Imagine walking into a sporting arena, a place that you may not typically go to, and being surrounding by queer folx and Pride flags everywhere. You are left feeling wrapped in safety and a feeling of belonging, it is as if no one thinks twice about how different you are from them. It almost feels like…. safety. This is how I felt going to Pride Night with the Cleveland Monsters Friday, January 21st.
I had the fortunate opportunity to take my boyfriend and our friend to Pride Night at the Cleveland Monsters game. I am the first to admit that I know very little about sports and the most I have enjoyed of hockey is the frequent displays of aggression. However, I do like showing up to represent our community. Each time I do it always brings me a moment of reflection.
The not so distant past
In terms of the LGBTQ rights movement, I have only been out a brief time, 27 years. I realize that I have been out longer than a lot of my readers have been alive. I remember when I first started coming out I was told to be careful in who I tell, what symbols I presented to people, and how I talked. It was a warning to be safe amongst all the hatred that surrounded us. This was the 90s and it was a violent place for gay men. Remember that Matthew Shepard was murdered October 1998.
Growing up, I remember reading news stories of gay men being beaten and drug behind pickup trucks down country roads in the south. It was dark times. The battle for gay marriage had only been brought to the forefront with states like Hawaii and Vermont being some of the first to legalize marriage, for short times. The AIDS epidemic was still the big bad that loomed over our sexual encounters. Freedom to be who we were without fear of retribution was a dream we all wanted. It was dark times.
The first rainbow sticker I ever had for my car, I made myself. I used labels to paint the rainbow colors on with nail polish. Then I very slowly and precisely placed them on the back of my powder blue Chevette, just next to the license plate. At the time, I had little idea of where I could have bought a sticker like that. In fact, I thought my small town in Virginia couldn’t possibly have anything like that. I cut out pink triangles from pink vinyl flagging tape to pin to my shirt, no more than an inch in size. All of this was so I could present myself, in small manners, to what I would hope would be a community that would include me.
Around 1997, I met my first love who showed me what it truly meant to live as a gay man, unabashedly. He taught me the power in accepting yourself completely and living out. He took me to my first Queer bookstore. I remember it was like walking into Oz for the very first time. The colors were so vivid, tomes of information that I only dreamed about, music that captivated my senses, and the most beautiful paintings of naked men in various stages of sexual activlty. It was as if heaven parted all of the clouds and the sun was finally able to reach the darkest corners of my life. I was allowed to see what was behind that big curtain and all I wanted was to spin around in a meadow singing “The hills are alive… with gayness.”
Time keeps on spinning into the future
I lived my life in a small bubble. I was involved with a community that was accepting and it seemed like my whole world. Spending time in queer bars, queer bookstores, and queer vacations somewhat colors your view on the world. I am not saying our own community is a perfect example of acceptance but it is a good false sense of belonging to the world at large.
During this time, I saw bad things happen. Shawn was also HIV+ and going with him to his clinic visits allowed me to see how people viewed him as a gay man with HIV. Many times, nurses gave him this look of sadness, mostly due to them knowing he had something that would more than likely result in his death and they couldn’t help. But there were those doctors and nurses that would look at him as if he was an alien to this world. Walking into a room you could see their expressions visibly change, their words becoming short and direct. It was the little black rain cloud on a sunny day of picnics.
As the 2000s rolled in, we saw a lot of changes starting to take shape. In 2010, we saw the repeal of Don’t Ask, Dont’ Tell. This policy had only been enacted in 1994 and in its short 16 years was a pretty big and legal way to discriminate against queer military people.
In 2015, we celebrated as gay marriage started to become legal in our country and slowly spread state to state. As this started to pass we also took note of changes in discrimination laws. Topics of whether it is right to fire someone for being queer, kick them out of their apartment, or allow same sex memebrs in to hospitals to see patients were ramping up.
Once again, the darkness of discrimination’s hold on our world seemed to be loosing ground.
Never in a million years
Here I sit in 2022, at a sports stadium, watching a hockey game with my boyfriend and our friend, surrounded by a large turn out of queer people in an arean that is celebrating the diversity of sexuality all swathed in rainbows. Never in my life did I ever think this would be a site I would behold. Granted, it was a dream, to some degree, of what I hoped would happen. I just never thought it would be possible.
Yes, the historical fight for Queer rigths did pave the way for this event to happen but, truth be told, it came into being thanks greatly in part to groups like PLEXUS in Cleveland. True, PLEXUS is a chamber of commerce but there is their dedication to creating a thriving queer community with a focus on inclusion for all places in this city that is a driving factor to this feat. A large thanks comes to sports teams like the Cleveland Monsters for their vision to understand that ALL PEOPLE have a right to celebrate their favorite past times and have no distinction from any other fan that wants to celebrate. And to our very community for turning out for events like this. Without these kinds of people, in our fight, we would never be able to get to where we are today.
This should be the very reason we are continuing to push ahead with our fight for inclusion and equality. While we have made massive progress, we still have a long way to go. We celebrate this progress while, simultaneously, consoling each other when we still read about acts of violence against out Queer families in others states and countries. It is not only in these smaller “third world” type countries that this kind of discrimination still exists. In places like London, they are seeing rises in anti LGBTQ and gender identity hate crimes.
Nowhere is safe from hatred and all people should consider it their duty to help eradicate this kind of nonsensical mindset that has no room for our continued growth and evolution, as a species.
Where we are now
It was an honor to be a part of Pride Night with the Cleveland Monsters. To celebrate how far we have come, to be around so many people that identify somewhere on the queer spectrum, and to come together to show support for one another was amazing. It overpowered how little I knew about the sporting event we were watching and that I am not a sports person. It also gave me strength and hope for the fight we still have ahead of us. Our only way is forward, even if the light at the end is still only a pinprick of hope.