Sunday, June 26, 2005

Things change

Sometimes I get cynical and forget that not all of the recent changes in American society have been for the worse. Usually, there's something to remind me that things do get better sometimes. This weekend was one of those somethings.

We homeschool, and Friday is "field trip day." But this week, we put the field trip off until Saturday and took the kids to PrideFest: Civics, social studies and American culture in Tower Grove Park. It was, I'm sorry to say, too oppressively hot and humid for us to stay as long as we would have liked (there was a multi-couple commitment ceremony wedding scheduled for the afternoon). The kids got hot and cranky and we cut our time there short.

But ...

I'm not even forty years old yet, and I can remember when it was simply considered impermissible to acknowledge that homosexuality existed or that if it did that it was anything other than an aberration.

I remember when calling someone a "fag" or a "queer" was considered the ultimate insult.

I remember when people lost, or failed to get, jobs on the basis of the perception that they might be homosexual. I knew teachers about whom it was whispered that they were "light in the loafers" and it was obvious that they were under closer and more constant scrutiny than their fellow teachers. That still happens some, I'm sure, but not as often.

I remember when gay and lesbian groups were very cautious about giving out their meeting locations and times from fear of being attacked. And I can remember a few of those attacks (the firebombing of the Metropolitan Community Church in Springfield, Missouri, for example -- by the same group that attacked the local synagogue).

I remember -- it was only 16 years ago! -- when a friend's house was burned down while we were at a candlelight vigil for the victims of AIDS. He was one of the leaders in a group supporting a university theatre company's decision to produce Larry Kramer's "The Normal Heart." The "God Hates Fags" nutjobs were thick on the ground and still thought they were in control.

And now, PrideFest is just another day in the park. Yeah, there's certainly a higher concentration of same-sex couples in one place, and there's a festival emphasis on sexual orientation, but there's nothing that's unusual in and of itself (including the festival emphasis -- ever been to a wet t-shirt contest? Much more focused on sexuality as such).

Even sixteen years ago -- even ten years ago -- a same-sex couple walking down the sidewalk holding hands were doing something incredibly brave, for which they might just find themselves in a fight. Now ... they're just another couple out for a stroll.

It's still an uphill battle, as the nutjobs fight their last-ditch action to keep their fellow Americans from exercising their right to marry ... but tolerance is winning. Matthew Shepard is the exception instead of the rule. Being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is fast becoming just another one of those differences that makes no difference unless you're looking for a romantic or sexual relationship.

That's a good thing.

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