The Winter Park Library invited me to speak at the LGBTQ event “Speak from the Heart” on 6/18/22. I read a piece called “Don’t Stay Silent.” The essay reflected on recent Queer history in the United States. This month I learned how to become a better leader because of our ancestors. Read the full essay below!
“Don’t Stay Silent” by Benjamin P. Gallagher
Queer history taught me the importance of Pride. The LGBTQ community survived relentless attacks during the 1990’s. Everything from the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, the ex-gay movement, and Matthew Shepard’s sought to silence Queer people. I learned about all of this through a television network called the Logo Channel.
The Logo Channel was produced for LGBTQ people in the early 2000’s. The channel featured shows like Ru Paul’s Drag Race and reruns of “Will & Grace.” The channel also played independent films like “Heavenly Creatures” staring a young Kate Winslet, documentaries about gay parenting, and docudramas like “The Laramie Project.”
The channel acknowledged a part of myself that others ignored. No one educated me on LGBTQ history or Pride. Queer people fought for equal rights while also seeking compassion from their community. These topics confused me as a young man.
I didn’t know how to accept myself as a Queer person still in the closet. Homophobia scared me. Coming out gave people another reason to not like me. I don’t realize this until one day a kid asked me if I was gay.
He sat in the back of the classroom with five other teenage boys. I didn’t think about hiding the truth and just said “yes.” He started teasing me in the locker room, in home room, and in history class. Except, He exposed me without knowing the full truth. I wasn’t just gay, but also Queer.
Back then, being Queer meant anything but straight. I wasn’t attracted to girls but too scared to talk to guys. This fear stemmed from a long history of LGBTQ hate-crimes in America. The first one I learned about was Matthew Shepard.
On October 6, 1998, two men abducted twenty-one-year old Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming. They tied him to a fence and assaulted him with the butt of a pistol. Matthew died six days later while laying in a coma in a hospital bed. His death shook the nation.
The Laramie Project focused on Laramie residents. Their interviews painted a peaceful picture of the town prior to Matthew’s murder. No one understood why anyone would kill Matthew, except that he was gay. He wasn’t supposed to exist.
Laramie residents like Zubaida Ula said, “ We need to own this crime … We are like this. We ARE like this.” Ula, Muslim-American living in a small Mid-West town, sat in a circle with other young people discussing the tragedy. Grief exposed them all to hate.
The murder proved that hate-crimes existed because of a person’s sexual identity. LGBTQ people provoked people to think outside the heteronormative box. They inspired Americans to live an unconventional truth about love. However, the country manipulated people into believing that Queers didn’t exist.
Homophobia already prolonged the HIV/Aids epidemic during the 1980’s the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy” took effect between 1994 and 2011. The military discharged more than 13,000 gays, lesbians, and bisexuals between 1994 and 2009. The policy practiced tolerance at the expense of Pride.
Meanwhile, Faith-based groups like Love in Action promoted a cure for homosexuality. They believed that being gay was a sickness. Their treatments included electroshock therapy and other horrific things. The ex-gay movement gained momentum.
Meanwhile, the silence made Queer voices hard to find. I only discovered the Logo channel because my parents paid for premium television. Their resources affected my growth as a Queer person of color. They also encouraged me to learn more and speak out against hate.
The “Don’t Say Gay” bill that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed in March of this past year is alarming. The bill mimics a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy but in the wake of recent tragedies. The word gay affected billions of people after June 12, 2016. DeSantis ignored forty-nine names when signing the bill.
Instead, he used the LGBTQ community as a platform to preach a conservative agenda. But he couldn’t affect the truth that a community comes together after tragedy. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 took effect the same year. Barack Obama repealed the DADT policy in September 2011. Gay marriage was legalized on June 26, 2015. Justice prevailed because we fought for justice. The truth about love prevailed.
We did not stay silent, then or now. We would not stop fighting. LGBTQ people taught me to speak out against hate. They inspired me to write this essay. I wanted to share this with everyone for Pride month.
Don’t Stay Silent.
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