I think I needed it more than they did. Not for me exactly, but for the ones who came before: the friends who struggled and suffered in so many ways; the heroes who made it possible; the haters who finally, reluctantly, dragged their asses to the band wagon. Of course, it didn’t go as planned. Does it ever?
It’s Pride Month and I didn’t want Pride Month to go by without marking it with the ones who matter: my students. Because I remember how it was and, as much as things have changed, I’m not so naïve to think the battle has been won.
When my daughter came out to me, I was gutted. Not in an “Oh my god my kid is queer,” hand wringing sort of way, but because she was so blasé about it. There was no tearful conversation over hot chocolate that went late into the night. It was just: ‘You know, mum. Most of my friends are pan.’ Later, I had to look up what that means.
Obviously, I am delighted that she and her friends have that freedom. Even more delighted that my friends—the parents of her friends—have barely batted an eyelash. I’m still a little bitter at being denied the opportunity to bake rainbow cupcakes for an official Coming Out Party, but I’ll get over it.
One girl in my form came out as Pan over the summer and another has spoken openly about her girlfriend to me and others. And they are not alone. There’s at least one lad in Year 10 who is out and a trans kid in Year 9 who was the topic of a Staff Meeting. The Deputy Head wanted to make sure we call him by his new name and informed us of the arrangements in place for him.
All this fills me with a kind of joy that, as their teacher/colleague, I can’t express properly because it might get me fired. I want to hug them and kiss them through tears and tell them how proud I am and overwhelmed by the world they are shaping for us all. I want to dance with them to Erasure.
On the other hand, I had a stern conversation early this year with two others in my form for queer bullying. The battle is far from over. Which brings me to Pride Month.
Last week, I decided to mark Pride with the students in my form. I wanted them to understand the origins of Pride and to appreciate the monumental progress which has taken place in a relatively short period of time. After a lunchtime spent sifting through options, I showed them Tyler Oakley’s Chosen Family: Stories of Queen Resilience. The queer girls cheered when they saw the rainbow and the word “queer” in the title, though their attention drifted as Tyler Oakley investigated the history of The Stonewall Riots and interviewed a bunch of old queers.
I wanted to scream. Don’t you get it? Two generation ago, you would’ve been arrested for partying with your friends! A generation ago, you wouldn’t have dared come out. A generation ago, you would’ve had the shit beat out of you. Your parents would have disowned you and their friends would have sympathised with them. My friend’s mother brought a priest to their house to perform an exorcism when he came out. People died. So many people died. And your attention is drifting!
How dare you?
‘It wasn’t that long ago,’ I explained, ‘that police raided gay bars—
‘That were ages ago,’ interrupted Girl Who Talks Openly About Her Girlfriend.
‘—for no other reason than they were gay,’ I finished.
‘Half a lifetime ago,’ added Pan Girl.
‘That’s not that long,’ I protested. ‘It took women two thousand years to get the vote. It took blacks in American three hundred years to get from enslavement to the presidency. Never take your liberty for granted.’
‘And anyway, if the Stonewall Riots were in June,’ continued Girl Who Talks Openly About Her Girlfriend. ‘So why do we celebrate Pride in August?’
‘We don’t. York Pride was last week and Harrogate Pride is this weekend.’
‘Yeah, but London Pride—
‘Is in the first week of July so it doesn’t clash with Wimbledon,’ I argued, guessing wildly.
Girl Who Talks Openly About Her Girlfriend shrugged and the bell rang and the moment I invested so much in died. This is how it is to teach teenagers. I want to grab her and shake her until she gets it. Again, this would get me fired. I also want to hug her, cry on her shoulder and tell her how grateful I am that she lives in a better world. Not a perfect one, but better.
Because I remember how hard it was for people I loved to live life in the closet. I remember how painful it was for them to come out and how terrible it is when they decide not to—to permanently live the lie. I remember families rejecting them. I remember beautiful people dying of a disease that became the butt of every joke for a decade.
I worry that everyone else has forgotten. There has been so much progress so quickly: gay marriage legislation; more adoption equality; a community that has exploded as one famous person after another comes out and new ones step forward in a rainbow spotlight. It’s easy to forget and grow complacent. Until the Supreme Court rules in favour of a baking bigot.
As the various people in the video say, we must do what we can to honour those who came before. The ones who put their bodies on the line so that we can have the freedoms we have today. They risked their lives—many lost their lives. To forget would be a true tragedy.
My students might not get it yet, but I do. Bless those drag queens of yesterday. May their heels not break on rough roads tomorrow.