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Urban Rhythms

Out and Proud

By Wiley Hall III | Posted 6/20/2001

I traditionally have felt very self-satisfied and smug about my attitude toward gay rights.

After all, I am on the gay-friendly side on all the hot-button issues. I support equal employment opportunity, fair housing, and hate-crime legislation. I believe gays should be allowed to serve in the military, lead Boy Scout troops, and get married.

I will even go this far: I don't think I could find it in my heart to condemn either of my two sons should one announce one day that he is gay. All I want is for them to be happy and healthy and in nurturing relationships.

These views stand in marked contrast to those of many of my friends, who have been taught to believe that homosexuality is a sin. Deep in my conceited, egoistic little heart, I have always believed that I am wiser than they are, although I would never be so rude as to tell them so.

But then, homosexuals suddenly seemed to come leaping forth out of the closet with a vengeance, challenging my comfort level by their very presence. They began appearing as regular characters on TV sitcoms. Gay comedians began incorporating gay jokes into their stand-up routines. Gay authors began appearing on my favorite radio talk shows to tout their autobiographical tales about their trials and tribulations, or to expound on their theory that this or that famous historical figure was secretly gay.

None of this moved me to decide that homosexuality is indeed a sin. I never found myself lamenting the collapse of our moral order. And if I stopped to tabulate all of the times gays confronted me with their gaiety, I'd be forced to admit that they remain very much a rarity, all but invisible men and women.

Nevertheless, all this clatter and chatter about gays--what little there really is--forces me to confess, through gritted teeth, "I don't think I like this. This is getting to be a little too much for me."

My reaction to the annual Pride Festival, held in Druid Hill Park June 17 by the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland, is fairly typical. Why do they have to be proud? I asked myself. Why must they have a festival? Why can't they just be gay quietly and discreetly?

"I march in the gay-pride parade so that one day there will come a time when I do not have to march in a gay-pride parade," answered Anthony McCarthy, one of this year's grand marshals, when I put my questions to him. McCarthy is a fellow journalist and a friend. He says his participation in last weekend's festival makes a political statement about society's need to change its attitudes about homosexuality.

"Yeah, but why do you have to be proud?" I complained. "Is homosexuality something to be proud of?"

"I live in a society that tells me that being gay is not acceptable," McCarthy replied. "And I happen to believe in my deepest heart that my sexual orientation should not be the determining factor as to whether this society will make or break me. So I have a choice: Either I hide, or I be proud. I choose to be proud."

McCarthy, who is African-American, compares his political expression of pride to that of his forefathers. "I know the struggle of my ancestors, my parents, and my uncles. I am proud of the accomplishments of my people," he says. "And as I become a political creature, I become more and more accepting of the idea that I should have the same sense of pride in the political struggle of homosexuals."

It occurs to me that my attitude toward the expression of gay pride is reminiscent of white liberals' attitude toward the expression of black pride during the heyday of the civil-rights movement. I find myself asking, as those white liberals asked, "Why can't you take it slowly? Why can't you be satisfied with one victory at a time? What more do you want?"

Yet at the same time, I agree with most, if not all, of their ultimate goals, and I recognize that gays have every right to want it all, to want the same rights and respect that everyone else is granted. Equality is not ours to dollop out in little doses.

You may recall that white liberals got nothing but heartache from both sides. Segregationists regarded them as traitors. Blacks regarded them as hypocrites when they failed to embrace the goals of the movement with the same enthusiasm as blacks.

It is tough being in the middle. But my struggle to be tolerant and accepting pales beside the gay community's struggle to be accepted for who they are.

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