I am as straight as the crease in George Will’s slacks. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of.
To be clear, it’s also not something of which I am ashamed. Truth be told, it’s not something I’ve ever had to think much about, not something I’ve ever had to defend or deny. You might call that heterosexual privilege. It’s one of the things that makes the current festivities — June is LGBTQ Pride Month — necessary.
As Pride Months go, this one is particularly auspicious as it marks the 50th anniversary of the June 28, 1969 Stonewall Uprising, the Lexington and Concord of the gay rights movement. Sadly, this celebration also arrives in the shadow of a dramatic retrenchment of intolerance against LGBTQ Americans.
Recently, we’ve seen two gay men and a transgender woman murdered in Detroit and a gay man shot to death in greater Atlanta, even as statistics show a steady uptick in sexual orientation hate crimes since 2014. On Monday, the vice president, a committed homophobe, defended a State Department directive ending what had become a routine practice of allowing the rainbow pride flag to be flown outside American embassies in June. Then there was the announcement that a band of right-wing provocateurs is planning a so-called “straight pride parade” in Boston, in mockery of the LGBTQ community.
All of which suggests both the limitations of, and the need for, LGBTQ pride. and while that is a paradoxical paradigm, it’s not an unfamiliar one. No, we’ve seen this before.
Consider the old James Brown song, “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.” Released in 1968, it became an anthem for the Black Power Movement, a song that helped define the struggle for African-American freedom.
But some contrarian part of me has always balked at the idea that it was necessary to assert such ostentatious pride in being black. “Black,” after all, isn’t something you achieve by dint of hard work or talent. “Black” is something you’re born, something you are, through no effort of your own. What’s the point of being proud of something you had nothing to do with?
Again, that’s just the contrarian in me. Because the answer is as obvious now as it was 51 years ago. Black pride was required as a corrective to a culture that taught us black was something to be ashamed of, proof of physical, moral or mental defect.
That ethos is what made it necessary to raise a clenched fist, comb out an Afro and declare oneself black and proud. It was pride as self-defense.
Much the same is true of the LGBTQ pride movement. Though that’s something its detractors choose not to comprehend, it’s easily discernible in the simple fact that a “straight pride parade” sounds so peevishly stupid. “Straight” has never needed “pride,” because straight has never needed to defend itself.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Americans, on the other hand, do. Even in an era of unprecedented advance, they still face street violence, elevated suicide rates, and denigration in every aspect of life from joining the U.S. military to ordering a cake from the local bakery.
Small wonder LGBTQ people reach for the same corrective black people and, for that matter, Latino people and Southern people, have historically embraced. But one hopes — for them and for all of us — that “pride” is only a way station to something larger and more accepting, something that has learned to celebrate all the ways our differences make us human.
It is well and good that LGBTQ people are “proud.”
It will be better when they don’t have to be.
Pitts is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Miami Herald. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.