Why We Need LGBTQ Pride

Why we need Gay Pride

This post is way overdue. I’ve been thinking of writing it for years – but somehow never put the text to page. Perhaps I was optimistic – I think part of me thought “Do we really need another straight person weighing in on gay rights? Does anyone really want to hear from me?” I think I also told myself that maybe the situation was okay now – that we as a people had embraced the LGBTQ community as equals and could finally put decades of hate and mistreatment behind us. I now see that I was foolish and complacent.

Hearing about the so-called Straight Pride parade happening in Boston (my home city) later this summer has made me feel many emotions – mostly sadness. While I welcome everyone to read this post, I confess that I am writing it for my fellow straight people – particularly anyone who feels that a “Straight Pride” parade is needed. My hope is to enlighten you by sharing my own journey of discovery. I’m not here to name-call and I’m not hear to insult – there’s too much of that going on right now. Let me just share a story and, hopefully, change your mind.

Where I Started

I grew up in Massachusetts during the 1990s, at a time when “gay” was often used as an insult. I called things gay to say that they were weird, lame, or stupid – and I used this word fairly often in my high school days. I won’t say that I was the only one, but I was part of that culture. I didn’t think much of it. I didn’t say it with hate – I didn’t hate gay people, at least not consciously.

As a teenager struggling with an avalanche of hormones, social anxiety, and mental illness – homosexuality was just something else that I didn’t understand. It weirded me out to think of people who were so different from my own budding sexuality – it made me uncomfortable to think about, but mostly because I kept thinking “man, I hope I don’t turn out gay.”

And it wasn’t because I saw them as inferior or wrong – I just saw all the shit they got. I didn’t fully process it (that didn’t come until much later), but I externally was like: These people are looked at as wrong in society’s eyes. Even though Massachusetts had just legalized gay marriage, we were surrounded by states that hadn’t, and I saw a lot of stories on the news that were essentially debating the humanity of these people.

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My definition of “support” included liking South Park, which had one gay character on it – so there you go.

I didn’t understand the hatred, mostly because I didn’t see gay marriage as a big deal. “As long as they don’t get married on my lawn – why should I care?” Was a common joke of mine back then. I thought I was being supportive – but I’m cringing writing this now.

“What’s the big deal?”

High school ended and I started college – going from Massachusetts to Montreal (or from liberal to more liberal). Canada had legalized gay marriage as a nation in 2005, so I just figured it was a non-issue. I was honestly surprised to see that Gay Pride parades were still a thing and that the gay village was a vibrant community in Montreal. I still initially avoided it – mostly due to insecurity.

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I was still at the level where I thought Brokeback Mountain wasn’t good, it had just “used” homosexuality to win awards. Of course, I hadn’t bothered to actually watch it before forming this opinion.

But I started getting annoyed at gay pride. After all, what was the point? Gay marriage was legal – equal rights achieved – end of story, right? That’s what I figured anyway (in my glorious wisdom as a 20 year old). I started to think that they were being crass – pushing the rest of the world to not just acknowledge them but demanding our perpetual attention. I believe my thought process was “Yeah, you’re gay. I get it. Can we move on?”

I just kept thinking that “pride” was wrong. After all, pride is a sin in Christianity and shouldn’t we only be proud of WHO we are, not WHAT we are? Wasn’t that why Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was so famous?  I wasn’t proud to be straight – I just was. Why wasn’t that enough for the LGBTQ community? Why did they still need all the public dancing and parades and attention?

My Enlightening

During this time, I met two women who were in a relationship with each other and we all (somehow) became friends. They were patient enough to put up with my antics – including my continued questioning of the need for gay pride and wondering why it was all a big deal. It’s not that they didn’t call me out – they did, but they also kept talking to me, which, in retrospect, was huge.

Eventually, one even convinced me to spend time with her at Queer Concordia – the LGBTQ student area on my college campus. I had stopped by there a couple times before to see them, but never to hang out. I still saw it as somewhere that wasn’t “mine” if that makes sense. It was a place for queer people and, since I wasn’t queer, I figured there was nothing for me there.

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It’s amazing how much I avoided the village – which is an amazing part of Montreal by the way. So many good restaurants and bars in that area.

But she had to stay so, if I wanted to hang, it meant I had to stay there too. So I sat – being bored at first – chatting with her and watching as people came and went. Queer Concordia was really just a couple rooms. The main one was a common space – there was a couch and a couple desks for computers. The walls were lined with posters and bookshelves.

It pains me on multiple levels to admit that, despite being a writer, it took me a while to really look at these bookshelves. It actually wasn’t until that day that I really took the time to read the titles and several excerpts.

And holy shit.

I was expecting books on famous LGBTQ people or inspirational stories about gay pride or something like that. What I found was book after book of “Hey, you’re gay. Please don’t kill yourself.”

It boggled my mind. Gay marriage had been legal here since 2005 – why did people still need these. It was that day that I realized being legal didn’t mean being accepted. It didn’t even mean widespread tolerance.

The Truth about LGBTQ Pride

It’s funny how you can know things without understanding them. Reading those books didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already “know.” I knew gay people had been mistreated. I knew they had suffered. But I knew it like I knew basic math. It was all abstract – all just facts existing in the ether. But reading the personal, often heart-breaking, stories of people (some of whom had since committed suicide) was different.

Because of a multitude of factors, including my own personal insecurities, I had always kept LGTBQ issues distant from me. I acknowledged them the same way that people might acknowledge a spider on a tall ceiling. I looked into it as little as possible.

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Looking back, I think I was still too caught up in my own warped perceptions of masculinity to fully see how much of a jerk I was being.

Reading these books made me realize the simplest truth. These were people. Human beings who went through the same insecurities and hardships I did, only they had a major extra issues piled on. They weren’t “normal” in society’s eyes. They were the insult that people like me had been so casually tossing around. They were the other that we weren’t sure deserved all the same rights and protections.

Did God love them? It was a matter of debate and who you asked.

Holy fucking shit.

When I think of what a mess I was as a teenager (and really through my early 20s), I can’t imagine dealing with any more challenges. The fact that some of these people had taken on my problems and more…and without my caring.

It was that day that the apathy I had built up began to crumble and empathy and sympathy started rushing in.

You see, gay pride isn’t about being proud. It’s about being okay. LGBTQ people have felt not okay for so long – so fucking long – that they need sometime to feel okay. To feel like, “yeah, I’m gay, so what? I’m still human!”

As a straight person, I never had to feel bad about being straight. Every major romance I read or saw on television/or in theaters featured my sexuality as the norm. Every religion supported my sexual orientation. No culture criminalizes straight sex. I had never had to think about these things…because I was “normal” in that regard.

And I never considered what my “normal” was doing to other people, mostly because I was too busy using it to reassure myself that I was okay. Heck, at least I wasn’t an “other” – so, even at my lowest, I had that going for me.

Tulsi Gabbard Pride Parade
I think this partly explains why I’m supporting Tulsi Gabbard for President. I see in her a similar journey to the one I went on. We were both wrong – but at least now we’re trying to be actual human beings.

It was a selfish form of humanity. I had claimed to care about these people while still not seeing them as people. I identified them as an “other” and that got annoyed when they started to turn that into a positive (or at the very least a neutral).

I was the asshole. I had given them only token awareness instead of human understanding.

From that point on, I never said “gay” as an insult again – and I started going along to Pride Parades. It was the god damn least I could do.

So to you out there who may feel you need “straight pride: – my question is, why? Which LGBTQ person ridiculed you for being straight or made you feel inferior? If you’re feeling left out now – it’s because you are doing it. You may not be doing it consciously, but you are separating yourself from them. LGBTQ pride isn’t about making us feel inferior, it’s about bringing them up to our level.

We’re all the same. We all need to react with compassion and kindness. If you want to live in a world where LGBTQ pride isn’t needed, then you have a simple job to do: support, support, support. Go to the parade – make a friend – have a chat. Denounce any who use their religion as a smokescreen to be cruel to their fellow humans.

Why we need gay pride
The fight is not over. The President of the United States recently passed a ban on transgender people serving in the military, casting a blanket statement that says “You can’t trust them. They’re weird.”

It’s not hard. It’s super fucking easy. We’re not the front-line here. We’re the backup singers to musicians who are finally getting their chance to sing. And it’s amazing – it’s so amazing that children born today MAY actually grow up in certain places where being LGTBQ is okay – and not a source of shame.

It is our job as allies to support these people and to help them fight the unfairness they still face.

I promise, if a day ever comes when LGBTQ people rule the world and start saying “Hey maybe we should outlaw straight marriage” or “hey maybe we should start a religion where straight people are evil,” then I will be on the side of straight pride. But that day is a science fiction parody at best right now.

The rainbow is all colors guys – we’re on there too. Please reach out to the LGBTQ community and get to know them. I’m sure you’ll reach similar conclusions.

And – to all the LGBTQ people reading this – All I can say is I’m sorry for taking so long to see you as people. I love you all – Your spirit and patience are fucking inspiring. Keep being awesome.

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Why I Support Universal Healthcare

I feel like there’s two types of Americans when it comes to current system of healthcare: Those who believe in it and those who have actually had to use it. I believe its failings stem from an inherent problem in its design. When most people think healthcare, they think doctors and healing. After all, isn’t that what healthcare is designed to do – to keep the population healthy.

Not in America. In the U.S.A., this is a secondary goal. The main objective of the current U.S. healthcare system is to make money. If you cannot pay, you cannot have service. It’s that simple.

And on the surface that sounds fair. After all, those working in healthcare must earn a living. They have bills to pay too. Yet healthcare cannot be treated like an average commodity because it is essential. When Wonder Woman came out on blu ray, nobody had to own it. They could buy it if they wished. Most people don’t want to have surgery. They have it only because they need it.

This makes healthcare an essential service, much like the police and fire department. These are not people you call upon on a whim. They are called to provide a crucial service that preserves your quality of life. Supply & demand breaks down and always skews in favor of the seller when everyone has to demand the product or put themselves at serious risk.

Let me put it another way: imagine we’re standing together on a hot summer day and I offer you a bottle of water for a dollar. You turn me down because – hey it’s not that hot and you’re not really thirsty. I nod and proceed to set you on fire. That bottle of water now costs $1,000 and you’re going to need more than one. Pay or die. It’s no longer capitalism, it’s cruelty.

And to give full perspective on the current American system – yes, there are other people offering to sell you water, but $1,000 is now the lowest available price being offered to you – since you have a job. If you were/are unemployed, that water bottle now costs at least $2,000. No one is offering the water bottle at a reasonable price because we know that you need to pay us in order to live.

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Greed has taken “making a living” and turned it into “the search for higher profits.” We should not have to pay more for the exact same medicinal care.

To return to the comparison of fire departments for one second. Fun fact: they were not always a public service.

The point being is that we have a broken system that only really works for the people who manage to stay healthy (who are not unexpectedly set on fire). Once anything serious happens to you, you’re at the mercy of a system that will gladly help, but only so long as you keep handing over your hard earned money.

“Ah,” you say, “But I have insurance!”

“Cool,” I respond, “so you’ll only have to pay hundreds instead of thousands when you need an ambulance ride. That is – so long as everything is covered in your plan.”

So I believe there is a better way. More than believe it – I’ve seen it. In my lifetime, I have been fortunate to live abroad. My host country was Canada – Quebec to be more specific. In Canada, healthcare is a government service. Every citizen pays taxes so every citizen is covered.

Simple.

Having had lived in both systems, I can honestly say which one I believe works better. I say this as someone who is a citizen of the United States but not of Canada. This means that, while I “enjoy” the best of American healthcare, I “suffered” the worst of the Canadian system.

Addressing Healthcare Fears
Yes, Canadian emergency rooms still have long lines but – just like America – this is based on need. If you’re dying or need immediate care, you’ll be seen quickly. I say this as someone who has spent time in both. The biggest difference is the bill (or lack thereof) at the end.

And Canada still has a better approach to the problem. Not a perfect approach but a better one. One that, should we as Americans devote ourselves to it, we can improve upon.

In my opinion this is our greatest strength as Americans: our ability to examine ideas, in our states and abroad, and select the best ones to incorporate for ourselves. We did not invent democracy but we adapted it and used its principles to write arguably the greatest doctrine on protected rights that the world has ever seen.

We can do something similar regarding healthcare. Canada’s system was better but far from perfect. For one thing, many of its treatments and services seemed more reactive than preventative – which is always ultimately more costly. I also personally think we should endeavor to include dental and mental healthcare as well.

Yes, it will be harder and yes, it will be more expensive, but these are costs we already pay. Americans have a broken conversation on taxes, one that is dictated by the question “Aren’t you paying too much!?!” rather than “What would you like your government to do for you?” One of these questions provokes much more thoughtful conversation than the other.

Truthfully, I would rather pay an additional % in taxes and be done with it than have hundreds out of my paycheck every week to cover healthcare – healthcare that I can lose with the loss of a job. By tying healthcare to employment, we cripple our fellow Americans who wish to take risks. I can only wonder how many people have been trapped into employment they hate by the fear of losing their ability to pay medical bills.

I also believe that this will help small businesses grow as employers will no longer have to pay thousands just to cover the few employees they have. This is not an employer responsibility – this is a citizen’s responsibility.

We are caring people as Americans but strangely heartless. We are far too inclined to view our fellow citizens as leeches. However, most of us do not view ourselves this way, even when we need help. Regarding healthcare, we all will need help at some point.

Other countries – similar countries – are doing this and I believe we can improve upon it. We can create a system that does not destroy the privatized healthcare industry (keep your private insurance only if you want to) but removes its fangs. A comprehensive coverage system that renders dramas like Breaking Bad pure fantasy. A system that empowers the American spirit to better pursue dreams and happiness.

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I support a system like the one proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders and I encourage you to do so as well. Yes, this challenge is hard – but that is why we must do it. We’re Americans, we’re not known for backing down from fights. We must win the war for healthcare so that we may devote more time to tackling the zounds of other important issues on this planet.

At least, this is what I believe. Healthcare should be about healing, not about profits. Period. We can make this work guys – if we all put in together.

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Why Election Day needs to be a Federal Holiday

Earlier this month, I started a petition to the Obama Administration through its “We the People” website, a service that allows ordinary citizens to petition the Obama Administration for action on various issues. My petition (found here) asks President Obama and his administration to pass an executive action, declaring Election Day a federal holiday. Since then, I’ve gotten a good response – but there is still work to do. Yet I am aware of what I am asking, and that some people do not believe it necessary. Why does Election Day need to become a holiday? Why is this so important. Here is my response:

To Establish Importance/Fight Voter Apathy

Everyone has their favorite holiday – whether it is shooting off fireworks on the 4th or enjoying a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. There are some days that just seem to matter more than others. Currently, there are ten such days that have been distinguished as “federal holidays.” These include Christmas, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. As Americans, we understand these days to be special. Would there be nearly as much dialogue on the controversial nature of Columbus Day if it were not a federal holiday?

Then there are the other holidays, the ones we must find time for – Arbor Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween, and Election Day. Many of these days feel more fringe, or for children. They do not seem really that essential. But I ask: what, in a democracy, could be a more essential day than Election Day? It is nothing less than the day when America renews itself. In many ways, it is more of a birthday for our country than the 4th of July, a date that (while still important) only signified the beginning of our rebellion against England. By not including Election Day on the same level as these other crucial days, it sends a subconscious day that Election Day – and by extension elections in general – is not a big deal. Boy, is this reflected in our voter turnout.

The lack of excitement in how our country works is really staggering.
The lack of excitement/interest in how our country works is really staggering.

In 2o12, the voting age population (VAP) was roughly 235,248,000. Of that, only 129,085,403 actually voted, or nearly 55%.  A staggering 45% of Americans, nearly half the voting population, did not cast a vote in our nation’s future. Compare this with the nearly 69% of Canadians who voted in their last election and the 66% voting attendance in the United Kingdom. America has not had a voter turnout greater than 60% since 1968, nearly 50 years ago.

I know friends and family who say “I don’t bother to vote, what’s the point?” I think we all do. It is sadly not uncommon in America to find many citizens who, while loving their rights, cannot be moved to defend them.

635805743351495674522250072_and110414web “An educated (and active) citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” I am paraphrasing the thoughts of founding father Thomas Jefferson. I am always hesitant to quote the founding fathers (our apply anyone’s view from hundreds of years ago to today) but I feel like this sentiment has aged very well. Democracy fails when too many of its people our silent.

Those dreading government corruption have more reason to vote than most. After all, if you don't vote - there becomes very few ways to get the corrupt out of office (many of them not pretty).
Those dreading government corruption have more reason to vote than most. After all, if you don’t vote – there becomes very few ways to get the corrupt out of office (many of them not pretty).

By making Election Day into a federal holiday, the federal government will in fact be saying: “Vote! It’s important! We’re giving you time off to do it!” Rather than their current “meh” response. Will this make everyone rush to the polls? No – I am not naive. I know very well that a few will stay at home or do whatever on voting day. That said, it would be as equally naive as to say that this will no positive effect on voter turnout. America is full of all different types of citizens, and the ones that wish to vote should be given a chance to do so.

States Issue

One of the first negative responses to this proposition that I heard was “most of the states already give time off. A federal response is not needed.”

The first part is true. Most states do have a system in place. Most but not all. The state of Wyoming has a population of 544,270 people. At this number, it is currently the state with the smallest population. That means, that even if the coverage was 49 out of 50, with Wyoming being the only state without a policy, nearly half a million people would not be given time off to vote. In the freedom-loving democracy that is ‘Murrica, this is completely unacceptable. Everyone should have a right to time off to vote, regardless of what state they live in.

While I applaud the states that have taken initiative, this is also not just a states issue. Elections also include federal employees (President, Senators, Congressmen). There needs to be a response at the federal level to account for this. We’re not just taking time off to elect mayors and the city council – we’re electing the leader of our federal government.

People don’t need another day off

Yep, you caught me people who responded with this – I’m just another lazy American who wants a paid day off. Curses, thought I had you fooled with this whole “democracy matters” ruse. You caught me, I’m just as self-serving as your negative-as-possible dismissal of this suggests.

Except not at all.

But let’s tear this to pieces fully. Even if this was purely the push for more time off, and not reflective of contributing to a solution to one of America’s larger problems – we don’t need more time off – really?

Study after study has suggested that Americans are indeed overworked and that more vacation time would in fact boost productivity rather than hamper it. The fact is that America appears to be operating on an old – and frankly dour – business model. When Japan (one of the hardest working nations on the planet) says it’s time for new thinking and more time off, we should probably be listening. Heck, Germany has one of the best economies on the planet – and they are loving their months of down time.

So, while this is not really relevant to my greater point of Election Day being a vital day off to help stimulate democracy, I wanted to address it too. It is not “laziness” to ask for a day off to vote. Have some faith in the majority of your fellow Americans.

Those who don't use the day to vote however, should be encouraged to.
Those who don’t use the day to vote however, should be encouraged to.

Fighting Voter Suppression

This is one of the greatest crimes in our nation that has gone largely unaddressed. The fact remains that certain individuals in our government, largely on the Republican side of the aisle (not trying to be partisan – it’s true) have put blockades in place to stop many people from voting. Most of this is done against minorities. This is cowardly, and those establishment individuals on the GOP side are nothing short of criminals. By the way, before democrats cheer too loudly – most (not all) is on the GOP. Some democrats do this too.

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It is a cowardly act to attempt to limit democracy for political ends, I don’t care which side does it.

Making Election Day a federal holiday will give people more time to vote, and more time to overcome any obstacles set up to slow/stop their voice from being heard. Many voter suppression tactics revolve around creating hoop after hoop to jump through before your vote can be cast. Say you’re a poor woman whose been working from 8 to 6 and the polls close at 7 – you arrive at 6:30 to vote but whoops, you don’t have your driver’s license, passport, and birth certificate. Guess you’ll have to go home – oh, and what a shame – the polls will close before you can get back.

Better luck next election.

Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press
This type of action has no place in America. It is largely the result of fear tactics

I understand the need to be on alert for voter fraud, I do. Yet there is no massive case of voter fraud on record, but there are many cases of voter suppression. Will turning Election Day into a federal holiday stop all these completely? No – but it will help.

At the end of the day, this is just a step. Obama declaring Election Day a federal holiday will not give everyone a day off automatically. The states can still decide whether to give that day – or another day in its place – to people to have time off. Yet this would be a significant move towards letting Americans know that their country expects them to vote.

Please sign my petition and force the Obama Administration to act. This is democracy, your voice matters.

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One last thing, to give credit where credit is due: This was inspired by the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders and his desire to create a Political Revolution where ordinary citizens get more involved in their government to fight against corruption. Let’s take our country back. I’m encouraging everyone to vote, whether you agree with me or not.