Seattle Pride exploded into the streets this past weekend boosted in part by the US Supreme Court ruling to legalize same sex marriage nationwide. I was there to witness the celebration.
Watching the news, with its often one dimensional coverage, it’s easy to feel that the world has changed for the worse and is full of only hate and violence. For me this ruling helps to affirm my personal belief that despite the media claims, many of us really are trying to make the world a better place. Of course I realize that not everyone is happy about this particular win but thankfully in North America we are free to voice our own opinions and stand up for equality.
I was just one of thousands of spectators of all ages, lifestyles and ethnic backgrounds cheering as the colorful parade passed by. The parade participants were just as varied with families, gay couples, drag queens, politicians, church groups and major corporations such as Microsoft, Starbucks and Amazon all marching in support and celebration. There was even a small group of Boy Scouts which not too long ago lifted the ban on allowing gay leaders.
“It’s time for the Boy Scouts to open its membership to LGBT adults once and for all. Only then can they claim to have anything to teach our children.”
As I watched I found myself reflecting on how far the fight for equal rights has come over the 40 plus years of my life. Change does take time but when you consider that in my generation it was rare to have any “out” gay friends growing up, I’d say that we have come a long way. Today most kids not only have gay friends and family but they don’t even know of a time when it was considered unusual. As far as I’m concerned this is the way it should be. In a perfect world being gay shouldn’t make you an oddity any more than having a different colored skin or speaking a different language.
“There will always be separation as long as groups of people find it necessary to stand out. You can’t be equal if you feel you should be considered special.”
-Jeff Rochon (Nathan’s uncle)
I have always thought myself to be pretty open minded and accepting but looking back I realize that I was rarely challenged in this regard. Although not a religious person, I am grateful to have been raised in a Christian home where I was taught that God’s love is for everyone and that we were not to judge others. Instead we were to treat everyone with kindness and respect and be accepting of our differences.
But like I said, my fairly sheltered early life made this almost a non issue.
Once I left small town suburbia, moved to Vancouver and started traveling, my community and life experience became more diverse. Still though the majority of my friends back home were white and straight (at least as far as I knew). It’s not that I was by any means prejudice, it was just the way things were in the 80’s and early 90’s in BC. Being gay was sadly still kept quiet and I had to travel to meet people of different ethnicity. Of course today is different and Vancouver is now home to a much bigger array of cultures and lifestyles.
Though when I met Nathan and started spending time in neighboring Washington state, I realized that we still weren’t as big of a melting pot as the west coast of America. I didn’t need to travel across oceans for new experiences and lessons learned, they could be had very close to home. In fact, the thing that had the biggest impact on me had nothing to do with the country I was in, it was all to do with one very special family.
Nathan’s Mom is one of seven siblings which includes four boys and three girls, four of whom are twins. Six out of the seven are in very long term relationships or marriages with not a single divorce. They all still live in the same area where they grew up and are close enough (both in proximity and in relationships) to get together for a weekly happy hour and often even more than that.
As if these things together aren’t rare enough, three of them are gay. All three are in the long term relationship category with two of them being legally married thanks to Washington State’s ruling in 2012.
They are a loud, loving, fun and amazing family that is so loved by those that meet them that many have been known to try to assimilate themselves into the group. Seriously, when extended relationships break up, the non family person in the partnership is often more distraught at no longer being a part of the community than at losing their partner.
“Prejudice is learned. What will you teach others through your actions and words?”
– DaShanne Stokes
This is not to say they haven’t had more than their share of standard family issues and challenges. Being born in the 50’s and 60’s it certainly wouldn’t have been easy growing up gay. Despite the obvious challenges of the time, the very traditional parents of this brood never turned their back but instead taught them to love each other unconditionally and accept the differences among them. Today not only do they accept each other, but they are some of the most open minded and unbiased people I have ever met. Goes to prove that prejudice is learned and that how you raise your children affects the whole world.
Maybe the fact that America is the 20th country to fully recognize same sex marriage means that we are aware of this fact and are more conscious of what we teach our kids. According to FreedomtoMarry.org the first to legalize this right was the Netherlands in 2001 followed by Belgium, Spain and Canada.
“We were not the first, but I am sure we will not be the last. After us will come many other countries, driven … by two unstoppable forces: freedom and equality.”
-Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, 2004 elected Prime Minister of Spain
Having just returned from nine months in Europe it was no surprise to me when I read that 12 of the 19 countries to have already passed this law are on the European continent. One of the things Nathan and I loved about our European travels was witnessing how in countries like Spain, extended family members of all ages often gathered to enjoy time together. Obviously having a close knit family doesn’t guarantee a group of unbiased people but if the base belief is in equality it drastically improves the chances.
“Ideally, travel broadens our perspectives personally, culturally, and politically. Suddenly, the palette with which we paint the story of our lives has more colors.”
-Rick Steves, Travel as a Political Act
I personally believe that traveling is another way we can battle prejudices as it helps to make a person much more broad minded. Thanks to travel writer Rick Steves, I learned in my early 20’s that traveling can be more than just having fun and seeing new things, it can be about growing as a person and contributing to the world in a positive way. By getting to know other cultures there is more understanding, which bridges the gap of perceived differences. This could lead to less hate and maybe even less war as we would no longer have the fear of the unknown and would in fact have friends in our so called enemies countries. It may sound a bit idealistic but it is definitely true that it is often the things we don’t understand or have personal experience with that cause prejudice and unfair judgment.
Now that Nathan and I live a nomadic lifestyle we have the opportunity to be constantly learning and growing as we experience different cultures. We also have the responsibility of positive contribution as we go. We may not be able to pass along the acceptance and love we have learned and been shown to our kids (as we have none), but as we continue to travel the world we can certainly share it with those we meet. Hopefully we will play a small role in the creation of a world where everyone is equal…one can dream!