What a way to start Pride Month.
On May 31, I was walking through Leavitt Park in Flossmoor, getting some video of the yarn bombing art project created the day before by Homewood-Flossmoor High School students. They wrapped trees near the playground in rainbow colors to show support for LGBTQ+ members of the community.
A small group of teenage boys walked through the playground. I didn’t look up from my phone, but I clearly heard one boy say, “I hate gays. Why the (bleep) is there all this gay (bleep) over here?”
I get it. I was a teenage boy once upon a time. Comments like that are part of the masculine posturing teenage boys do. But a “boys will be boys” reaction is inadequate to such occasions. People I love are members of the LGBTQ+ community. Words like these hurt them, even if they weren’t there to hear them. Those words perpetuate ideas that find expression — sometimes violent expression — wherever gay people try to live their lives in peace.
My first response to those comments was the worst possible response. I didn’t say anything.
I have since apologized to family members for failing them. They were understanding, forgiving and willing to let me off the hook, suggesting maybe it wasn’t really my place to correct the kid.
Granted. But his parents weren’t there. His teachers weren’t there. His friends just chuckled. I was there, and I could have said something. I could have asked him if he knew any gay people. I could ask him if he knew how much those comments hurt people. It wouldn’t have been necessary to be confrontational or angry. Simply questioning his comments might have at least momentarily disrupted his performance.
How will boys learn to be good men if men don’t help them along the way? I not only failed my gay friends and family, I failed that boy.
A few days later I passed by Leavitt Park again and noticed the yarn on four of the five trees that were decorated was in tatters. Clearly, the yarn had been cut. Given that squirrels are not known to wield sharp metal objects, I strongly suspected vandalism. I have no idea whether the boy I overheard had anything to do with damaging the yarn art, but the hate he expressed was there, guiding the hand doing the work.
Hateful comments and slashed yarn might seem trivial to some, but given the context of rising hate crimes in the country, we can’t dismiss those acts.
A New York Times story about a report from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) (bit.ly/43QjID4) on homophobic and transphobic incidents notes that, “As of Tuesday (June 20), ADL and GLAAD had documented 101 such incidents in the first three weeks of June, which is Pride Month. That is more than twice the number the organizations counted from last June.”
Silence is not an option. That’s why I’m thankful I live in Homewood, because on June 9 the H-F community came out in force to embrace and celebrate our LGBTQ+ friends and neighbors with a big, loving, colorful party in Irwin Park.
The H-F Park District and the villages of Homewood and Flossmoor collaborated on the event. There were many colorful Pride flags, many T-shirts with messages of love and inclusion and a number of support groups explaining their services.
Our community is not silent in its support for LGBTQ+ people. Loud and joyous celebration is the right answer to the comments and acts that took place in Leavitt Park.
What a way to embrace Pride Month.