Sheila S. Kennedy

Pride and Prejudice

Filed By Sheila S. Kennedy | June 11, 2007 11:51 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: Bhurma, Chinese gays and lesbians, gay pride, Kathmandu, LGBT community, pride

Last weekend was IndyPride.

Twenty years ago, when I first started attending Pride events, they were small, and the subject of snickering coverage by the local media. Attendance largely consisted of guys in leather harnesses. Not, I hasten to add, that there is anything wrong with that, but the attendees certainly did not represent the full diversity of the gay community. These days, Pride still draws the leather crowd, but it also has a full complement of couples pushing strollers, preppy guys in penny loafers, elected officials, and businesses trying to sell everything from real estate to insurance. Pride events are listed matter-of-factly in the local paper's listing of festivals, and covered just like other civic celebrations.

I think the growth--and growing acceptance--of Pride festivals is one sign among many that Americans are gradually becoming more comfortable with their gay neighbors, and less likely to support discrimination against them. The culture is changing. Not as quickly as in other western democracies, perhaps, but much more quickly than in Asia, where I just spent a month traveling. There were six of us on the trip--including my (gay) son and a friend who is also gay.

The first country we visited was Bhutan, where I was solemnly assured (on AIDS Awareness Day) that there are no gay people. Our guide explained that "there are no gay Bhutanese." Uh-huh.

Bhutan was a real contrast to Kathmandu, our next stop, where there were posters everywhere announcing an upcoming gay and lesbian film festival, and where the atmosphere was decidedly more cosmopolitan and open. But it was in China that the influence of culture was most pronounced--and repressive. In each city we visited, my son would locate a local gay club or bar. His conversations with people he met in those clubs were informative, to say the least. (He has been keeping a blog which includes his impressions of gay life in Asia, and lots of photos.)

China has no laws against homosexuality. What China has is tradition, and a culture that venerates family. Failure to marry and have children to carry on the family line is unthinkable to most Chinese men, and even more unthinkable is coming out to their parents. In the bars, Stephen met married men whose wives were presumably clueless about their extra-marital activities. He met others who recoiled at the very idea that their families might discover their sexual orientation. The Chinese closet is very dark, and the door is closed very tightly.

Here in the U.S., we tend to look longingly at Europe and Canada, where acceptance of gay relationships and even same-sex marriage is far more advanced than it is in red-state America. But as my mother used to remind me, things can always be worse.

You could be gay in Asia.

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Wilson46201 | June 11, 2007 12:06 PM

A couple of years ago I saw on CNN-International a video segment from China TV about the Diversity Club at Beijing University. It featured cute bleached-blond twinks with rainbow backpacks handing out condoms at a literature table...

In the 1960s Indianapolis had several very closety gay bars -- one was The Alps (now the Legal Beagle) across from the City-County Building. Another was Betty Ks up on Alabama -- it featured drag shows. The Varsity Bar is still there at 16th & Penn. The large disco "The Hunt and the Chase" didnt open til the end of the decade. People that went there were all very closety. To be "out" meant letting other gay folk know of one's orientation -- you'd never for a moment consider letting straight folk know. Damn few people were "out" in the modern sense!

A. J. Lopp | June 11, 2007 5:26 PM

Sheila, your observations are right-on. Indianapolis has come a long way since I lived there c. 1980 (more below) --- I was proud of Indianapolis then, and I am even more proud of it now.

Wilson, my first lover and I used to go dance at The Hunt and The Chase, which was near the corner of Pennsylvania and Maryland, about two hundred feet north of where the front doors to Conseco Fieldhouse now stand. Wilson, you are exactly right about the level of closetedness, but I would also remark that the Hunt & Chase was about the out-est crowd in the city.

There was also a wonderful gay restaurant and dance bar called "The Ruins" in the neighborhood of about 14th and Illinois (I might have the streets wrong). You couldn't find better lasagna anywhere in town.

About one year before I moved to Los Angeles in July 1981, the Indy Star printed a letter I sent in which made apparent I was gay. My boss called me in and said, "I was downtown at our headquarters and you are the subject of ... much office discussion. If people ask me if you're really gay, how should I handle it?" and I replied, "You can either tell them 'Yes, he is,' or if you would rather, you can say, 'Well, if he printed a letter like that, then he would probably be comfortable with it if you asked him yourself.' Then we discussed some work issues, but before I left his office my boss was honest enough to remark, "I don't really understand why anyone would want to let everyone know something like that." I said simply, "Well, I don't like lying to the world about who I really am." I don't think that explained anything at the time, but I expect that long after I left for L.A., my boss eventually came to understand what I meant.

This was 1980, and someone being that "out" in the average Indianapolis workplace caused quite a bit of consternation, at a minimum. But I didn't get fired, and I expect that had I stayed with that company my career there would have continued to be promising.

(I might add that not every mainstream Indianapolis workplace was "average." I worked on an IBM mainframe, and IBM had already made a start at making itself a gay-friendly corporation. I had several relaxed and supportive conversations with some of my IBM reps where, they would not name names, but they stated that it's no big deal that some of their co-workers at IBM were gay and out. In fact, one such rep I ran into at the Chase one night.)

Internationally, I want to observe that, as bad as China is, it is not the worst. In some of the Arabic countries, the fact that young men and women still get executed for adult consensual gay activities, whether overtly sexual or merely social, is appalling --- and the way that the human rights efforts of the United Nations are blocked by nations such as Russia and China is equally appalling.