I have had Taylor Swift’s new song, “You Need to Calm Down” dancing around in my head since it debuted last week.
The pop song features themes of female empowerment “We see you over there on the internet, comparing all the girls who are killing it, but we figured you out, we all know now we all got crowns,” but is really an anthem for the LGBTQ+ community. The music video, which dropped Monday, has a star-studded cast of LGBTQ+ members like Ellen Degeneres, Laverne Cox, RuPaul and a full cast of celeb look-alike drag queens.
As I listen to the song, which lyrically wonders why we tear down people who are unlike us, it has me thinking about how my outlook on the LGBTQ+ community has evolved over the years.
I was a child of the ‘90s. I wore the sundresses, chokers and velvet trimmed clothes that seem to be coming back in style. What I hope stays in the 1990s is calling things we don’t like “gay.” That was our phrase in elementary school. If something was dumb or uncool we’d slap the label “gay” on it. As I look back on it now, knowing I said that to friends who in years since have come out as homosexual, I wonder how that label affected them. How a toss-away phrase from me, might have made them value themselves. If that object I just threw in the trash is “gay” then how would I judge them?
When Ellen Degeneres came out as gay on her TV show, we stopped watching it. Honestly, I don’t really remember watching it before, but I do remember it being very clear that we wouldn’t start watching it now. And “lesbian” became a sort of bad word in our household. I remember not really understanding why those things were “bad” or that we had to hate them, we just did.
In the late 1990s my mom and I would watch Will and Grace together. We never really understood why Will and Grace just weren’t a couple. They had great chemistry, they loved each other, who cared if Will was gay! But slowly, as the entertainment world brought snippets of the LGBTQ+ community into my rural Missouri home, I began to see that yes, Will loved Grace, but he wasn’t attracted to Grace. He didn’t want to be with Grace. And there are many different versions of love, each special in their own way.
In college, one of my closest friends came out to me. I had heard rumors they had come out, but I hadn’t heard it directly from them. And I wouldn’t, not for a little while. When they finally talked to me, I didn’t handle it well because I made it about me. Why hadn’t they told me sooner? Didn’t they know that I love them and that would never change? Didn’t they know I’d be the Grace to their Will?
No, they didn’t know that. They weren’t sure how I would react, if I’d still want them in my life. To this day, it’s maybe one of the most shameful things in my life. The fact that I had created a space where my best friend didn’t know they were loved unconditionally.
And in the years since my friend’s coming out, there’s another thing that I regret. I didn’t celebrate their news. For me, I always wanted to express that a person’s sexual orientation doesn’t matter to me. Will was Will no matter if he liked Grace or a man (I don’t remember who he ended up with in the original series). Because, in the words of Lin Manuel Miranda, “love is love is love is love.” But here’s the thing, love is love, but I don’t have to worry about what might happen when I go out and hold hands with a man, Will does.
A few years ago, my friend and their now spouse were back home for a holiday. When my friend’s spouse said something about not holding hands while they were back home, I shrugged it off, told them it would be fine, I didn’t know why they were worried. But here’s why; even today, in June of 2019, LGBTQ+ experience violence for simply existing. Earlier this month a lesbian couple was attacked and beaten on a London bus. Hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community haven’t gone away just because Will and Grace is back on television. On June 14, NBC News reported that a second transgender woman has been murdered in the same suburb of Washington, D.C. Violence against transgender individuals like these two murders aren’t offshoots, they are a growing trend which is becoming a crisis.
As a straight woman, I don’t have to worry about if a vendor will cater my wedding someday. They likely won’t pull a religious exemption in order to not bake me a cake or refuse to issue me a wedding license. And I don’t have to come out to my parents as heterosexual.
So to my friends who have come out to me, I am sorry for my lackluster response. I see you, I love you and I celebrate you.
Here’s the thing I hope we can all get out of this column. Just because it doesn’t directly impact you, doesn’t mean you should ignore the call to arms. A movement is won when allies step up and make their causes our causes.
So don’t just celebrate the LGBTQ+ community because it’s Pride Month. Work to create a safe space around you and in our country. Right now Congress is considering the HR5 and S788, or the Equality Act, a piece of legislation that would create federal protections for LGBTQ Americans against discrimination on the basis of “sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity,” specifically in housing, employment, access to public accommodations. The legislation has passed the House and is waiting for Senate approval. So don’t calm down, reach out to your senator and implore them to pass the act because everyone, especially our LGBTQ+ community, deserves equality.