We have known for decades that the young people most at risk for suicide are LGBTQ youth who have been rejected and /or completely abandoned by their families and communities for their sexuality.
As a society, PRIDE is saving lives; teens and young people. Having a voice inside and outside their families is not just an innate right, but a life-enhancing, life-saving development. People who are actively and vocally accepting of all genders, sexualities and identities are helping to heal our society of deep-seated hatred and fear.
A point I make to anyone who still harbors prejudice or resistance to the all embracing PRIDE banner is this "You know that you most likely love someone who is LGBTQ. They just can't tell you and it is a real loss."
My good friend and colleague Nancy Rappaport MD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School began my thinking on this when I called her, very happy that the US Supreme Court upheld the right for all citizens to marry. I said, "Nancy, with all the prejudice and hate we still have I am happily shocked that we have embraced marriage equality." She made the very wise observation that prejudice can fester when humans have little or no contact with the races, creeds or colors they fear and then hate, "But everyone knows and loves someone who is LGBTQ."
I believe she is correct, and I believe we have much more work to do to make our culture caring and inclusive of all. When I was a teen and young adult no one that I knew was "out" as gay, lesbian or bisexual, even though I was in a very inclusive group where several friends and professors were gay. It was a completely repressed culture in most areas of America.
Watching 'Rocket Man' the great musical movie about the life of Sir Elton John with two young members of my family reminded me of the time before PRIDE where shame and denial was common. Elton could not express pride, or even discuss his sexuality without fear of real rejection and reprisal professionally, even when he was at the top of the music charts. The movie depicts his suffering and depression, his complete rejection by his father and terrible treatment by his mother and others because he was "a fairy".
I remember living in that world of deep prejudice- only 35 years ago there was no pride, no rainbows, and less hope for young teens coming into their sexuality that they would be safe and loved. I talked to my young family members about how it was acceptable to bully LGBTQ teens in my Catholic High School and how terrible it was to watch and be almost powerless to help my friends. They were as surprised to hear about this open and accepted hostility towards LGBTQ people as I had been hearing about the recent past history of segregation and intense racial hatred from my parents when I was a kid.
When I was 8 or 9 years old the idea that African Americans could not eat in the same restaurants, were openly discriminated against and abused made me feel sick. My young relatives had the same reaction to hearing the recent intense prejudice against the LGBTQ community.
The levels of hatred seemed to be impossible, and yet, both racial equality and LGBTQ equality is not a given. Even with all the clear progress we as a culture have made, we all must keep celebrating, calling out inequities, inappropriate language and 'jokes' in an effort to keep our sisters and brothers and gender fluid friends safe and cared for. Some teens and young adults desperately need to hear the care and acceptance from people outside their families to protect them from despair. That’s one of the reasons I am ‘loud and proud’ in my support. Our vocal pride can save lives.
The fact that PRIDE is celebrated for the entire month of June makes me smile and gives me hope that the fear and hatred cannot win. The Rainbows have it!
Liz Driscoll Jorgensen is a psychotherapist with over 30 years’ experience, the owner of Insight Counseling, LLC in Ridgefield, CT and a consultant to Newport Academy. She is on faculty at Harvard CME and is a frequent speaker and trainer.