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(cross-posted in a slightly different format at MichiganLiberal.)

I'm sitting in the Café of the Barnes and Noble on 28th St. in Grand Rapids, MI recovering and recaffeinating my body after surviving a hectic and wonderful day yesterday.

I have to be honest: I'm a homosexual, but I'm a fairly conservative homosexual. I didn't acknowledge my sexuality publicly until I was 22. My friends and I were planning a trip to see a Stephen Lynch concert in Pontiac, and we were discussing the merits of Lynch's act. We acknowledged that he's a good singer and that he's hilarious, and then I just blurted out, "He's hot, too!" In any event, I've only been to the gay bar in Muskegon 4-5 times, and drag queens still make me nervous. I only came out at work about six months ago. I've never had a boyfriend. I'm 26, and yesterday was my first Pride.

I learned a lot yesterday. I learned a lot about life, about people, and about the Gay Agenda. I initially tagged along expecting fun and games, but yesterday turned out to be an educational experience.

Join me over the flip and find out what I learned.

Six months ago I jetted down to Lansing and hung out with the fabulous Kool Kidz of the MichiganLiberal front page, and I met the unstoppable force known as JPowers155. Did you ever have an experience where you met someone and you just instantly clicked? Yeah. BFFs. Anyway, JPowers is the de facto voice of the Gay Agenda in Lansing, and she's also a ridiculously nice lady, so she invited me down to Lansing to partake of Michigan Pride.

Initially I demurred. Again, I'm a fairly conservative homosexual. Drag queens make me nervous, and I still don't know what to think of guys in leather hot pants. To make a long story short, another one of my gay friends told me all about the great experiences he was going to have at the Pride in his home state, and something awoke in me. I'd like to say that my eyes were opened to wonder and amazement, but in truth it was actually spite. What can I say? I'm human.

Observations:

At Pride there will be kids with blue hair and men in leather hot pants. This is okay.

In the past Pride has made me nervous simply because it's newsworthy. As the LGBT community fights for acceptance and equal rights, in a sense we're fighting a PR battle. There's a widespread perception that gay folks are a bunch of crazy hedonists who do ridiculous amounts of drugs, drink like fish, dress in drag, and have ten times more sex than the average human being, all while corrupting our politicians, subverting the Bible, converting children, and worshipping the Devil. Once a year we all come out of our dark club backrooms and throw a big party, which naturally ends up on the front page of the Lansing State Journal.

I used to think of this as a PR disaster. We work all year to win acceptance and to prove that we're "normal" and deserving of respect and equal treatment, and then Pride weekend rolls around and we throw it all away by parading around wearing feather boas and entirely too much mascara.

Yesterday, as I sat on the Capitol lawn with a couple good MichLib friends, I had a realization: LGBT people have a completely different concept of individuality. We grow up knowing that we're outcasts by default, that large swaths of the population are going to write us off simply because of our sexuality, that we're going to be cast aside and forgotten just because of our sexuality, and that does something to us. We're not afraid anymore. We're already going to be cast aside because of our sexuality, so what difference does it make if we have blue hair or piercings, or a penchant for wearing assless chaps in the middle of a public park?

As different as we are, and as much as we embrace our individuality, we're all "normal" people, and we really do deserve respect and equal treatment under the law.

I spent a good portion of yesterday basking in the shade of the Michigan Equality tent in Riverfront Park, in the company of JPowers and her band of merry minions. I spent a good deal of time talking to two of her favorite minions, Josh and John (Jon?). Sure, they're gay. They march to the beat of a different drummer. But they're also poster children for normalcy. Josh works a normal 9-to-5 in Corporate America, and Jo(h)n is going to nursing school. They own a house together. They get up and go to work every day just like everyone else. They pay bills and mow the lawn and go grocery shopping just like everyone else. They just happened to fall in love with each other.

As I sat on the lawn of the Capitol during the rally and the commitment ceremony yesterday, these are the people I saw. The media will show you pictures of boys in hot pants because it sells papers, but Josh and John are the overwhelming majority of the gay community.

Matthew Shepard's death is my Stonewall.

Gay History 101: Homosexuality used to be illegal (in fact, in large portions of the world it still is.) New York State used to have an ordinance forbidding bars from serving alcohol to homosexuals because they were "disorderly." For decades we sat down and took it. But on June 28, 1969, a group of the bravest and ballsiest gay men ever to grace our planet stood up and said, "We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore!" The ensuing riot began at the Stonewall Inn, a well-known gay bar in Greenwich Village, and lasted several days. Stonewall was the turning point in the gay rights movement, and to this day we celebrate Pride in June as our way of commemorating the Stonewall Riots.

But Stonewall was in 1969. I wasn't even born until 1982. I wasn't there and I don't know what life was like in the 1960s.

Yesterday I was sitting at the dinner table at the home of MichLib Assistant Editor rich and his amazing wife, idly chatting with them and a few other MichLib celebrities. MichLib front pager joanb spent some time living in Wyoming a few years back, and she made a comment about driving outside Laramie, WY to see the stars in the total black darkness of the Wyoming prairie. In a moment of ill-received weakness I made a comment that bad things tend to happen to folks like me when we stray outside Laramie, that we tend to end up tied to fences.

In retrospect I regret making the comment as it definitely killed the dinner conversation (I'm a blogger because I have zero social skills and belong behind a computer monitor, thank you very much). But I realized then that the death of Matthew Shepard was my generation's Stonewall. This was the moment where we all stood up and said, "We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore." This was the moment when my generation of LGBT folks got mad and got organized. This was the turning point in our gay rights movement.

Where do we go from here?

The tenth anniversary of Matthew Shepard's torturous death is coming up on October 12 of this year. It's been ten years since Matthew died, ten years since our community made an agreement to get organized and reshape our world, ten years since we said, "We're tired of not being able to walk down the street with our partners, we're tired of being pushed around by James Dobson and his minions, we're tired of the bigoted majority dictating the rights of the minority."

In that ten years, we've accomplished a lot. Same-sex marriage is now legal in California and Massachusetts. ENDA passed the United States House of Representatives (albeit a version of ENDA that excludes the transgender members of our LGBT family). Most large companies and many small companies now offer domestic partner benefits. But we have a lot of work to do. Two years ago the voters of the State of Michigan approved one of the most restrictive so-called Hate Amendments in the country. Our schools are still hotbeds of hatred and violence, and Matt's Law still hasn't been passed in the Michigan Legislature. I still have to go back to work tomorrow with the fear that I could be terminated at any time because of my sexual orientation.

Ten years ago my generation had its watershed moment and redoubled its efforts in the march to equality. It's time to redouble those efforts again, and we need your help.

Originally posted to PerfectStormer on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 01:18 PM PDT.

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