What do you do with your pride flag on July first? Do you fold it up and put it in the closet until next year? The idea of putting your rainbow in a closet seems counter intuitive when we have worked so hard to get out of our own. I recently had that all too often conversation with someone who doesn’t quite understand pride; “I don’t care if you are gay, but why do you have to throw it in everyone’s face?” It’s a sentiment shared all too often.
So why pride? What do you respond to a question like that? Is it enough to simply explain that the first pride was a riot outside of stonewall? Do you talk about Harvey Milk’s dream that we could all be who we are, only to have his own light snuffed out too soon? Or recount the violence against our community from the 1973 Upstairs Lounge fire which killed 32 in New Orleans to the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando which took the lives of 49 more?
I often tell people who ask that I am part of a minority who is fortunate to be able to celebrate pride, and that for every rainbow flag taken from a closet in June, there are so many who are afraid that they may never be able to come out of their own.
I tell the story of a teenager who reached out to me years ago. Their father had read an article about me, America’s “first transgender infantryman.” This Nebraska man who, as far as he knew, had never met a transgender person, had strong opinions about the LGBTQ community. Expletives were used as this gentleman made clear his feelings on “people like that” going so far as to exclaim his relief that none of his children were “that way” because he would have to beat it out of them.
Except his child was “that way.” This teen came out to me from the safety of their keyboard while fearing that they would never be able to live an authentic life. This story is not unique. Across the country our children live in the closet for fear of what their family might do. When 7% of American youth identify as LGBT but over 40% of homeless youth do it’s no surprise that our kids would be afraid to come out.
Today in America our transgender service members live in a similar fear. They are no longer allowed to share the honor of serving and the right to live authentically, again being forced to choose one or the other. While thousands of us were able to come out and serve proudly, that door has been closed without cause. Time and again our LGBT service members have shown that they are among the best and the brightest. We have served in combat, earned awards, and led troops around the globe. Yet, for those who are trans, we continue to be told that our contributions and capabilities are less important than who we are.
So, when I am asked “why do you fly that flag,” I explain that like the rainbow that it resembles, my flag is a beacon. Whether for the scared teen or the service member who must make an impossible choice, or perhaps for you who read this today. My pride is our pride. My flag is our flag. And my flag will fly as a symbol of hope and a rallying cry until the day that each of us can be who we are and love who we love unafraid and unashamed.