Why being out and proud is so vital

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imageJoshua Trey Barnett is the co-creator and editor of GayInAthens.com and the contributing blogger behind Dawg Days, a weekly update from Athens for Project Q Atlanta.

Athens is Atlanta’s little queer sister.

We have a gay bar, a welcoming downtown scene, more LGBT-themed and -friendly organizations than you can shake your stick at (no pun intended), big gay events on a regular basis, a network of socialites and connected queers, and we even have our own Pride event.

Like little sisters, we look to Atlanta for guidance sometimes. Not long after the City of Atlanta passed legislation that supported domestic partner benefits, so did Athens-Clarke County. Many gay and unmarried straight employees have benefited since the change in Athens took effect in July 2007.

It’s no surprise then, with a supportive government, that Athens is a reasonably easy place to be out and proud. Gay couples can frequently be seen downtown and around campus holding hands, kissing, and generally acting just like the other couples.

Just this morning at the bus stop, a lesbian couple shared what my boyfriend calls an “embrace,” basically a hug and kiss. No one stared except me, maybe, as I was so happy to see this; no one gawked or made fun. The atmosphere at the bus stop didn’t change.

And that’s what is so important for the gay rights movement. When everyone feels safe being out and proud in public, we’ll have accomplished so many goals.

When two men kissing or hugging in public doesn’t seem out of place and doesn’t change the environment, we’ll know that we’ve done something right. In short, the idea is to normalize what is regarded by the dominant culture as taboo, unholy, wrong, socially awkward, perverse, strange and the like.

Getting to this stage in the gay rights movement will be tougher in small cities and rural towns. As city dwellers, though, we must not be afraid to take the lead. And part of normalizing requires being out.

That’s not to say that every gay person must flaunt his or her sexuality in public places. As Dr. Dawn Bennett-Alexander points out in an article on visibility, sometimes this isn’t possible. But those who are able, and willing, should not steer away from showing affection in public or saying something when they hear a gay joke or slur.

In the spirit of being out and proud, Athens will enjoy two gatherings of local LGBT folks this weekend. On Saturday, current LGBT graduates at UGA and alumni will hear from Rep. Barney Frank’s trans staff member, Diego Sanchez, at Lavender Graduation. On Sunday, all the gay boys and girls will meet up for the annual Pride Picnic at Sandy Creek Park. Of course, the door is open to all of you.

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