While I am having my own personal struggle with the timing for coming out to my parents, and explaining to them that I am in love with the most amazing woman that could ever exist, my girlfriend and I take a trip to Los Angeles to meet her parents who have, supposedly, accepted that she’s gay.
They were very nice to me during the entire time I was staying in their house (a whole week) except for one little incident. They, kindly, told us we needed to display less affection (we weren’t kissing, but we’d hold hands and occasionally hug) and stop calling each other “baby, mi amor, mamita” all the time, especially outside the house and in front of other people.
This small restriction, though reasonable, caught me completely off guard. I realized how much I take acceptance for granted living in New York City. It was the first time I felt discriminated against because of my sexuality, the first (I guess) of many to come. I was utterly confused about why her parents would be okay with me coming over, staying in their house, and spending New Year’s with them but not with displays of affection. Situations like this are demonstrations of tolerance, and that’s a bridge we need to finish crossing.
The fight for the acceptance of gay people has been going on for more than a half century and we have won significant battles, among them marriage rights for gay couples in certain states. Nevertheless at a more social level, in the everyday life, Americans still have to work on their acceptance of people with different orientations. Children are being bullied in schools to the point where they commit suicide; parents are throwing their kids out of the house; “that’s so gay” is still used as a common insult; religious organizations are creating laws that will prevent same-sex couples from having the same rights as heterosexual couples (I thought we established in 1954 that separate but equal is not equal).
Although going from complete aversion to the idea of homosexuality, when it was punishable by death, to allowing people to get legally married could be called advancement, in a developed country like the United States it is not enough. Achieving tolerance should not be our goal, because tolerance is simply a bridge we must walk over between rejection and acceptance. Staying on the bridge will make it collapse under it’s own weight.
There’s only progress if we keep walking and make it all the way to favorable reception, approval and equal treatment of all people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. But that’s not something that happens by signing a petition, going to a pride parade or voting for “gay-friendly” politicians.
It happens by changing our mindset, throwing out our prejudices and giving people the chance to show who they are, before you judge them. Apparently it’s easier to change laws than it is to turn people’s hearts away from hate.