A Night of Fear — A Lesson on Why We Celebrate Pride Day and Other Days of Diversity
In the summer of 2019, a simple act of carrying my wife’s dress put me in a fearful situation and I got to experience the taunting and fear many, if not all, homosexuals have had to go through. What compelled me to write this piece was the June 15th ruling from the Supreme Court protecting LGBTQ workers from discrimination and comments from people I was friends with on Facebook. Many thought it was “against God.” Others commented that homosexuality was a choice, like choosing a car. I told this story to the group, and the reaction led me to writing this article.
I served as an Army Officer. I served in Afghanistan. I bungee jumped over Victoria Falls. I was a licensed skydiver once upon a time. But for a brief moment in time, I was most afraid for my life not on some battlefield, war zone, or partaking in some kind of adrenaline sport, but on the streets of Washington, D.C.
My wife and I were performing in a flamenco show. She was one of the dancers and I was playing percussion. After the show, she changed out of her flamenco dress. I was able to wolf down my food between sets, but she did not like to dance on a full stomach. So while she was eating, I decided to take some items to the car.
I was carrying her dress to the car, draped over my cajon. As I walked to the car, I heard somebody yell out, “check out this faggot.” I thought to myself, “what a bigoted piece of shit.”
“Hey, look at the fag.”
Suddenly, it occurred to me that they were talking about me. They saw the dress and assumed I was some kind of cross dresser. I shook my head and smirked. “What a bunch of idiots. Wait until I tell everybody about these clowns.”
The comments started getting louder, and I heard footsteps behind me. This was no longer a joke. This was real.
“Hey guys, this is my wife’s dress.”
“Sure it is, faggot. Or maybe you’re just a cross dresser”. The tone was more aggressive. Sure, I was in the Army. I had some crash courses in self-defense, but I am certainly not the ninja master Hollywood tends to portray veterans. Besides, I don’t care who you are, three to one is not what I call good odds. Plus, I had no idea of they were armed.
As I walked, picking up the pace, they continued to follow me.
My mind started running through various options. My mini cajon, covered by the dress, could make for a nice weapon. If I got to my car, my son’s baseball bat was in the trunk. I could call my wife, or I could call 91 — oh wait, no I can’t. Since my camera recorded the show, my phone was still at the restaurant so the other musicians could download the video. I actually wish I was carrying my wife’s purse. With all the stuff she puts in that thing, I could knock an elephant unconscious with one swing. Then again, it may have made the attention I was already getting even worse.
“Hey, faggot, you want some of this?” the threatening message was accompanied by laughter. I was still trying to process all of this.
Was this actually happening?
Was I about to become a victim?
What if my option of “flight” was no longer an option and I had to fight?
I placed my car keys between my fingers, effectively turning my fist into Wolverine hands, a reference to the X-Men character. That was the plan. If it got physical, I was going for the eyes. It sounded good in my mind, but I had been in enough fights to know that the script often goes out the window.
I could find safe haven at a restaurant, but that would require me to double back; I was now in a residential area thanks to limited parking options in DC on a Saturday night. If I kept walking, there might be some other places. Would I even have time to get there?
Eventually, they got bored and walked away. I was relieved but shaken. What seemed like an eternity was only a few minutes. When I was in Afghanistan, if we had to travel, everyone participating would go through all the contingencies. We knew what to do. I was not ready to use that here. I did a similar walk every other week as we did these shows. Never have I feared for my safety. Not until that moment. I took a deep, relived breath, packed the dress and my cajon in the car, and drove back toward the restaurant. I told my wife. She suggested I write an article about it or talk about it. Of course life gets in the way and so it took me a year.
For me, this was just a case of mistaken identity. But for many in the homosexual community, this is every day. They have been beaten, made fun of, humiliated. Even if they have never been actual victims of violence, I know friends who have gone through similar scenarios. Can you imagine constantly being taunted, not sure if you were about to be a victim of violence? I at least had some training where I had a plan to defend myself thanks to my military experience. I can only imagine how much more afraid I would have been if I did not even have that?
Some people today think homosexuality is a choice. But when you think about the day to day abuse, alienating family and friends, and job discrimination, especially in eras when bashing homosexuals was more widely accepted, who would actually make this “choice?”
My eyes first opened when I was a lieutenant at Fort Campbell. I spent most of my free time in Nashville, Tennessee, a mere 40 minutes away. I hooked up with a group of Nashville musicians and I was performing at some of the top live music venues in town. While in these circles, I met and performed with people for the first time who were openly gay. Suddenly any struggles of homosexuals were no longer just anecdotes from random people that I could choose to dismiss; I was faced with real stories. Real people. Real discussions they have had with friends and family, discussions that led to some of them being cut off from said family and friends. Even in that environment, many of the friends I met were still not open about it.
Once upon a time, before I was commissioned in the Army, some friends and I made some jokes about having a straight pride parade. It was a snarky comment in a discussion in which we were suggesting that Pride Day did not make sense. But upon contact with these Nashville friends, many of whom I am still close to this day, I understand the need for Pride Day. When we think of other disenfranchised minority groups, we have to acknowledge their road has not been easy, and in many cases, it has been extremely difficult; they have dealt with everything from name calling to outright violence. In many cases, their accomplishments have been buried in history. That is why we have other days and months recognizing the accomplishments and history of minority groups.
Celebrating Pride is about making people feel included. It is recognizing accomplishments; and it is about no longer hiding. After all, I know I am not the only person to have lifelong friends whom I did not even know they were gay until later in life as they had to hide it. When you consider the verbal and physical abuse, who among us wants our kids, our friends, or our family to go through all of this? Why would we want anyone to go through all of this?
As I am writing this, Pride Day was a few days ago. On June 15th, the Supreme Court ruled that LQBTQ workers are protected from job discrimination. George Floyd was murdered on May 25th. In a few days, we will celebrate the Fourth of July.
America has a lot going for it. I cannot think of a better place to live. Opportunities for historically disenfranchised groups have never been better. I’ve traveled to 80 countries and I cannot think of any country that would elect today the equivalent of Barack Obama to the highest office in the land. France? Sweden? Forget about it. But I also recognize that it has not always been a great place for everyone. Between the wars and displacement of Native Americans, the institution of slavery and the legacy of denying opportunities to African Americans, and the discrimination of other groups, we have often fallen well short of the ideals of what we are supposed to be about. And that is putting it charitably.
What makes us great is that we continue to evolve and move closer to the ideals of our nation as envisioned by the flawed human beings who created this country. We are more accepting of different people. Interracial marriages are on the rise. African American and Latino owned businesses are the fastest growing businesses in the country. But as the murder of George Floyd demonstrated, there are still some glaring issues to confront. On my own Facebook page, I have seen posts my “people of God” who believe the above noted Supreme Court ruling was against the will of God. So yes, we still need to evolve. We still have to keep moving forward to bring us to full equality. I am a glass half full guy, and I applaud all the discussions taking place today. I hope they continue and more importantly, lead to specific actions.
And in case you need another reminder, you can just re-read my story from last summer. This is what homosexuals still go through and Washington, D.C is an enlightened part of the country when it comes to diversity. I can only imagine what other parts of the country are like. Let’s keep moving forward.