"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Thing About Hate

I forget, sometimes, how far we still need to go.


In nearly all areas of his life, Max has it pretty damn good. School and relationships come easily to him. He has a lot of interests and the willingness to pursue them. He is growing up in a safe and friendly environment. He has a large family, all of whom love him fiercely.

He has the language to understand his identity and the confidence to express it.

He is proud. And we couldn't be prouder.

We didn't think twice about stopping by a Pride festival on the way home from vacation last weekend. Our own hometown has a Pride festival in September. It's nice...but we were looking forward to attending an event during Pride Month. Something bigger. Something a bit more flashy. We wanted to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community Out Loud. The Hampton Roads Pride Fest was exactly what we we were looking for....Rainbows and flags, glitter and make-up, drag queens and quirky slogans on t-shirts.

The Boat Parade was an unexpected bonus. (And the "Naughty Boys" on that one boat were an unexpectedly aMAZing bonus!)

Also unexpected (because I live in a bubble of my own curation most of the time), were the protestors. We first saw them as we were circling the block in search of a parking space. It was a group of about eight people, kids and adults. They were what you might expect when you picture Pride protestors....angry people wearing shirts that spewed hateful "Christian" messages about sinners, heavy boots and wallets on chains....carrying large signs printed with bible verses and homophobic slurs.

Max didn't see them.

Sam gave me a look...Do we talk about it first? 
I answered him with a shrug...Cross our fingers and hope we don't run into them?

But, no. Max would see them. He sees everything. Obnoxiously observant and always with one ear open to the conversations around him, he would see them. We wanted him to know that we saw them first. We saw them and we had a plan.

But we didn't. Who has a plan for Hate?

We parked and I turned around in my seat to face the kids. "Listen," I started, "We're here to celebrate Pride. We're here for a fun family day and that's all I want you guys to focus on. There are a LOT of people here to celebrate Pride, to express themselves, and to have so much fun. It's just a big party!"

Three sets of eyes staring back at their unusually babbly mother.

"So, um, there are also people here who are just here to be jerks. Not a lot of them! They're protesting Pride and that's mean and unnecessary. We're not going to worry about them, but I wanted to let you know that, if you see them, just ignore them."

Max's eyes had grown wide and his bottom lip had started to tremble.

"But..." and the tears began to well up "Are they dangerous?"

Maybe? Hopefully not? They certainly could be. It's 2019 in the United States of America. We're an open carry state. Nazis with ARs came to our city less than two years ago. 100 people die every day from gun violence and mass murders in public spaces are becoming To Be Expected and our lawmakers are doing nothing to stop it.

"Absolutely not," I lied straight to his face.

"We're safe and here to have a great time with the hundreds of other people who are here to celebrate. We're not going to worry about a couple of mean jerks, okay?"

We parked and walked uneventfully to the waterfront. We had time to kill before the festival was to begin so we did the tourist bit...we wandered around the docks looking at the rainbow-bedecked boats preparing for the parade, we wandered through various shops, then we were off to find a good spot for lunch before heading into Pride.

That's when he saw them. Standing outside on the sidewalk, facing into the building we were about to leave, was a whole damn gaggle of protestors. They were waving their signs and chanting their chants and spewing their hate all over that poor sidewalk.

Sam did a quick pivot to steer us toward the side exit, but the damage was done. Max burst into tears. "I just want to leave!" he cried. "Let's just go home!"

It was one of those parenting moments that felt Important and that we needed to get Just Right. Take my baby and go? Honor his wishes? Whisk him out of a situation that seemed scary or unsafe? Teach him to trust his gut?

Or stay...just to make a point?

Well, we had spent the better part of the previous week with Taylor Swift's You Need to Calm Down on repeat and we were NOT going to let those haters step on our gowns, thankyouverymuch.

I got down low and in his face: "We're not leaving, baby. We're staying. We are here for a fun family day and we are NOT going to let mean people ruin our fun. You're completely safe. We're going to stay far away from them and ignore them, but we're going to Pride. We need to be here for everyone else who will see those guys and feel uncomfortable. We're here to make sure there's so many more of us than there are of them."

He wasn't convinced. Neither was I, but in those big Important parenting moments, am I ever?

"Alright listen: If we get to Pride and you don't feel safe, we'll leave. But right now, we're going out to lunch, okay? One step at a time."

Diversion By Food.

By the time we got to Pride, our bellies were full and we were all feeling a bit more relaxed. Sam sidled up to a cop while we were waiting in the bag check line and, after asking the important questions ("Do you have a plan for Hate?" "Will our kids be safe here?") learned that there was a designated area for protestors. Contained Hate. They were allowed to be there (freedom of speech) but they weren't allowed to rain on our parade. We could avoid the area altogether and enjoy the day. Knowing that helped Max. He did ask, though, what the police officer's "tone" was when he told Sam about the protestors being allowed there... "But did he sound mad or upset that they are allowed to be here or happy that they're here?" Kid doesn't miss a thing, I tell you.

We entered Pride and it was, I'm dead serious, glitter and rainbows.

It was pronoun pins and temporary tattoos, it was rainbow butterfly men on stilts...

...and voter registration tables with the LGBTQ Dems of Virginia, it was live music and drag shows, it was families and teens and adults and love and community and Pride.

AND a boat parade.

We passed by, at a distance, the Designated Area of Hate. We couldn't see it all, just a glimpse from in between tents. Max looked. I told him not to. "Don't even let them see you notice them." He saw enough, though, to see that he wasn't the only one bothered by them. There was a crowd of about a dozen or so Pride-goers facing the wall of (several dozen) protestors. The Pride contingent was answering the chants and responding to the signs with colorful language and hand gestures.

For the most part, though, Pride Party People ignored the Hate. Just didn't even give it a second glance. This is what I pointed out to Max.

Shade never made anybody less gay... so just be you. We're having way more fun than they are anyway, right kiddo? Here's a Kona Ice!

My heart broke, for a moment, for every LGBTQIA+ person at Hampton Roads Pride Fest who had to see and hear the Hate. My heart broke, for a moment, for Future Max. (We have a lot of work to do as a society before I let him off on his own in this world.)

...in the meantime...

My heart broke...but was instantly mended by the love I saw and felt at Pride. I saw moms and dads giving hugs to "kids" who were not their own but who needed a Mom Hug. I saw true, uncensored self-expression. I saw confidence. I saw celebration. I saw Family. We'll be back.

Lesson Learned:

The thing about Hate is....I'm just so over it. Aren't they? It's exhausting! Let's be done with the close-minded judgey rage, okay? Go home, jerks. Your signs aren't working.

Inhale. Exhale.
Spray, delay, walk away.
Or, you know, whatever Jonathan Van Ness would say in this situation.

When we got home, I asked Max if he had a good time at Pride. "Are you glad we went?"

"OMG! Like, so glad we went!" he answered as he flipped his hair and pushed play...