Guest post from Bleddyn Harris, Organisational Development and Training Officer – National Assembly for Wales. Diversity and Inclusion Week.
An arch of colours visible in the sky, caused by the refraction and dispersion of the sun’s light by rain or other water droplets in the atmosphere.
When Gilbert Baker designed the rainbow flag, I wonder if he ever truly understood how – alongside becoming an unapologetically fabulous and auspicious protest against the undue discrimination of love and identity – it perfectly encapsulated the experience of the many LGBTQ individuals who have used it as a shield in a world that doesn’t appear to want them: sunshine and rain, all at once.
When I think about being gay, I often come to the conclusion that it has been the single most painful and healing experience I have endured. Not that being gay is a painful experience, more that it has been the excuse so many have used when they have left me raw and exposed, often, and paradoxically, in the name of ‘love’. It has been a catalyst for people who do not know me, who will never meet me, who will never accept me, who will never love me, to call for me to be made illegal, to erase my history, to want me in jail, to think to beat me up, to stop me from getting married, to want me dead. See, it’s not all unicorns and drag queens, is it?
I don’t quite like to say that being my authentic self is in spite of the kinds of people I have named above because I feel it attributes all of the battles I have had to win with my self-esteem and self-acceptance to a bunch of people who will never care… but, yes, being myself is totally in spite of those people because I want them to know that I won’t let their bigotry get in the way of me living my life full of colour and with a love they seek to deny me.
I know, I know, I’m harping on about the negative aspects of this experience, but it’s only because I think the struggle is often overlooked by the idea that the community, specifically gay men, are a collective group of audacious and colourful people who are happy to be bold and bright and beautiful in their own way, no matter what. There’s never really a discussion about the internal monologues, the struggles, the fear we have when we walk down the street because ‘do I look too gay? Am I walking funny? People are looking: I should stop holding my partner’s hand’.
I feel this struggle, as well as everyone’s entirely personal and different experience of being a part of the LGBTQ community, was summed up in a conversation I had with a friend over dinner: we were talking about an LGBT talk we saw at the Hay Festival that centred on the Stonewall Uprising and the struggles we’ve endured and the successes the community has been given – please note that we have to be given the same right as our heterosexual and cis-gendered counterparts which means they can just as easily be given away. The conversation led to a question of whether we would take a pill to make us straight. I immediately said no without much thought. My friend said yes. He asked me why I would choose to live a life of living on the outskirts of being ‘normal’, a life of constantly looking over your shoulder because you walk/talk a certain way, a life of feeling like you’re only ever tolerated and not truly accepted. I gently reminded him that sometimes you need to look for the sunshine in the rain and know that we are able to live the life so many people before our time died dreaming of: their prayers, strength, and rebellion still protect us.
If you’ve managed to stay with me, I’d like to pay homage to those who came before me that I’ll never be able to meet, that I’ll never be able to thank. Too many of their names and stories have been forgotten. Why? I don’t know. Is it society trying to erase our history? Maybe. Is it society attempting to avoid their guilt by not bringing it up? Possibly. Is this absence of heroes still affecting the lives of millions of LGBTQ individuals who still feel like they don’t belong? Absolutely. Whatever it is, I mourn it. I mourn the history, the pride, the art, and the wisdom that has died with the gay men, the lesbians, the trans and non-binary individuals, people who are bi, the activists, the lovers, the thinkers, the queers, the ones who loved too much, the ones who trusted too much, the ones who made a silly mistake on a night out because they were trying to escape the cruel reality of their world filled with an unfiltered and unneeded hatred. I’m angry at how the lives, loves, and loss of these people are constantly being undermined in countries around the world. I’m angry that I’m still illegal in over 70 countries. I’m angry that there are protests against teaching children about different family dynamics. I’m angry that people are ignoring the fact that LGBTQ individuals are more likely to be affected by mental health issues. I’m angry that people think that our struggle is over because some laws have been changed to protect us.
But would I take a pill to make me straight? Absolutely not.
If I had to do it all over again, I would. I’d go through all the bullying, the rejection, the being told I have a demon inside of me that must be prayed away, being told I should die, being told I’m not worthy, being told that God doesn’t love me, being told I shouldn’t have been born, being told I’ll burn in hell, being asked to leave the church, being spat on nights out, being told I’m not a real man, being told I’d never be happy, because accepting myself and learning, each and every day, to love myself in the face of adversity has been worth it.
I don’t know where I’d be today if I didn’t have the courage to accept myself and allow myself the love to find out who I am: a proud gay man.
It’s for these reasons that I work at the Assembly and pursue an active role within the OutNAW network: with such an openly inclusive and diverse staff, it was important to me to work in a place central to the development of Wales who exhibits the culture we need to make sure no bi voice goes unheard, no trans individual is told they can’t be who they are, that no lesbian teenager is bullied for being herself, that no gay has to think about whether they would take a pill to be straight.