WE DIDN’T START covering the Hudson Pride Parade and the ever growing number of events that are part of the annual OutHudson Pride Festival until 2012. By then it was the third annual festival and growing each year. This week the celebration marks its first decade. It’s a milestone worth noting.
When the first festival was held in Hudson, same-sex couples could not get married. Marriage equality became law in July 2011, so when that third year came along, there was real progress to celebrate. By now most kids don’t remember when two adults who loved each other couldn’t get married because of their sexual orientation. All kids face plenty of challenges ahead, but their world is a little more just, now that same-sex marriage is a legally protected right.
Kids are a part of this festival. Some of them identify as LGBT or Q. Others don’t but are there with family or friends anyway. If you ask, they might tell you it’s a fun way to spend a few hours… as long as they get some screen time too.
By contrast, some of us geezers have heard about the confrontation between gay men and the New York City cops who attacked them 50 years ago at a club called the Stonewall Inn. Their struggle helped propel the gay rights movement. So the festive mood this week is tempered by the memory of a time when same-sex relationships defined people as criminals. There were no protections for employment or from housing discrimination if people failed to hide their affections. The law forced people to live in fear. If discovered, they risked being outcasts and worse in some places–assaulted, even murdered–all for violating social “norms.” Those norms suppressed normal behaviors that have existed at least as long as written records have been kept.
The reach of this discrimination was inescapable. A successful Columbia County businesswoman once told me of her dread when she learned a gay couple had bought the house next door. That was in the early 1970s. She avoided her new neighbors at first but casual contacts melted the barriers she had erected for herself. Her fears dissolved into a close and lasting friendship with the couple. Thirty years later she remained troubled that her first reflex had been bigotry and how it could have cost her the friendship if she’d surrendered to her prejudice.
The struggle isn’t over. It took until early this year for the state to adopt a law that halts the quackery called “conversion therapy,” which attempts to force children and adults to reject their sexual identity if it isn’t the same identity assigned at birth. The New York Times quoted Governor Cuomo describing conversion therapy as “a fraudulent practice that has done untold harm to too many young people.”
Among the remaining legislative challenges are state and federal laws that do not discriminate against or permit discrimination against LGBTQ people.
The OutHudson Festival helps bring awareness of these and other tasks ahead. But equally important it reminds the community–Hudson and Columbia County–that it’s normal to celebrate our freedoms and the laws that protect us. Normal people exercise that normal right all the time. And we’re all welcome to join them for this one.