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Pride Month Reflections

Diversity Equality Inclusion - June 18, 2024

Reflections on Pride Month

by Bruce Rieder, Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads Resident

As I reflect today on the 44th Pride Month of my experience, measured from my twenties when I can honestly say I was out to the world, my mind turns to my own little piece of history. Rather than sharing how things might have been different for LGBTQIA people “back in the day”, I thought it more useful to share how I think things are very similar. It’s been said that history doesn’t repeat itself, but often rhymes. I think it also echoes and whispers.

I’m thinking today of a time in my history when I was a child; how there was no real language for what I was feeling—feelings that I noticed seemed very different from what my peers were expressing. The summer I was 14, I remember the evening news reporting on the Stonewall Riot as I watched with my mother. I remember thinking “good for them”. I don’t think I’d heard the word homosexuals before then, and it was later still before I heard the words gay or lesbian.

I feel this history rhyme with children today, especially transgender and non-binary kids who are looking for the words. I hear the echo in LGBTQIA people now named queer, and I feel honored to be included among their number in the process of figuring out how to own a new word together.

Coming Out

Echoing the good witch Glinda from the Wizard of Oz, in 1978 Harvey Milk urged us all who then knew they were gay to “come out, come out, wherever you are.” Not too much has really changed about coming out today, I think. The hardest part is the agonizing rumination of weeks, months and years spent in preparation and reconciliation of one’s private fears with one’s reality. “Will I ever live a normal life—seen, safe, free, loved and complete?” It is the question that for me gave way to the closing question that opened the door: “What is normal and who decides that for me if it is not me?” I realized that I could decide to take the risk of revealing myself to be seen, and that there lies the way to safety, freedom, love and completeness.  Coming out is indeed a fearless, free and responsible search for truth and meaning and that search, I believe, continues for many others today.

Little did I know at the time that coming out would become existential as the AIDS pandemic took friends and as a government looked on in actual indifference and denial of our existence, when they weren’t openly mocking and demonizing us. I recall well the terror I felt for some months in 1984 as plans for quarantining gay people was actively discussed by the federal government. This experience rhymes today with hateful legislation across the country targeting transgender people while explicitly denying that they exist. I hear the whisper of those lost too soon to death and despair and I honor them, imagining how the world would be different if they remained among us.

In this season of both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, I think about my parents who were of the character that some of us who are queer were lucky enough to have. My parents knew that I was different in ways they didn’t really have words for. They never perceived that I was broken and therefore never tried to “fix” me. Parents today still struggle with their response to something that they may not have words for. Parents today still love their children, want what is best for them and consider an appropriate parenting style. At the agonizing coming out to my parents as a young adult, their immediate response was, “well, dear, we knew that.”  It wasn’t until after they died that I fully appreciated the depth of their love and acceptance. Echoes and whispers.

Recognizing Allies

I think about my siblings, friends and teachers who also knew I was different as I was growing up and beyond. These were people who nurtured and protected me when I didn’t even fully realize I needed protection. Rhymes with allies. They’ve always been there, often quietly navigating issues on my behalf that I didn’t know were issues.

Many years later at work I accidentally overheard a conversation regarding my compensation review between my immediate superior and the company president (a speaker phone was involved). After having worked with these people for 20 years, I learned from this overheard conversation that I was perceived by the company president as “not having a family” and therefore not worthy of compensation equal to that of the childless married heterosexual who was lateral to my position. This, although my husband, Peter, was well known by my superiors and co-workers as he had for most of those 20 years attended the company events where spouses were included. My superior held firm with his recommendation that I be compensated equally, and I was. Allies arrive throughout life and are sometimes difficult to distinguish from those who smile while they discriminate. Echoes.

Just over 10 years ago, after a 28-year-long engagement, Peter and I found ourselves in front of a clerk at the courthouse becoming legally married. Our decision process, coming as we were preparing our taxes, was all business; something like,” yeah, this would be a heck of a lot easier if we were legally married. Let’s put that on the to do list.” That was in fact our marriage proposal. Then a few weeks later, the clerk prompted us through the ceremony and in that instant we both dissolved into tears. You see, in almost 30 years we’d never really imagined until that very moment that this validation of marriage was possible for us. Whispers of the ongoing insecurity of same sex marriage. Echoes of being seen, safe, free, loved and complete—in other words, rhymes with normal.

My wish for all of us is to be alert to these rhymes, echoes and whispers of the collective and individual pieces of history that each of us inhabit. Who is there in this world who has held you up, regardless of your identity, and who continues to hold you up? Who is there in this world that you can hold up, quietly when they may not even perceive the need of your help?

I have one final observation about how things are very much the same for queer people then and now. I can say from personal experience that there are old queer people who live happy, fulfilled, joyful, dare I say “normal” lives. They were there when I was a child even if I could not see them or hear their voices to have imagined it, but they were there for me. I am grateful to be one of those old people today, even while fully recognizing my privilege and living in awareness and honor for those lost. For all the change I’ve seen in my almost 70 years, I’m most grateful to have found the connection to all of humanity, even if I could not have imagined it.

During this Pride Month, no matter how you identify, may you be seen, safe, free, complete and loved in your inherent worth and dignity, and just as you are.

The times they are a changing,

There will be better days.

Imagine it.

__________________________

Goodwin Living DEI Committee: Statement of Purpose: Educate, Embrace and Empower team members, residents, members* and all served by Goodwin Living to support Diversity, Equality and Inclusion.

Goodwin Living DEI Committee Desired Outcome: The Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Committee (DEI) will seek open and honest communication and collaboration that will inform and celebrate the age, culture, ethnicity and sexual orientation of team members, residents, members* and all served by Goodwin Living without bias.

*Members include Priority Club members and Goodwin Living at Home.

Questions or comments? Please contact us DEI@GoodwinLiving.org

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