Acceptance. That word and I – we have some history. I’m a lesbian, born in the ‘60s, one of seven children from a small farming community, with first-generation Italian parents. My family is interwoven with sexism and homophobia stemming from our religious backgrounds. Some have evolved, but many divisions remain cavernous.
By adolescence, Christianity had taught me to hide, reject my true self, and act straight. I learned that God thought of me as a pedophile and an abomination. Fears of being sent away to have my brain electrocuted to stop my thoughts of wanting to dance with a girl literally took my breath away. Anxiety enveloped me, I started biting my nails and developed a robust sense of shame. Acceptance vanished.
Today, I live authentically after unraveling my own homophobia imposed by institutional and cultural discrimination. After years of being forced into the closet, I now see the heterosexualism pervasive throughout our systems that promote being straight as “normal,” therefore superior. Despite this, I have managed to live a productive, happy life. Lots of therapy! Many of my friends without this benefit found that leaving this earth was their only choice.
I struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a disability shared with many gay people due to the violence and discrimination we have experienced during our lives. My disability is often ignored and misunderstood. There are triggers that throw me into a panic attack or enrage me. Most people, including my family, do not understand my reactions and they reject my attempts to discuss them. No acceptance there.
In 2006, my wife and I moved here searching for “acceptance” and a safer community. I was ready to jump out of the closet and found this area to be better, but not the utopia we had expected.
Since the 2016 election, old wounds have reopened reviving past fears and pain. The safer community has evaporated. The federal government feeds my fears with their ambivalence to gun violence. Since the Orlando massacre, I wonder what is coming next for us. I’m haunted by the day two Trump supporters taunted us during an anti-gun rally in Ithaca, pointing at my wife’s sign and shouting “You’re next!” That was one of four attacks by heterosexual men that we have experienced in the last two years. When we reported the attacks to the Ithaca Police we were told, “You just have to walk away.” Are you kidding me? These men intended to be intimidating and harassing. That is not a police department that understands gay history or is interested in protecting us. No acceptance there.
As my body ages and I am less confident in my ability to run or fight, being out in public is somewhat terrifying. I’m constantly scanning for threats – it is exhausting. Unfortunately, Ithaca’s leadership does not acknowledge this reality. I hear the mayor speak about racism, and protecting undocumented people. These are important, but the queer community is not included in his concerns or actions. After the Orlando murders, we asked the mayor’s office to raise the rainbow flag in solidarity. We didn’t even receive a response. No acceptance there.
The Ithaca Police Department is being sued by a lesbian officer for discrimination. Ithaca sought dismissal because Title VII of the Civil Rights Act does not include sexual orientation. No acceptance there.
I opposed a payment of $27,000 from Tompkins County to Catholic Charities. I repeatedly asked Catholic Charities to provide a nondiscrimination policy that includes sexual orientation and gender identity. They refused. Giving taxpayer dollars to an organization who opposes marriage equality, adoptions to gay couples, and preaches that being queer is a sin, is rejecting the rights and needs of the gay community. No acceptance there.
The Democratic Party declares support for LGBTQ rights. But during campaign season in the 23rd district, you wouldn’t know it. When I try to get candidates to speak out against Reed’s opposition to queer civil rights, I’m told to back off because those ideas aren’t popular here. No acceptance there.
Acceptance of those that are different comes with being secure with who you are and the ability to empathize. It takes work to identify and overcome institutional biases on race, gender, and sexual orientation. It takes the willingness to open your mind and learn about systemic discrimination to develop true acceptance.
I have learned to live, thrive, and be as healthy as I can be despite the daily grind of living in a world that does not accept me or my gay cultural. My use of common gay-culture language, mannerisms, and dress raise the eyebrows of straight people. I am often ridiculed, ignored, or shut down because I point out discrimination. I don’t sugarcoat the truth.
I am a survivor, living long enough to learn to accept what I cannot change and the courage to change what I cannot accept. I would like to see people accept that we all are human. And, we have differences, men are different from women and I am different from a heterosexual. Neither is wrong. True acceptance.
Structural homophobia is to gay people what structural racism is to Black America. It is well hidden, engrained in our daily lives, and will take a massive educational effort to overcome. I will continue to find the courage to dismantle these until my last breath. I hope that sharing my story will move you to find true acceptance and join me in demolishing the structures of discrimination.
Thank you for sharing your story, Joanne. I am sorry for the pain and anxiety that members of the LGBTQ community feel, even in Tompkins County, which prides itself on being so diverse and accepting. Clearly there is so much work left to be done.
I hope you and your friends will continue to speak out bravely and suggest ways that the straight community can be good allies. Sometimes it seems like change comes so slowly, but other times I am surprised by how quickly it goes. I never imagined that gay marriage would be legal in America in 2019. Let's work, and let's think positively (and set high goals, and have some patience for those who are trying their best but struggling with the changes) because we CAN create a better world for our friends and our children.
Well written and reasoned article. Thank you for speaking your truth. I moved here for similar reasons 25 years ago. I also asked City Hall to show its support and outrage after the Orlando massacre. I also received a response of silence. There are many "isms" to be dealt with in our society, and it is the exceptional individual who will take moral stands/actions outside of the lens of the "ism" that is affecting their own life/career. I don't think Ithaca's mayor is that exceptional individual. But I do think that you are. Live well and prosper!
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