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Gay Pride: Contagious and Mainstreamed by Obama

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Gay Pride month is contagious! It has become fearlessly mainstream thanks to President Obama's unequivocal support of the view shared by increasing numbers of Americans about the freedom to marry. Together with the seismic shifts in public acceptance of LGBT people, this year's Gay Pride month is approached with new lenses.

My grandmother and her friends used the word "gay" to describe people who were happy or having a good time. In the Buddhist tradition happiness is about seeking the well-being of all people. In the Jewish tradition "shalom" is understood not as the absence of conflict but as seeking the economic, emotional, and spiritual well-being of others. It is about being complete and whole.

Pride month is a reminder of the desire to claim and seek the well-being of LGBT people. It also points to a wider, more fulsome desire for the well-being of all. In the era of identity politics, pride in our own identity is only as proud as the desire to acknowledge our need for the magnificence of each person to shine through about who they are. Anything less plays into the hands of those who, for political or religious reasons, seek to demonize and sow discord. Pride points to a higher truth of inclusion.

In the ethnic and cultural festivals celebrated in American cities, communities proclaim their heritage, invite others to experience their culture, and create bridges of understanding. They invite the wholeness and well-being that results from new awareness about our interdependence.

A few years ago I stood among the hundreds of thousands lining Fifth Avenue in New York for the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade. It was a grand celebration of pride in claiming their place in the fabric of the life of New York and the United States. Although no one in my family is Puerto Rican, I felt gratitude for the way in which my life in New York was enriched by that heritage. I was proud to be embraced by their pride and celebration.

While the annual observance of Black History Month is a celebration of the life of African Americans, it serves a unique role in inviting reflection on the history of an entire nation whose culture has been enriched by African Americans, even in the face of egregious injustices that still affect the national psyche. Pride is intermingled with the nuances of celebration, regret, recognition, and remorse. Those reactions are given new meaning when there is a resolve that the past will give way to a pride-filled inclusion for the well-being of all.

President Obama's historic endorsement of the freedom to marry has shifted the ground of what Gay Pride means. It marks the mainstreaming of LGBT Americans. It also plays catch-up with how Gay Pride has transformed how we think of ourselves as LGBT people and how our families, colleagues, and neighbors view us.

To be sure, homophobia and discrimination still exist. The persistence of bullying of LGBT youth is insidious. These realities do not do anything to further the well-being of LGBT Americans. For many, Pride celebrations are a reminder of the legislative and community actions still required to end such ignorance, hate, and discrimination.

The president's statement reflects what Pride has accomplished. When individuals organize to express pride, often across lines of division within the LGBT community, they declare a healthy self-acceptance that also points to accepting difference within their own community. But Pride is not just about those of us who are gay.

Pride gives permission to others to come out of their closets and acknowledge that they have pride in a gay child, family member, colleague, classmate, or neighbor. When LGBT people and those in their circles declare enough self-love about their own well-being by coming out, we are all able to view each other though lenses of appreciation. In that moment the scary factor of the unknown "other" is replaced with a new normalcy.

It's why the upward curve of acceptance toward LGBT people and the right to marry continues to increase exponentially. Pride month invites celebration of the strides made toward inclusion and the well-being of LGBT people. It also invites us to actively pursue those same realities for all people.