Growing up, like a few others, I knew at age five I was different. I did what I could to never stand out. It was not safe to be different. Being Asian-American in a predominantly white school led to feelings of isolation and then depression. I was reminded every day of my differences growing up. The media was heteronormative. Queer roles were limited to specific portrayals, such as comedic relief or dangerous and infectious characters. Couples were merely roommates or long-term friends living together for the past 23 years and never got married. Anything "queer" were bashed, ridiculed, and ostracized. I would know. I was outed the summer before 9th grade.
That is why I never thought I would see gay culture highlighted in the media, let alone celebrated. The world I grew up in no longer existed. But as many of us millennials and wiser generations will understand, the lingering trauma looms like a dark cloud, always following me, always in my peripheral, reminding me of what happens to people like myself. To this day, I refrain from public displays of affection. I deprive my partner of holding his hand when others are around. Not because I am embarrassed but to protect us from physical harm. Perhaps one day I will stop associating physical touch in public with being cornered and beaten.
The older generations know this danger and shame all too well. It was not uncommon to overhear conversations laced with jealousy. "These kids have it good. Back in my day we would have been killed if they found out. My family threw me out when they found out. I was uninvited to Thanksgiving. I have nowhere to go." Words were spoken by too many people too many times, echoing for too long.
Seeing drag queens on Dancing with the Stars, on magazine covers, and on the big screen is mind-blowing. I can only imagine what those who came before me thought or felt.
The world has changed!
Others are imitating our vernacular. Our culture, and the things we kept in the dark, were brought into the light. Our love isn't tolerated, but accepted, celebrated even. Partners of all genders are holding hands in public. As a society, we reached critical mass, and our community can no longer be in the shadows, with no cloud to rain on our parade. We finally made it. We are FINALLY being seen.
We enjoyed the comfort of gay marriage passing. The news started reporting less and less about gay rights passing. It was no longer news. It was commonplace. The Human Rights Campaign volunteers, with their clipboards, vacated the sidewalks. We made it! Struggle? What struggle?
But then the world changed.
With visibility comes scrutiny. From pronouns to drag queens reading in libraries to gender-neutral bathrooms, to even mentioning and acknowledging gays exist, every aspect of LGBTQ+ life is under attack and at risk for eradication. Our schools, entertainers, life and love, sisters and brothers, and so many more are no longer safe. Your loved ones, yourself, and our collective and individual identities are all targeted, shamed, and discriminated against. We are under attack.
As of today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) tracks over 450 bills against the LGBTQ+ community. These bills will restrict access to healthcare for transgender people. Bills that force teachers to out their students. These are bills going against our freedom of speech and will silence and erase us.
In 2022, twenty of those bills became law. How we have failed our transgender family, our children who have to conceal their identity, and all of those who sacrificed themselves to pave the way to the freedom we comfortably assumed we finally have, will always have, and deserve to have. The dark cloud is in full view.
But I know that there will never be a bill or a court ruling that will ever defeat our resiliency. We will not be silenced, erased, or hidden ever again. We have generations of people who have fought for the next generation. They have made it easier for all of us to be safe and for our love to be visible and celebrated.
Justice is not given! It is won! Reject this new world of hate and demand uncompromising equality. Refuse to be erased. Oppose those who wish to legislate us to death. And above all else, fight for and protect those who cannot fight for themselves. It is time to stop hoping the world becomes a better place and be the champion who changes the world.
Written by Khoi Le
P&E - After Print
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