So far, this year’s Pride Month has been a bizarre microcosm of living life as a queer person in the United States, and our experience is a microcosm of minority communities in general. This month, the queer community has celebrated itself and stood up for our rights in cities large and small all across the country. But there is a strange dichotomy evident between the continued progress of the LGBT community and other marginalized communities and the horrible backlash against that progress.
In my state of Wisconsin in June, Governor Tony Evers ordered the rainbow flag to fly atop the Capitol for the first time in history. Watching a video of the raising of that flag, just below the American and state flags, was awe-inspiring and brought me to tears. However, within a day or two, news media were reporting that Donald Trump’s administration was refusing permission to embassies around the world that requested permission to fly the rainbow flag in honor of Pride Month. My heart was lifted by the raising of the flag here in Wisconsin and my outlook was lowered by the refusal to allow the flag to be raised elsewhere.
This is the way it goes for us.
In Detroit, tens of thousands of queer folks and allies showed up at the annual pride march. Along with them, a group of armed Nazis showed up to intimidate the crowd. They tore down and ripped up at least one rainbow flag, stomped and urinated on an Israeli flag, and made chimpanzee noises at African-American attendees. Police escorted them away from the event. A couple days before the Detroit parade, the city saw two gay men and a trans woman killed and two others injured in a shooting that was said to target the victims because they were queer. Detroit is not an anomaly. It is America.
Meanwhile, several black trans women have been killed in Dallas and the killer has still not been found. Dallas, too, is America.
As a community, we celebrate life while quietly marking death. We dance in the evening and comfort suicidal friends the next day. We cheer political gains and mourn political losses, often in the same day or the same hour. It can be hard to know whether the day brings laughter or tears. This is the way it is for us.
We have made great strides and with that progress come the last gasps of the homophobes who will not let go of their ingrained prejudices. It is the same for all minorities. As Black Lives Matter and other groups force this country to look at its racist past and racist present, there is tacit support from high-level government officials for a violent backlash against changing the status quo. Members of hate groups have heard the call and responded. Police killings of unarmed black men continue to be an issue. People on the fence who perhaps were ambivalent about certain minorities have been told the gate is open and they can cross to the other side.
Radical right-wingers in office – and there are many – have also heard the call. For example, they have recently introduced countless draconian measures in various states in an attempt to stop abortion and a woman’s right to choose. These bills are clearly not about the sanctity of life, as the same members show so little disregard for life in every other way. It is about controlling women, who have continued to gain in power despite the male-dominated society in which we live. Almost a century after women gained the right to vote–which many would like to take away–we have still not passed the Equal Rights Amendment.
Those same legislators also work to undermine LGBT gains. While same-sex couples can now legally marry, we can be denied cake at the celebration. Legislatures continue to pass laws that allow discrimination against us on religious grounds, that allow states to keep us from adopting children, and that undermine our gains in every way they can imagine. We can still be fired in about half of the states simply for being who we are.
Living as a queer person in this country (or as a Muslim, woman, African-American, Jew, or countless other minorities) is a feat of balance on a daily basis. One moment you are proudly proclaiming who you are and marching for equal rights, the next you could be ducking bullets from a crazed gunman who believes he is safeguarding his race, gender, religion, or other privileged class that he claims is under fire from groups trying to destroy him and his people. Or it could be attacks from crazed legislators who feel threatened by others having the same rights as they enjoy.
These things keep us off balance. It can be hard to stand up for your rights when you are knocked down, when you are cleaning up the rubble from a bombing at your mosque, or wiping up the blood from a mass shooting at your church or favorite night club.
It can be heartbreakingly difficult at times.
It is so hard to see that you are better off than you were fifty years ago, but decades away from being anywhere close to truly equal. Sometimes it feels like pushing your way through quicksand or deep mud. While you may be getting closer to that safe shore of equality, you wonder if you will have the strength to make it all the way there. Some days you simply want to give up the fight. Somehow you find the strength to push ahead, and then someone pushes you back. You get back up and move forward again and find someone standing in your way. You work your way around them. Despite all the obstacles, you keep going because you have to, because you are a human being with dignity and determination, and you will not let hatred in any of its forms keep you from love.
At some point, you realize we are not alone. You understand that we are all in this together, that if you don’t stand alongside your African-American brothers and sisters in their struggle, they will not stand with you. You see it is ultimately the same struggle and get that we can reach the goal together. We are in it with women, immigrants, queer folks, and countless others who are striving to fulfill the dream of this nation. You know that together – all of us together – will overcome.
Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin, Callen Harty is a longtime Madisonian and the author of “Empty Playground: A Survivor’s Story,” a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse, and “My Queer Life,” a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man.