This summer I finally mustered the courage to attend my first LGBT brown bag lunch & friends gathering. I hoped to find community and a sense of belonging. My packed lunch was small but like the others included a bit of courage.
I entered the room cautious, seated myself in the oval shaped room directly across its entrance, landing in an empty love seat. As I unpacked lunch I scanned the room FBI style, noting the group was comprised of 50 to 70 year olds. For all intents and purposes most were closer to my dad’s age group. I took a deep breath noting these were his people. Coupled men, coupled women and singles, in total about 20. Some were acquaintances, a small handful squirm-ish, taking it all in newbies just like me.
A couple minutes past noon a woman co-chair called the meeting to order. One by one we rounded the room introducing ourselves. As my turn came closer my nerves began to unravel. The room went a bit fuzzy. My mind began to rant: Will they judge me? Will they disapprove? Will they be hurt, offended by what I say? Was this a mistake?
I so wanted to be embraced by this cast of extended family, cheered on for my dedication to gay diversity do-gooding. My work has been personally rewarding but in this hour I’d like to get a sort of blessing for the stories I’m sharing. By the time my turn comes up I lift my chest and try to seem bubbly. I share my gay dad story, that I write a blog, and briefly define its purpose. Immediately I record responses, only a couple share half smiles, a couple hmm’s? Not what I was hoping for but I’m glad to get through the first step.
Next, the chair asks if anyone has thoughts on the new National Gay Marriage Law. A woman to my right chimes in immediately. The woman is married, was previously to a man, yet its clear she and her wife been together for some time. With great concern she says, “Legal equality means the law matters, that said 32 states can turn gays down for housing.”
Gasps suddenly pepper the room. She continues, “In many states gays can still be fired just for being gay.”
Angered and dismayed many in the room have a collective bad taste in their mouth. They know there are still many hurdles before true equality becomes real. To the woman’s point, the law doesn’t change everything. Contrary to popular belief, there is plenty to fight for.
Shifting focus I glance to a couple of men to my immediate right.
They’d announced they are newly married, I wonder if these thoughts are sobering to their recent wedded bliss. Uncomfortably quiet, the room seems to have battened down its safety hatches. After a heavy pause a woman of late 60’s, sitting across from me pipes up. She scans the room, winces a bit. “It’s the little paper cuts, the micro abrasions.” She pierces her lips, “You have to do a lot of forgiving.”
She’s weathered the storm for some time its obvious. Its also clear she tired of it.
The woman next to her, the other half of the couple to my right chimes in, “it’s about being not marginalized,” says, “legal equality diminishes the need for rights,” Agitated, she says, “I’m tired of seating my dignity!”
A man to my left suddenly points out, “You got to name it to tame it!” These phrases seem like LGBT jargon, familiar from previous harried discussions. I madly scribble each phrase in my green OZ passport notebook, these richly packed punches should be known, re-read by the masses. As I close the book to listen I take note of its cover, a yellow-brook road, the sparkle glow around the Emerald city. Its back cover quote, “There’s no place like HOME!”
Nervous, yet wanting to contribute I raise my hand. Our leader gives me a nod. I clear a raspy pocket in the center of my throat; make eye contact from one end to the other. I share a condensed version of a recent blog post – share how my kids ‘Taylor Swift’ generation is different, will follow this thru. I too was impacted by the new law’s announcement because growing up my family wasn’t happily labeled a ‘modern family’. My dad had two lifetime partners, yet never considered marriage an option. I shared how he buried his first partner, whose family was cruel at the funeral. Agreed, a lot needs to change but this new law is a big step.
A few seats to my left sat a man more brightly energized (50ish) asks if anyone has heard Ash Beckham’s Ted Talk on sacrifice? Her message is healthy, uplifting. Ash like me is from Boulder so I felt the need link her to another story.
This time I tell of Dad retaining his Catholic Church membership after all these years. How I didn’t understand his faith, because of judgment on gays. To his dismay I also couldn’t raise my children catholic. For so long I’d been confused as to why he continued to go. I decided it was because he wasn’t going to let someone else’s view stop him. For similar reasons he’d gone to Russia months before he died, wanted to see the beautiful art, regardless of their political position on gays.
A man across on my left responded, “Your dad is a more forgiving man than me. I couldn’t have done either.” The same bright man to my left chided, “we all wear our masks.” It felt like a blow but I needed to consider its truth.
The lunch hour was closing. An African American man across further left finally spoke up. “Does anyone else get concerned about the young generation? That they won’t know how hard we’ve fought? What it was really like during the AIDS crisis. It was hell, unjust, but we were so closely aligned? Now it seems the younger people are simply celebrating.” The wisest of a generation he wanted to be heard, to belong, just like me.
At meetings end I was emotionally wore out, maybe from wearing my own mask for a good 60 minutes. Though I didn’t get the warm fuzzy I hoped for I learned a lot from this lunch. After much thought, I definitely was a part of this group. These people had a history of hard knocks, were soldiers who had been beaten down and simply needed a safe place to really feel, vent, and be vulnerable.
Like many we all desperately want…need to be heard. We also want real change but are realistic that people like the clerk in Kentucky who refused to provide a marriage license to a gay couple will continue to make a joyous occasion, a dark and difficult one. People will also continue to live in fear of what they don’t know or understand; therefore it’s important to keep speaking up, speaking out.