Pride and Progess

In Indiana and much of America’s Midwest, June was Pride month.

In Indianapolis, where I live, Pride celebrations have grown and matured each year. Twenty years ago, when I first started attending, they were the subject of snickering coverage by the local media. Attendance was small and largely consisted of guys in leather harnesses. Not, I hasten to add, that there is anything wrong with that, but the attendees certainly did not represent the full diversity of the gay community. These days, Pride still draws the leather crowd, but it also has a full complement of couples pushing strollers, preppy guys in penny loafers, elected officials, and businesses trying to sell everything from real estate to insurance. Pride events are listed matter-of-factly in the local paper’s listing of festivals, and covered just like other civic celebrations.

Progress on gay rights has certainly been spotty, and we’ve seen setbacks, but I think the growth—and growing acceptance—of Pride festivals is one sign among many that Americans are gradually becoming more comfortable with their gay neighbors, and less likely to support discrimination.

The culture is changing. Not as quickly as in other western democracies, perhaps, but much more quickly than in Asia, where I just spent a month traveling. There were six of us on the trip—me, my husband, his cousin and her husband, my (gay) son and a friend who is also gay.

We met my son in New Delhi, since he has been traveling in India this year, and then went to Bhutan—a picture-perfect Shangra-La in the Himalayas that has only opened to visitors recently. The government of Bhutan requires tourists to use their official tour guides, and ours was very nice. (If my gay-dar was working, he was also a “member of the family.” But that’s speculative.) While we were there, Bhutan had an AIDS Awareness Day, and I asked our guide about the situation faced by the gay community—was there acceptance, rejection, etc.? His answer? “Bhutan has no gay people. Bhutanese aren’t gay.”

I guess that answered my question! 

Bhutan was a real contrast to Kathmandu, our next stop, where there were posters everywhere announcing an upcoming gay and lesbian film festival, and where the atmosphere was decidedly more cosmopolitan and open. But it was in China that the influence of culture was most pronounced—and repressive. In each city we visited, my son would locate a local gay club or bar. His conversations with people he met in those clubs were informative, to say the least. (He has been keeping a blog which includes his impressions of gay life in Asia, and lots of photos; for those who are interested, the URL is

China has no laws addressing homosexuality. Unlike in India (and the U.S. until very recently), sodomy is not a crime. What China has is tradition, and a culture that venerates family. Failure to marry and have children to carry on the family line is unthinkable to most Chinese men, and even more unthinkable is coming out to their parents. In the bars, Stephen met married men whose wives were presumably clueless about their extra-marital activities. He met others who recoiled at the very idea that their families might discover their sexual orientation. The Chinese closet is very dark, and the door is closed very tightly.

I attended a couple of academic conferences while we were in China, and I asked a young Chinese colleague about attitudes toward gays and lesbians. She confirmed the cultural bias, although she said things were beginning to soften somewhat among the more educated and affluent classes.

Here in the U.S., we tend to look longingly at Europe and Canada, where acceptance of gay relationships and even same-sex marriage is far more advanced than it is in red-state America. But as my mother used to remind me, things can always be worse.

Next year, when Pride rolls around, remember: you could live in Asia.