Shortly after the Orlando massacre, my family and I were headed for a local shopping mall and, as we often do, were discussing recent events on the way. We arrived and parked and proceeded to get out of our minivan in the parking lot near a chain department store. The area is not as upscale as some other parts of the Bay Area and the store is known more for lower prices than for its appeal to educated professionals. In short, while still relatively liberal (it was, after all, still the San Francisco Bay Area), it was an area where one might run into a homophobe.
Getting out of the car and walking through the parking lot, I continued talking loudly about the terrorist attack at the Pulse nightclub in Florida and its effect on the LGBTQ community. My oldest began trying to get me to quiet down and stop talking about it. He said that one day, I would end up getting shot if I kept talking that way. He was worried that some homophobic terrorist would take offense at what I was saying and respond with lethal force.
At the time, I reassured my son that most people, even those who appear extremely hateful on the internet, are not really violent and don’t actually attack people in real life. I also told him that I hoped people heard me because it might make them think twice about their bigotry.
In reality, however, I know that it is very unlikely that overhearing a casual conversation would change anyone’s mind or heart; even directed discussions have difficulty doing that. The real reason is one I touched on before and is the reason I wear my pride shirts whenever I can: to be a beacon of support to those who need it, a friendly face in a sea of unknowns.
There are a lot of kids out there who are figuring out who they are and what their place in the world is and many of them may not have the support they need at home. Or they may think they’re alone. They may think everyone will hate them — listening to politicians and religious leaders, it’s not hard to understand why. So I want to be that safe face in the crowd so that they know there’s at least one person on their side. So that they can know that not everyone is against them.
Living in San Francisco, I think kids know that there are a lot of folks who support them, but that is not necessarily the case everywhere. If you live in an area more homophobic than not, I urge you, not just today but everyday, to wear a Pride shirt or one that offers a supportive message. Get yourself a rainbow beach towel. Slap a sticker on your car’s bumper. Stand up and let kids know that you’re on their side.