“Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it’s a good place to start.” – Jason Collins
I always thought that the biggest struggle in my life would be coming out. I knew what I would face being a gay guy who grew up in the deep southern state of Alabama, born into a missionary Baptist household in Mississippi. I’ve recently come to realize how wrong I was.
I realize now that I was able to come out and then walk away. Yes, it’s hard because you’re suddenly alone in a world that doesn’t truly accept you for who you are, but I kept the family that loved me for who I am and I found additional “family.” I found my way. And now I’m surrounded by wonderful people. I had the chance, and the choice, to start over new.
My journey as a white, cis-gendered, gay man has been one that I’ve always considered a “sob story.” Don’t get me wrong; I’m doing great. I still occasionally get mad when someone calls me “ma’am” in a drive-thru or over the phone. No big deal. I carry a purse, or as some prefer, a “murse.” If I think I’ll be uncomfortable in a certain environment, I pull my phone, wallet, and keys out and leave my purse in my vehicle. I can create my own safe spaces by looking around and determining what I should or shouldn’t do.
What I have realized over time, is that not everyone has that luxury. It is true that I’ve occasionally been screamed at from a passing car. I have heard, “RUN FA**OT DOUGH BOY” while simply crossing the street. That was hard to accept, but that is what I face every single day: the possibility of hearing that type of discrimination.
What I do not know is the experience of going into a Walmart and not being able to hide parts of my identity. I can go into Walmart and wear long sleeves to cover my tattoos. I can leave my purse in the car. I can lower my voice, change my gait, and put on that good old southern drawl. Never ONCE in my life have I been faced with not being able to hide the color of my skin.
I continue to become more and more frustrated as I am realizing how many open-minded people I know are not aware of the struggles of our brothers and sisters of color. Not saying that we don’t have good intentions with our marches and protests, but it was brought to my attention that many who share the same beliefs as me were uneasy or opposed to the recent Women’s March. I’ve only marched a handful of times. But I always felt so proud that I did it. But then, I also pondered, “who did I reach and whose voice did I elevate here?”
The problem with this question is that for centuries there is a group of people that have fought. They’ve rallied. They’ve screamed at the top of their lungs. And you know what they’ve reached? Very basic levels of freedom, yes, but freedom at an incredible price. Freedom that still earns way less on average than their white counterparts. Freedom that is in no way, shape, or form, true freedom.
My friends and chosen family of color are still discriminated against daily, whether it be socially, monetarily, or politically. What do I do when I go into Walmart? I hide the parts of my identity as a necessity of my survival. What do my brothers of color do? They’re shot. As a black man, John Crawford was shot in a Walmart toy section. THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE. The man was holding a bb gun that was doing to harm no one. The cops reacted from a place of fear and killed this man without properly evaluating the situation. He did not have the option of concealing his dark skin the same way I am able to the pieces of my identity that bring me the most discrimination.
It stands to be said, that my experience is vastly different from many of my fellow LGBTQ members. What about the black and brown queers? The black and brown trans? That is where this gets even more nuanced and complex. I’ve recently learned this word called intersectionality. There are many intersections by which we experience our identities, and that informs our activism.
We can be activists all we want. We can be inclusive all we want. We can be progressive to our heart’s content. But we need to make sure we are thinking of everyone. It’s not just the color of one’s skin. This is also including sexuality, gender, queer rights in any form. We CAN NOT fully fight for those around us until we encompass every single person in our amazingly diverse and beautiful human race. In doing so, know who you are fighting for and what they’ve fought prior to your arrival to the conversation.
As a gay man, I know what I need to do to conform: lower my voice, cover my rainbow tattoos, change the way I walk, leave my purse in my car. But how do we, as a society, relate to the inability to hide the color of one’s skin? Many of us truly cannot. We can take the steps necessary to advance our knowledge of experiences we can’t fathom. When people say that we need to make America great again, all I can think is that we need to make America WHOLE again. We need to accept those around us that make us a salad bowl, each with our unique lived experience contributing to an overall, combined flavor.
We need to love those around us that are different. We need to change our society in such a way that being different is no longer an issue.
We will not grow as a society until we see the struggles of ALL of those around us.
It is hard. It’s very hard to see outside of the four walls we live in. But we need to ultimately see the stories of those that we do not and cannot ever fully understand. And until the day that the people of color that I know (and don’t know) are treated equally, I will not stop fighting.
Just because I was born in this skin doesn’t mean I have to accept things the way they are. We are all born to this planet not to judge or to fight, but to love. And love is what we all have. Even if we think we are open, it doesn’t mean that we don’t have room to grow and change.
My goal in life is to openly meet different opinions with an open heart and actually have the courage to change for the better. I will also learn to educate those around me to be more aware and to fight for the right causes. And if I spend my last dying breath telling someone they’re wrong for a way that they feel when it oppresses another, I will do it. I will do this especially for those who are discriminated against more than me.
I guess this article is more for me than anyone. I need to learn to be more vocal. I need to learn to be less complacent with how our world runs. Our country’s leader does not determine our country. Our country determines our leader. That fact, will one day, reflect when we are one.
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