Out in PublicMay 15, 2007
Saturday, I spent the day at Cedar Point Amusement Park in Ohio. It was a beautiful sunny day, although the breeze off Lake Erie kept the temperature from climbing much over 60o. The park was crowded as this was opening day. Not only did the locals show up, but there were thousands of school students there as part of music festivals and adjudications. I certainly couldn’t guess at numbers, but by mid-afternoon, lines for some of the big coasters were estimated to be at a 2 hour wait.
Sometimes when I’m out in public with a lot of people surrounding me, I get to thinking about statistics and the rule of thumb about gay & lesbian people being about 1 in 10. I knew that there had to be hundreds of my lgbt brothers and sisters in the park. When I was done riding, I took to people-watching. I turned on the gaydar and soon noticed a number of men, and a few women that were most likely gay. Quite a few were obviously couples; their body language as well as the looks they gave each other revealed that connection. Others were there as friends, perhaps 6 men in a group, and while they set off the gaydar, it was clear that these men were not in relationships. I suppose that I should add a disclaimer here that I’m sure I was not accurate in all of my assumptions. I even had to laugh at myself when I realized that the 2 men I had spotted in line at a rollercoaster were European, and not necessarily gay.
Two couples from that day stand out in my mind. The first couple was a lesbian couple that I saw holding hands as they walked through the park. It was late in the afternoon and the sun was already starting to make its way to the horizon. They caught my eye because one of the women was striking and attractive to me; in other words, she looked like a guy. The other woman was not particularly butch, nor exactly feminine. She was, I think, being herself and not fitting into any particular stereotype. So many lgbt people just don’t fit the stereotypes. I thought of their bravery, of how often we speak of being “out and proud” yet we try to blend in with the rest of the population when we’re in public. The thought also crossed my mind that while brave, they did have some benefit from their appearance as a straight couple. They were “passing.”
The second couple, I spotted later in the evening. It was around 8:00pm, the air was cooling off, the crowds were making their way to the exits. I saw two young men wearing hoodies, hoods up, walking quickly past me, and as they passed, I noticed that they were holding hands. My heart jumped! What a world that they can show affection like this, which would have been unthinkable even five or ten years ago. I started to follow them, first with my eyes, then with my feet. Then I saw the thing that stopped me in my tracks and made my stomach turn. Two young women, teenagers, caught sight of what I had seen. They began laughing and jumping up and down, then they followed the young men. These girls pulled out their cell phones and tried to get a picture of the guys. I followed at a safe distance. I lost sight of the young lovers, but I didn’t lose sight of the girls who mocked them. They laughed hysterically, and quickly busied themselves with texting and calling their friends.
I knew that I would be writing about this event at some point this week. I didn’t know that one man who must take some responsibility for the widespread hatred of homosexuals would die today. JerryFalwell has built not only a career but an empire out of spiritual violence against gay and lesbian people. His legacy will be the hateful things he said of us, and our work has been and will be for a long time, fighting the misinformation this one person has spread throughout this country. As I was thinking about where this installment of my blog would go, I figured I had to place the blame for those teenaged girls’ behavior on Mr. Falwell, and others like him who make it difficult, and dangerous to be gay in a country built on freedom.
The real heroes on Saturday were the young men who held their breath, grabbed each others’ hands and said “let’s go for a walk.” They had to know what might happen, as all of us in this particular minority are painfully aware of the dangers. We know that we may indeed become a victim of a hate crime, and that it’s possible our cries for help will be ignored by witnesses, law enforcement agencies, even our President. I feel like those 2 young men took a sledge hammer to the wall of oppression that day. There is hope, freedom is coming.