A Lifetime of Pride
50 years ago, in July 1969, I sat with thousands of other Boy Scouts at our National Jamboree in northern Idaho watching on a massive TV screen as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon. We were proud to be Boy Scouts, proud to be Americans – and proud to be included in the “One giant leap for Mankind”.
Unbeknownst to any of us boys at the time, this was just 3 weeks after the riots in front of the Stonewall Inn created minor headlines in New York City but were a critical catalyst to the recognition of gay rights.
Two years later I was proud to obtain the rank of Eagle Scout. Around the same time, a handful of New Yorkers held their second Gay Pride Parade, commemorating the events of June 1969.
During college, I came out of the closet as a gay man. With the homophobia of the Boy Scout movement of the time I put my Boy Scout shirt with its embroidered Eagle insignia and Jamboree patch, along with my Scouting memories, back into the closet. Instead, I found new organizations in which I could thrive by being myself.
In 1994, I proudly stood with millions of others in New York for the festivities known as Stonewall 25. That year’s parade was especially memorable for its mile-long 6-stripe rainbow flag, the world’s largest flag.
By 2003 had moved to Key West where I joined my neighbors to help carry a 1 1/4 mile–long Sea-to-Sea rainbow flag that ran down Duval Street from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. It was made by Gilbert Baker in honor of the 25th anniversary of the first rainbow flag that Gilbert designed. Gilbert told us that he was particularly proud that this flag would revert to his original 8 stripes. Each color was significant:
- Hot pink for sexuality
- Red for life
- Orange for healing
- Yellow for the sun
- Green for nature
- Turquoise blue for art
- Indigo for harmony
- Violet for spirit
This summer my worlds have again converged. My partner Jake and I went to New York for the Stonewall 50 festivities and again joined with Key West friends to carry a 100-foot section of the 2003 rainbow flag.
Before the parade, Jake bought me an Eagle Scout hat that says, “Once an Eagle Scout, always an Eagle Scout” and Scout shorts with an Eagle belt buckle. Almost 50 years from the last time I wore a Boy Scout uniform I was again proudly claiming that part of my identity. I was astonished how many gay men saw my cap and came over to tell me how much achieving the rank of Eagle still meant to them as well.
It was a profound experience to celebrate the achievements of the LGBT community over the past 50 years while also claiming my own achievements in an organization that has not always made its gay members feel welcome.
Isn’t this what Pride is all about?