Does, "I'm sorry; it's been incredibly busy," work as an excuse? Three months after my last blog entry, I return. The weeks have been a blur with classes, Straight Talk parent-child workshops, programs, outreach, management-type work, and more. It is too easy to put "Blogging" at the bottom of the priority list. Perhaps that, along with my disdain for Facebook, shows my age.
In spite of all that, something exciting happened this weekend to bring me "back to blog." It may not seem to have much in common with R.E.A.L. education, but I believe it definitely does.
This past weekend was Oklahoma City's annual Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning PRIDE Festival and Parade. As always, it was such a treat to see so many people, gay and straight, come together for a couple days of celebration, camaraderie, and support. The events were top notch this year and brought together more people than ever before.
It is easy to think that the PRIDE Festival and Parade is a relic of the past, that it is no longer relevant in today's environment of greater personal openness and tolerance of sexual diversity. I wish that it was irrelevant. Although PRIDE has definitely grown and changed some over the decades, we still have a long, long way to go. Here are a handful of incidents and observations to show you why I believe this.
Pride is spreading. Members of the Enid, Oklahoma PFLAG (Parents, Friends, and Families of Lesbians and Gays) were on hand and are currently working on Enid's 2nd Annual PRIDE Parade. I know things have changed over the years, but my personal experience growing up in rural northwestern Oklahoma was that "tolerance" meant that you might be willing to try vanilla flavoring in your Coke at the Sonic. Kudos to the courageous folks in Enid who are not afraid to show their friends, families, and neighbors that not only is it okay to be gay, but it is okay to be gay wherever you choose to live.
The closet is still a very real place. I had the opportunity to meet a former pastor who, after years of hiding in shame and discomfort, chose to move from eastern Texas to Oklahoma City in search of a more accepting environment after coming out. Does that say more about eastern Texas or more about Oklahoma? I met a young man who spent a significant portion of the festival dodging the television news cameras so no one, especially his mom, would see him at the festival and put two and two together (even though many of the people at the festival were straight). I also met a woman who, at age 39, was "out" to her family and friends, but who was not out to her boss for fear of losing her job. (Unfortunately, job security is not a given for most lgbt people in Oklahoma.)
Many stereotypes and assumptions about lgbt people are nothing more than stereotypes and assumptions. I saw lots of parents with their gay children. I saw lots of children with their gay parents. (Two teen girls sported t-shirts that their aunt had made that said, "I'm not gay, but I love my gay mom.") There were old people and young people, extremely religious people and atheists, buff bodies and overweight bodies, couples and singles, and so on. It is wonderful that diversity within the lgbt community is seen as an asset.
PRIDE is an opportunity to grow as an individual. About three years ago, I met a developmentally disabled young man who was at PRIDE for the first time. He was shy and very nervous and seemed to stick out among the crowds. I had a chance to visit with him at this PRIDE and was amazed at the changes. He was confident, friendly, and assertive. He represented the concept of community at its best. He felt welcomed and accepted. I also ran into three young men who were apparently at the festival to pick up free stuff. They giggled and punched each other and said about 30,000 times, "I'm not gay." That's okay. Coming to the festival gave them an opportunity to be around lgbt people and see that nobody's there to get them. If some day down the road one of those young men comes to the realization that he is gay, he'll know that there's a vast community open to him, to offer support.
Support still matters. Two-Fold and Brothers, both terrific support groups for people who are transgender, participated in the festival - reaching out and making a difference; people helping people. We live in a society in which sex and gender are binary: you are either a male with a male body to fill masculine gender roles, or you are a female with a female body to fill feminine gender roles. When someones experience is different, too often our culture freaks out at the expense of the person who is different. It's a difficult road. That's just one of the reasons that groups like Brothers and Two-Fold, and events like PRIDE, are so important. Not only can they make the journey a safer one, they may someday change the road itself.LGBT people can work together for the benefit of all. The festival and parade are proof of that. So was the weekend-long HIV testing and counseling service. Groups from across the metro area worked almost around the clock in the scorching heat to provide these important services, and the community responded. Normalizing HIV testing is critical to getting people the medical services they need, the prevention education they want, and the opportunity to de-stigmatize a disease that too often has a detrimental effect on self-esteem.So what does this have to do with Real Education About Life? Everything. It's all about education - educating the people of Oklahoma, educating the lgbt community, educating the individuals and families - on diversity, on resources, and on how important the acceptance of diversity is to all of us. Self acceptance and self esteem can lead to a sense of value, to a belief that we are each important enough to keep and stay healthy and productive. It's about building a sense of personal and community power, the power to make a difference and to set the sails to direct the wind.
Plus, it was great fun!
If you would like to see some of PRIDE weekend's many festivities, click onto the OKC Pride link and onto the Planned Parenthood of Central Oklahoma's Facebook page. More photos and films will be added throughout the next few weeks.