The street was glistening with Christmas lights, and tiny flurries were falling onto our hats as we walked down a picturesque Philadelphia street. It was the end of one of the first “real” dates that I have ever had in my young thirty years of life. We started the night with dinner at a fancy restaurant followed by attending the musical White Christmas.
As we walked down the street, my date reached out and held my hand. I had chills down my spine and felt like the moment was being scripted by some unseen director of a romantic movie and we were the leading couple. I was feeling the butterflies of new love in my stomach as we walked two more blocks holding hands when suddenly a group of people started yelling at us: “Look at those faggots holding hands, how gay, I want to puke.”
Finally, they all in unison yelled, “Get out of here you fags and go back to your neighborhood, we don’t want your kind here.”
I wish I could say this happened in another country or another time, but it was 2009 and only three blocks away from a neighborhood nicknamed the gayborhood for its inclusivity and diversity in Philadelphia. To this day, I still feel uncomfortable holding another man’s hand in public.
We have made huge steps in LGBT equality over the last few years but just like my post-date walk home in 2009, we have many long and arduous steps still to walk in order to create full equality. The recent act of terror and homophobic massacre at a gay club illustrates how far we still need to travel in order to create a more tolerant and inclusive society.
Like the song says we are Born This Way, I realized I was gay when I was 13 years old despite my countless nights wishing, praying, and hoping I could somehow become or turn straight. I was embarrassed, ashamed and scared to be my true self in a society that repeatedly gave me overt and sometimes subtle clues that being gay was wrong. That’s the main reason why it took 30 years for me to go on my first real date with someone I was genuinely attracted to namely another man going against the normalcy of society by not dating a woman.
This story in no way shape or form can compare to the senseless murder of 49 people in a gay club nor can it compare to the too numerous to count suicides, attacks, or murders of LGBT people in America; however, it’s a topic that really needs to be discussed, debated and tackled. We have come so far in such a short time; same-sex marriage is now the law of the land; there are more public role models coming out as gay every day; and people from all generations have come to understand that love is love.
My seventy-nine-year-old very religious grandmother often tries to find a “good” man for me to date despite her Catholic church telling her people acting on gay desires are committing a sin. Despite all of this progress, even today recent studies have shown gay men are 4 times more likely to commit suicide and lesbian woman are 2 times more likely to commit suicide compared to heterosexuals .
Transgender people are estimated to have lifetime suicide attempts between 25 to 43 percent and 2015 has been a record year for the number of transgender people murdered thus far. Nine out of ten gay people report being bullied during adolescence and beyond at least once but usually many more times than that for simply being gay. For all our progress in LGBT equality, we are clearly missing something and our rainbow of equality is currently missing its pot of gold.
Now we arrive to Sunday, June 12, 2016, a night where people were feeling safe in a gay club when over 102 people were gruesomely shot and to date 49 of those people died as a direct result of those hateful bullets in an apparent homophobic and terrorist attack. In the weeks that follow we will certainly learn more about the specific details of this horrible crime but in the meantime, the mocking of two men holding hands after a date serves as an admittedly less severe but nevertheless important example of how the seeds of this hatred and senseless murders can take root.
Nelson Mandela once said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background [sexual orientation], or his religion. People must learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
In the upcoming days, let’s all ask ourselves, our families, our friends, our neighbors, our politicians and even those who may disagree with us: How we can teach each other how to love all people no matter our differences? If we could do that then perhaps love can truly conquer hate after all.
Daniel Walmsley is a pediatrician.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com