Friday, August 02, 2013

The Danger of Watching from the Side Lines...

I don’t have one of those horrific, tragic and ultimately triumphant coming out stories.  My story is actually pretty boring...

Yes like many LGBT people, growing up was not easy, and the  element of living in the closet added stress and pains that many of you reading this know only too well. But the fact is, after graduating from University, life pretty much got better and stayed that way.  I had the luxury of coming out on my terms and in my own time. I have an incredibly patient and  understanding family that reacted with love, acceptance and even relief.  Relief that I had found my way to self-acceptance. For the most part my friends also, proved to be far more interested in my happiness than in labels and stigmas.

Not long after leaving University I took a posting to South Korea. There for the first time I had a circle of gay friends, and found myself part of a LGBT Community made up of American Military Personal, Civilians, other assorted Expatriates, and Koreans. It was an experience that gave me  the time and space to become comfortable with who I am. It is where I had my first serious relationship. Which despite the pressures of having to navigate the minefield of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, was an incredibly positive period in my life. (By the way JD, in case I have never said so before… thank you for that…)   

When I moved back to the United States I found myself living in Chicago. I had my first real apartment on the edge of the Lakeview neighborhood. This area is also known as “Boystown” as it is the center of Chicago’s LGBT community. Here I would make wonderful friends and find my own place in the “Gay World”. Not being much of clubber or even a bar-goer I became involved in groups like Equality Illinois, Out & Equal Workplace Advocates and the Stonewall Democrats. Over the next six years I would stop thinking of myself as coming out, and instead identify myself as being out. I would date, fall in love, get my heart broken and recover all in a pretty safe gay “bubble”.   

After Chicago I would move to San Francisco. Living South of Market, just a few blocks from what is to many people, the gayest place in America , SF’s Castro district. I would live there for 8 years volunteering at seven LGBT pride celebrations, serving on the board of Lutherans Concerned a group working for broader LGBT inclusion in communities of faith, and champion diversity and equality in my job as learning and development consultant.   

Ironically, It was while living in SF, that for the first time I faced discrimination for being Gay. I fell in love  with a man in London, and as has been well documented on this blog, the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) made it impossible for me to sponsor Eric to move to the US. But, as many of you know, Eric was able to sponsor me to move to the UK. While a difficult process, it all ultimately worked out. So much so that now with the change in laws in America, we could move back the U.S. if we wanted to.

So why am I telling you all this…?

This past week as I  read the horrible details of the entrapment and torture of Gays and Lesbians by gangs of thugs in Russia I can’t help but think of how ridiculously lucky I have been. Sitting here in London, a married man with all the same rights and protections as everyone else, I think back on where I have lived. Very safe gay or at least gay-friendly “bubbles” in the world. Unlike people in Russia, many places in Africa, Asia and Middle East, I have never faced the threat of death for simply being who I am.   

I remember Wednesday October 7th, 1998.  I was puttering around my apartment in Chicago, making dinner when I turned on the TV to CNN. The lead story was a brutal attack of a young gay man in Laramie Wyoming named Matthew Shepard. Shepard, age 21, had been lured into going for a drive with two young men, who then beat him into a coma and left him tied to fence along a rural highway outside the city. The news report noted that the victim was not expected to survive.   

I remember walking down into “boystown” There were lots of people standing around outside the bars, and restaurants along Halsted Street, talking about what had happened in Wyoming. A makeshift memorial had been set up on a street corner. I walked into a convenience store and bought a small votive candle, lit it and placed it with the growing number of candles, handwritten notes and flowers that were being placed around a picture of Matthew that someone had printed off the internet. I stayed for a little while talking to people who were gathered there. Some people were angry that people were still sitting inside the bars, seemingly indifferent to what had happened, 1,009 miles away in a field outside Laramie, Wyoming.

As my husband and I walked through London’s West End last night, enjoying a beautiful Summer evening. I found myself feeling some of those same emotions. Are we in our safe London “bubble” indifferent to what is happening in in Russia 1,815 miles away? On an intellectual level you always knew that there were “gay bashers” out there. People who were so conflicted about their own sexuality that they felt the way to “cure” themselves was to attack others for what they feared most about themselves. Yet today we are seeing this behaviour not just from some conflicted , violent closet case,  but from the Government of the one of the world’s most powerful nations.

One of my favorite television moments is from an episode of Star Trek the Next Generation, where the crew is subjected to a McCarthy-esqe witch hunt for traitors to Star fleet. There is powerful scene where Captain Picard, played by Sir Patrick Stewart, articulates exactly what is wrong with what is happening.

The issue of whether or not the International Community allows Russia to scapegoat an entire minority for nothing more than political expedience is one that truly does affect us all.   If Vladimir Putin’s Russia is allowed to stand upon the world stage, basking in the glow of the Olympic Flame, unchallenged for the horrific acts of state-sanctioned hatred it is inflicting on its own people;  Then we truly do not deserve the safety and freedoms that those of us lucky to live in the Boystowns, Castros and Sohos of the world enjoy and so often take for granted.  

If we cannot  stand up and defend those who are under attack for no reason other than who they are, then frankly we deserve no better than what they are living with now.

Vladimir Putin's Russia must be held to account.. The ice and snow of Sochi is stained with the blood of the Russian LGBT community. If allowed to stand unbroken, the chains of bigotry being forged in Russia will eventually bind us all.

1 comment:

Biki Honko said...

Your post brought chills to my spine. Due to media our world is much smaller than it was in the time before WW2, and its time this media is exploited for good. Pressure must be laid on to Putin, must be slathered upon the IOC, and if push comes to shove? Then its time for countries to rattle sabers about boycotting the winter olympics. The athletes themselves need to start yelling and pressure their olympic committees to withdraw.

thank you, thank you, thank you for your post.