How progressive is Chattanooga really when it comes to acceptance of all lifestyles?
There are all sorts of ways to keep a finger on the pulse of our culture. Perhaps most simply is to let the morning and evening news provide the info. My problem with that is letting the talking heads decide what goes in to my talking head, and, sometimes subtly, sometimes not, how I’m supposed to feel about it. And while I want to be on top of what’s important and timely in our culture, from trends to politics, current events to spirituality, and okay I admit it, what’s new in the Brangelina saga, I usually want to absorb those issues at my pace, and to the degree I choose.
So I use the Internet. I take in what I want while keeping in mind that it’s important to absorb the news in manageable doses. This is widely acknowledged in mental health fields: Don’t glue yourself to the tragedies…take breaks, take deep breaths, ponder and have conversations, but don’t obsess till you give yourself nightmares.
I find, however, that there are even more immediate, interesting and creative ways to check the pulse of this life, just by getting out on the streets and mingling. For instance, what’s on the T-shirts of the college kids? “Legalize it.” “Love is Love.” “Got Pride?” And how about on bumper stickers: “I’m a Democratic Interracial Lesbian War Veteran Mother and I vote!”
Unfortunately, I don’t find a lot of progressive signage here in our neck of the woods. But because I like to travel, and I’ve lived on the coasts, I do find that coastal and larger cities choose which side of history they want to be on, and are not afraid to announce it.
Upon arriving back home to a land where churches rent electronic billboards along the Interstate, and where the most common bumper stickers seem to be stick figure families, those progressive communities that are willing to stick their necks out and declare what they stand for, even if it isn’t popular, warm my heart.
And given that this is Pride season in our little hamlet (and in other southern cities now that the weather has cooled), and having just returned from a road trip to other corners of the country, I want to share some of these right-to-free-speech, burn-your-bra, All Lives Matter sentiments with you. I spotted them in diverse places: on cars, highway signs, T-shirts, church signs, college campuses, and more. Here are some LGBTQ and Human Rights examples worth pondering.
“So same-sex couples don’t make good parents? When was the last time a gay couple disowned their child for being straight?”
When I was a therapist working at free clinics in Los Angeles in the ‘80s and ‘90s, it was not uncommon to find a malnourished, unwashed homeless youth knocking on my office door looking for services of the most basic nature: housing, food, clothing. You see, many youths are thrown out of their households, left to live on the streets, when it is disclosed to the parents that the child is gay. Disowned and discarded.
While folks are often appalled upon hearing this, here’s the reality: it’s still happening in many parts of the country, our country. We’re not talking about fundamentalist third-world religion-crazed cultures. We’re talking about right here, at home. And even if one isn’t kicked to the curb, there are many ways to freeze someone out of feeling that they belong to their tribe.
“For those who think sexuality is a choice: Choose it. Right now. Choose to be gay. Oh…you can’t do it? Why not? It’s your choice, right?”
I’ve written two books, gone on two cross-country book tours, facilitated countless support groups, and counseled literally thousands of individuals, couples and families. And do you know what the primary sticking point to understanding sexual identity is? It’s the belief that it is a choice. And where do they first absorb this belief? The pulpit.
My suggestion is this: If you want to know if being gay is a choice or not, then ask a gay person. Open your mind to really hear the answer, and you’ll find that the majority of gay people knew about “being different” early on, during the wonder years. And, unfortunately, this also means they learned about fear early on.
And you know what? Even if being gay was a choice—which it is not, as I have hopefully made clear—what would be wrong with that? Why aren’t we celebrating the loving choices of others? Why does everyone have to believe like you do? And judge like you do?
During my travels, this was but one notable bumper sticker: “Claiming that someone else’s marriage is against your religion is like being angry at someone for eating a doughnut because you’re on a diet.”
And on a T-shirt from FCKH8: “Tell me again how you think God will judge others for who they love, and not judge you for hating someone you’ve never met?”
On a highway billboard, there was a picture of an African American man holding his infant son, with this caption: “I don’t know what my son’s sexual orientation is going to be, and because I don’t know, I am about the business of creating a world where he can express himself in ways that are healthy and where he is safe to be who he is.”
On another billboard: “Gay people getting married? (Next they’ll be allowed to vote and pay taxes.)”
I saw this on an 18-wheeler (driven by a big, burly guy I would not want to tangle with): “Homosexuality is found in over 450 species. Homophobia is found in only one. Which one seems unnatural now?”
I spotted this in a store window: “Same-sex marriage is not gay privilege, it’s equal rights. Privilege would be something like gay people not paying taxes. You know, like churches don’t.”
And this has become one of my favorites: “It’s about bathrooms? False. Just like it was never about water fountains.”
Let me be clear: this is not a story only for LGBTQ folks. Look, you don’t have to be an animal to support animal rights, and you don’t have to be gay to support gay rights. Non-gay celebrities seem to have plenty to say about this.
For instance, from Anne Hathaway, actress and human rights advocate: “In my household, being gay was, and is, no big deal. When my brother came out, we hugged him, said we loved him, and that was that. We’re openly supportive of gay marriage and gay adoption. We’re not being ‘brave’. We’re being decent human beings. Love is a human experience, not a political statement.”
From Kurt Cobain: “I’d rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I am not.”
From Lady Gaga: “Don’t you ever let a soul in the world tell you that you can’t be exactly who you are.”
From Meryl Streep: “Whatever makes you different or weird—that’s your strength.”
I have a friend here in town who can often be seen wearing her favorite T-shirt: “I’m not gay, lesbian, transgendered or bisexual. I am an ally. I just support this crazy thought that everyone should have equal rights.”
Another friend here told me that the equality symbol on her vehicle that signifies her support for all human rights, is sometimes a bone of contention. She said that at least once a week someone at the gas station, grocery store, or at her place of business will question her about it with hostility, as if she not only shouldn’t believe in equal rights, but is crazy for doing so.
I know many people believe that Chattanooga is a progressive city. And, by comparison to most southern cities, it is. I know that I especially enjoy Chattanooga’s support of the Arts, its abundant natural beauty and all the healthy outings that go with that, the beautiful riverfront. I support the diverse restaurants, pubs, galleries and shops thriving downtown, north shore and Southside. There’s a youthful, dynamic, entrepreneurial spirit here.
So in many ways, it’s a progressive town. But are attitudes toward LGBT citizens (and other minorities) also progressive?
I know for some of you this is a lot to take in. Maybe you’ll share this article with relatives and co-workers. Progressive parents might use this as a teaching tool to keep your own kids from becoming bullies, or from becoming a young person who is ashamed of who he or she is. And some of you may hide this in a National Geographic under the bed.
So before we get too self-congratulatory, let me suggest that you ponder the following during this year’s Pride celebrations, as it still rings true in many parts of our country, including our own back yards.
“Pride was not born out of a need to celebrate being gay, but instead the right to exist without persecution. So maybe instead of wondering why there isn’t a Straight Pride movement, straight people could be thankful they don’t need one.”