In the end, it’s a fight for respect

The fight over gay rights and gay marriage has been a hot topic for years, and one that has come to the forefront lately. First, President Obama endorsed gay marriage. Then, recently, this story claimed boxer Manny Pacquiao quoted a Bible passage that calls for gays to be put to death. Though Pacquiao later clarified he never quoted such a thing, it still sparked some outrage and response, including this wonderfully written open letter from a gay Filipina American to Pacquiao.

Homophobia and professional sports have long been intertwined. It is one of the last bastions for gays, especially in North America. We have never had an openly gay active professional athlete. But if you’ve ever been around any sporting event, you know that homophobia, even casual homophobia is alive and well. Just listen to what people in the stands yell. Think of all the ways athletes try to insult each other: sometimes they resort to something misogynistic (you run like a girl! you’re a wimpy girl!) or something homophobic (you’re a fag!).

And it’s this casual homophobia that the organization You Can Play aims to eliminate. While mostly centered around hockey, its simple message is this: If you can play, you can play. It doesn’t matter who you are, what your sexual orientation is, what your story is: If you can play, you can play.

Today is also the International Day Against Homophobia, according to Patrick Burke, president of You Can Play (he also sums up their mission quite nicely):

And that’s really what’s drawn me to You Can Play. It’s the desire to get rid of casual homophobia. It’s about respect. You stop using those words and phrases, you show some respect. You never put yourself in a position to defend yourself, to have to tell people you’re not an ignorant or bigoted asshole. In turn, you help make the world a little less hostile for gay folks who are afraid of hostility.

For me personally, this is something I try to practice. Most people who know me know I have a dirty mouth. I’ve yelled a lot of pretty creative insults and obscenities, but there is one threshold I will not cross:

I will not use any gay epithets. I also don’t use the phrase “that’s so gay” to derisively describe anything.

I don’t use those words and phrases in public, or even in private. (And trust me, a lot of off-color things get said when there isn’t polite company around.)

Why do I do this? Why does this fight for respect for gay people mean so much to me? It’s because gay people have been a part of my life for a long time.

My Inang (my grandmother) used to have a gay hairdresser. His name was Luigi. He used to come by her house in the Philippines and cut her hair on the porch. Luigi was always good to me and my cousins — we were all impressionable young kids, maybe 10 or 11 or so. We all knew he was bakla (gay). He even showed us pictures of him dressed in drag and insisted we call him Tita Luigi (tita is the Filipino word for aunt). But we as kids never really cared. We loved Luigi. We loved his friends/boyfriends. Luigi worked for one of the local television networks in the Philippines, and sometimes he’d take us to live variety shows. For us, he was just part of the family. More than a decade later, my mom commissioned Luigi to design my wedding dress, and he did all the makeup for the wedding party.

That was my first exposure to gay people. And because everyone around me treated Luigi and his friends just like everyone else, I learned to treat them like everyone else.

It’s continued as I grew older. My best friend from college is gay. (I’ve written about him before, as relating to his desire to get married in California despite the fact you can’t legally do that here.) One of my cousins is also gay. One day, that cousin’s sister dismissively said to me, “I don’t know if she’s really gay or making this up.”

And that floored me. And at the same time, it didn’t surprise me. And it still makes me sad. It’s that kind of dismissive thinking of gay people that many advocates are trying to fight. It’s a huge fight with many fronts. And You Can Play tries to fight it on the sports front. They deserve all kinds of kudos for that because again, it is perhaps the most difficult arena to stage this fight. All that machismo gets in the way sometimes. But I think humanizing gay people and making them realize that they are still the same people before and after they’ve come out is the first step. And humanizing people starts with paying them respect and not hiding behind epithets.

This is summed up nicely by Patrick too:

He’s absolutely right, and that sentiment always makes me think of a story my husband told me. Once, when he was a kid, the hubby and his older sister were playing around when she called him a fag. Their dad hear them and said:

Hey! Don’t call your brother that! You can call him a shithead, you can call him an asshole, but don’t call him a fag!

If you must insult someone, you can always find some other non-bigoted epithet to throw, right?

If people stop and think about what comes out of their mouth, then that’s a small victory to celebrate. It’s a small step toward respect, and really, that’s all everyone wants in the end.