only their livelihood, but their very lives. So they feel they are forced to hide in plain sight, pretending to be someone who they are not.

I also can’t help but think about LGBTQ youth who must weep at seeing their peers hold hands with a same-gender partner, attend (or perform in) a drag show, and just be outrageous for a day or two. Perhaps they still attend a church where the preacher espouses hatred toward lesbians and gay men. These kids can’t see a future for themselves as themselves.

This could well account for the fact that in the past year nearly 40 percent of LGBTQ youth have seriously considered suicide. This on top of the fact that 60 percent of homeless youth self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. That is a lot of kids who have been tossed from their homes into the streets.

It is right that we celebrate 50 years of accomplishments. It is right to dance in the streets in celebration. It would all be for naught, though, if we accepted this as the finish line. It is, to be sure, an important milestone. But as long as there are people in our country who are still afraid to leave the closet, the march toward true equality is far from over. Remembering the other “others” in our midst should--indeed, must--motivate and empower all LGBTQ Americans to keep the pressure on politicians and preachers, parents and teachers, to provide for equality in all of its forms.

By any stroke of fate, any one of us might again join the ranks of the other “others.” That is why the Stonewall uprising happened. That is why we must never be content. An uprising isn’t a one-time event so much as it is a clarion call for a greater movement. Let us heed that call.

Hamilton is a national social justice advocated based in Oklahoma City.

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