I’ll never forget the afternoon my best friend came out to me as bi. It was a sunny but lazy Tuesday, and I was dropping him off at his house like I have hundreds of times in the past couple of years. And he just said it.
“See you tomorrow, man. Oh, and I’m bi, just so you know.”
I want to tell that story, but we’re not quite there yet. There’s a number I’d like to discuss first. Seventy. 70. According to a Newsweek article published in April of this year, seventy UN member states around the world still criminalize “same-sex sexual acts.” As someone who was born and raised in the Bay Area, with the heart of San Francisco’s progressive tradition never more than an hour from home, it can be hard to internalize that.
Earlier this year, during the time my friend came out, the small island nation of Brunei was in the news for trying to implement the death penalty for its citizens convicted of partaking in gay sex. It’s hard to imagine—people fleeing their country for fear of being stoned at the very same time that my friend was coming out to me.
More recently, in Kenya what began as a spark of hope has ended in a major step backwards. A trial held in Kenya’s highest court considering the legality of homosexuality seemed at first like the nation preparing to take a step forward in recognizing its citizens’ rights. But in May, the court upheld laws criminalizing gay sex. Progress often feels infuriatingly incremental if not downright impossible.
Of course, that’s not to see progress doesn’t exist. In late 2018, Indian courts struck down laws banning gay sex. The ruling went even further and granted gay Indians protection under the constitution. Even with the progressive ruling, though, many LGBTQ+ Indians still struggle from immense societal pressures that have been ingrained through generations. Progress must include legislative changes, but it doesn’t end in the courtroom.
The magnitude of the injustice faced by LGBTQ+ people around the world is hard for me to comprehend. And I think for me, part of Pride Month is remembering this—not only that these injustices exist, but also that for many people they exist as a horrible part of everyday life, not something more abstract.
My friend and I met freshman year of high school. We had gone to different middle schools, and the joy of my first few months of high school was slowly discovering that we share many of the same interests. We love talking politics and pushing progressive policies. We love basketball, and we’re both bad enough at it that playing against each other is fun.
Pretty quickly, we became best friends. We’ve had the same schedule pretty much all of high school. It became a joke between us that if one of us had a funny story to tell, the other would hear it six or seven times throughout the day. We’ve talked to each other through break-ups, car accidents, and depression.
And so it felt a bit funny that he didn’t come out to me until senior year. That began to change as I saw how our local community reacted. Classmates and friends walked up to him in disbelief, asking him if it was really true. I’ve watched my best friend find powerful support groups and struggle to hide his sexual orientation as if it were some kind of poison. I’ve seen him unable to come out to friends who he’d grown up with, friends who he hung out with multiple times a week.
Even here in the Bay Area, homophobia still exists. The big, bold, progressive crowd that you’ve probably seen protesting on Market or flying pride flags throughout the city is certainly present, but there’s also a noticeable pressure in the opposite direction. A pressure which may cause even someone as progressive as my friend to feel uncomfortable fully embracing himself. For him, communities like our school’s GSA Club became important places to feel safe. But those communities were often limited to only certain classrooms, as outside of them, there were plenty of our peers ready to make fun of or treat my friend as if he’s somehow fundamentally different.
All of this is to say that, with Pride Month now here, I’m trying to remember both how far we’ve come and how far we’ve yet to go.