As Pride 2021 winds down, I find myself thinking about and being thankful to Carl Nassib, the defensive end for the Las Vegas Raiders NFL team for not only coming out as gay but also doing so and supporting the Trevor Project. Suicide and suicidal ideation are already common with young people, but even more so among LGBTQ+ youth who suffer the prospects of living in a world where they feel they will be hated and punished in so many ways. And so every moment like this that gets media attention and, for the first time I can recall, actual support from a traditionally homophobic football league, is a step further towards a day where NO young person has to consider suicide because of who they are, but rather can celebrate their identity freely with hope for a loving life ahead.
In his longer description of his coming out, Carl referenced the history of the gay rights movement that he still needs to learn about. He referenced the shoulders he stands upon that have allowed him to come out during PRIDE month 2021. While he is young and just beginning his journey, I am looking back on years of experience with LGBTQ history. I feel blessed to have lived so many years more than all the friends I have lost to AIDS and ageing, and this month I reflect on the loss of a particular friend, former roommate, and long-time activist Ken Jones who made his transition this year. His life was captured with some artistic license as part of the ABC miniseries When We Rise based on the memoir of fellow activist Cleve Jones.
As a teen in the early 60’s I too considered suicide; I suffered from anxiety attacks, bullying, and isolation. As a young adult, I remember how I used to go to Harvey Milk’s photography shop in the Castro District in San Francisco to get film developed. At that time, there was resistance from the straight community to having an openly gay business in the area. But despite the resistant, that shop thrived. Those who are still alive and also visited will remember that it was more than a place of business but an experience, as Harvey usually had a group of friends hanging out in the shop with whom you could and would engage in friendly banter and teasing as he took your order. As a still closeted young man, that little bit of space and interaction meant so much. At the time, there were no images of young people like me who could succeed as adults. Like many, I came out when Harvey became a leader and called for us all to come out to our family, our friends, and our co-workers, ensuring us that we would change things. He said once everyone knew someone who was gay and realized they were just like them, then things would change. If only it had been that simple…but it was a beginning.
This PRIDE let’s remember those who have fought and given their lives to the movement. Let us have hope in the young people who are now taking on the next phase of the movement. Let us understand why some young people do not want uniformed police marching in parades and how they are now paying attention to the need for a movement started by trans people of color to be focused on ensuring that we end the murder of trans women of color. This PRIDE, let the young now lead the next phase of the movement and always remember the history and our ancestors whose spirit keeps us going in this fight for love and freedom.