Expressing my view!

Sharing with whoever would read my thoughts

What Pride Means

(Note: This article reposted from the SASOD YahooGroup. It was  written by a Guyanese who resides in the U.S. The Center refers to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center in New York City.)

Yesterday, in the quiet recesses of the Center, we met as a diverse group of mostly gay and undocumented immigrants to discuss Pride Celebrations. Releasing tension[s] absorbed from the outside world, we all relaxed, and began sharing our stories of coming from societies where no such celebration can occur, and our impressions encountering our first New York City Pride Parade. Some of our stories were of immediate relief, while others like mine, were of initial cynicism and apprehension.

The first time I was exposed to New York City pride, I decided I didn’t want to be that type of gay man. It appeared too celebratory, extravagant and vulgar. The parade didn’t reflect any part of me. I recoiled. Years went by, as I dismissed it it as a vehicle for certain aspects of the gay community that I didn’t identify with.

Now, as part of the Immigrant Social Action Group at the Center, my impression has been drastically changed. The year-long journey that brought me here has been life-altering, as desperation led to self-acceptance. In my case, self-acceptance opened my mind to all forms of diversity in sexual identity and gender identity. A large part of this was due to my presence inside the Center. It has been a wholesome and pleasurable womb for personal rebirth.

The themes of self-acceptance and wider acceptance emerged in our discussion[s] of what gay pride and the parades mean. Through my friends’ stories, I was taught how the celebratory nature of the parades have facilitated many gay immigrants’ acceptance of themselves. Stories were told that delighted me as I sat immersed in the camaraderie. One woman told of her first New York City gay pride, when she tremulously looked on, until a contingent of her fellow countrymen walked by in national wear and invited her into the parade. She jumped in, and immediately experienced a rebirth, and attainment of pride, in her sexual identity.

Another story told, was of a gay man who, newly arrived in the United States, was in San Francisco with a friend. They went to the pride parade, and were taken aback by the sight of gay men and women marching in public dancing and celebrating. It seemed the American Dream; it seemed everything they had come to America for. As they ran along the outside of the parade asking what it was, they were invited onto a Float. Two thin, brown men invited to dance on an all-white float. They melted into the celebration.

A third story came from a man of Caribbean descent who was afraid of being seen in public in the vicinity of the parade. His story reflected mine. After many years of living in fear, he finally broke free. He now marches proudly and openly. Another man, also from the Caribbean, spoke of his initial reluctance because of the pretentious atmosphere of the parade. Yesterday, he too reflected my impression. As he gradually learnt to accept himself, he became comfortable and accepting of others, so that today, he no longer sees the parade as a distortion of gay pride, but a valid celebration, to not only display our presence, but to invite the timid and unsure, and to entice those outside our community into a celebration, with lowered barriers of aversion.

There are still many barriers to be lowered. A significant portion of the intolerance we feel as gay immigrants comes from other settlers from our homelands, and other countries, who have brought bigotry with them. Even within New York City, we live with prejudice because we cannot afford to live elsewhere. It sometimes makes us feel resigned to failure in seeking a better life. This sentiment was shared by many in the room.

Even when those of us who find strength and courage to come out and immerse ourselves in gay-friendly parts of the City, do so, we encounter intolerance. This particular strain of intolerance is very hurtful because it comes from within the LGBT community itself. I personally know that identifying as gay doesn’t automatically lead to full acceptance by other LGBT individuals. At a recent celebration for gay pride, I witnessed racial tension between two individuals. I felt hurt. I went there expecting to see all facets of the LGBT rights movement under one banner regardless of each individual’s other identities. I was hoping to see unwavering acceptance. I was hoping to see public expression of the move beyond self-acceptance to acceptance of others. I came away disappointed, reeling from the reality of bigotry. Even as we ourselves struggle for acceptance, we sometimes fail to push our own insecurities away. I hear gay men mock lesbians and transgendered individuals. I hear macho-acting men berating effeminate men. I hear every possible distinction being used to discriminate. I feel deflated.

One of the storytellers spoke of coming to the US to escape living in the shadows of his society, but finds himself doing the same here. Yes, in coming into the borders, he no longer fears for his life because of his sexual orientation, but he finds it has been exchanged for other intolerances spread across many of his identities. He feels it against his complexion, he feels it against his effeminate manner, he feels it against his thick accent, he feels it against his muslim faith. The magnitude of the intolerance, he feels, remains the same. Another speaker feels it because she is also muslim, has a heavy accent, and because she is transgendered.

I mention this because it is, and has been, transgendered individuals, effeminate men, and macho-acting women who have been at the front lines of the fight for acceptance. No other choice exists for them. They, unlike many others who fit gender stereotypes, don’t have the luxury to hide behind mannerisms for convenience. So they absorb so much more. They also have to be stronger. It is for this that I force myself to accept all of us despite how insecure I feel, or how chipped, shattered or distorted we may have become in our personal struggles.  The line between preference and discrimination is a fuzzy one, and it takes diligent vigilance to remain on the virtuous side of it.

I have heard the term ‘post-gay’ being used to describe individuals who have moved away from activism and live openly within the confines of the larger society. They have given up some of their identity to be accommodated. However, when I hear the term ‘post-gay’ this is what I imagine: a biologically diverse movement that is no longer a minority, but encompasses all sexual and gender identities. A place where we recognize and celebrate all gender non-conforming individuals who don’t have the luxury of hiding behind secondary identities, and who make the pride parade even more colorful and exuberant. Post gay will happen when the laws of the land truly reflect the real biological diversity that humans encompass. It is the lawful discrimination after all, that keeps so many of us living on the fringe of this society as it did in our countries of origin.

I am happy to have had the opportunity to connect with so many LGBT individuals from all countries, sexual preferences and personalities during my own healing process. Being open and accepting of others has helped me heal even further than I would have otherwise. As I walk in my first New York City Parade this Sunday, I will be wearing personal pride and celebrating reaching it. I will also be opening my mind to other expressions of sexuality and gender identity as I encounter them. The Social Action Group, comprised of all colors, ethnicities, sexual and gender identities, have pledged to uphold open acceptance in defending equality.

We will be marching, celebrating our renewed enthusiasm and pride in accepting not only all sexual identities, but all other facets of the LGBT community. We hope our celebration is seen and shared. We hope that our voices as diverse, undocumented, immigrants seeking a better life as LGBT individuals will be heard, understood, and given empathy and support. We feel strongly that our concerns encompass and reflect those of the larger LGBT community; that listening and giving support to our plights will bring awareness to the gamut of issues, and facilitate a wide-ranging healing process.

Greg
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June 24, 2010 - Posted by | African-American News, Black Gay Men, Black Gay Men Health, Black Men, Black Men Health, Caribbean, community, Guyana, Health, HIV, Immigrant rights, LGBT community, LGBT Immigrant rights, LGBT Rights, Public Health, Uncategorized | , ,

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