Words & Music Monday: LGBT History Month Edition
Usually, each of my Words & Music Monday posts features an author talking about their musical influences. Today we’re taking a bit of a different approach to the post. October (among other things) is LGBT History Month. I’ve had the fantastic luck, the last few years, to find myself involved with the M/M fiction community. I’ve been introduced to the stories, the authors, and the amazing fellowship they share.
Wilde City Press is spotlighting posts that commemorate moments, both good and bad, in the ongoing struggle for equal rights. Whether it’s a personal moment, or a national one… they’ve all contributed to the gay community as a whole, and to its place in time.
I have a tendency to keep my head in the sand when it comes to unpleasantness. I’m aware of the world around me, but I don’t spend time on negativity and heartbreak if I can help it. This may not always be the most pro-active way to live, but I generally go through my days pretty happy. Today, I’m going to share a moment when my head was yanked out of the sand, and my heart broke.
I have had, and do have, people in my life who are gay. It’s such an odd thing, for me as a straight person, to focus on, because it honestly DOES NOT MATTER TO ME WHO THEY’RE ATTRACTED TO. It’s not a concern for my non-gay friends, so it makes exactly zero sense for it to be a concern for my gay friends. I want everyone to find their own happiness, and it really shouldn’t matter if that happiness comes with a penis or boobs. However… many years ago, I was given a glimpse of the absolute horror that some people face at the hands of others who are afraid, or judgemental, or are just plain assholes. I was introduced to the memory of Matthew Shepard, through a song by Melissa Etheridge.
I’m not going to go into all of the details of Matthew’s death here. I will tell you that he was a friendly, 21-year-old college student who was beaten bloody, and left pinned up in a Wyoming field to die. Because he was gay. You may know his story. I’m sure I heard something about it, in passing, when it happened. I vaguely remember it being on the news. But I had long since stopped listening to all of the horrible stories that made “news”. That whole “head in the sand” thing.
I hadn’t stopped listening to music, though. And one of my favorites is kick-ass, singer/songwriter Melissa Etheridge. (Who is openly gay, but that’s not the first thing I think of when I think of her.) I’d seen her live in 1993 or 1994, and had become addicted to her music. When her 1999 album Breakdown was released, I bought it immediately, and proceeded to devour the music. Every song was better than the one before it, and I was thrilled. Then… track 8… “Scarecrow”.
Just typing the song title gives me goosebumps. I haven’t listened to it recently, and I’m not listening to it while I type this, because I’d like to make it though this post without crying. “Scarecrow” is Melissa’s tribute to Matthew, and essentially a “wake-up call” to the rest of us. It’s haunting, and beautiful, and ugly, and heartbreaking, and raw, and true. It stopped me in my tracks that day. I checked the liner notes… then researched Matthew Shepard. He hadn’t been too much younger than I was at the time. It took a lot for me to wrap my head around the idea that people could be so unimaginably closed-minded. It scared me to death that something like that could happen to one of my friends.
I think that was the beginning of my awareness of how “unequal” society, and legal rights, for the LGBT community were. I had been involved in local politics, pretty heavily, a few years before (that may have contributed to my “head in the sand” lifestyle, too) but gay rights didn’t really play a role in anything we were focusing on. It wasn’t something I really thought about too much before then. In my head, there’s no reason NOT to be equal, so what’s the big deal?
I’d like to think I’ve become a bit more knowledgable since then. I don’t believe that “tolerance” is required (gay people are not unruly 2 year olds that need to be “tolerated”), I believe that “acceptance” is what we should all strive for. Matthew and Melissa (and no doubt my religious beliefs and upbringing) helped me to understand how important it was to demonstrate that acceptance in my life, so that other people might see me as an example. There are still crimes like what happened to Matthew happening every day. There are still people who are afraid or ashamed of who they are. It’s mind-boggling to me.
Thankfully, art (as a whole) seems to be a place of some relief and pride for the gay community. Words and Music (specifically) seem to be more accepting. There has been a thriving LGBT fiction community for a while, comprised of both gay and straight authors. And the number of gay characters finding their way into “mainstream” fiction seems to be growing by leaps and bounds. Authors are embracing the “gay couple” as A COUPLE more and more, and readers are supporting them. Authors like J R Ward, Lori Foster, Karina Cooper, Yasmine Galenorn, John Green, Maureen Johnson, Diana Gabaldon, Mercedes Lackey, Suzanne Brockman, Lauren Dane, Kim Harrison, and Cassandra Clare, to name just a few. In music, there are themes of acceptance coming out of every genre, and the songs are topping the charts. Most recently, “Same Love” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (featuring Mary Lambert).
This month, and Wilde City’s spotlighted posts, are good reminders of how far society has come. There have been tragedies and triumphs, some more publicized than others. I think it’s interesting that as I’m prepping this post to go live, an author buddy is about to marry his partner of 20 years. We have really come a long way. But we’ve got so much farther to go.
As for me… I say CONGRATULATIONS to Andrew and Dominic. THANK YOU, to Melissa… for all of your music, including “Scarecrow”. To Matthew, I wish there had been more for you, I hope you’re at peace. And to each of you… I hope you find your own happiness.