It’s Pride Month, and I’m Proud to Be Me
I still remember the day I learned that rainbows were “gay.”
I was in the fifth grade, feeling spiffy in my new black shirt with a rainbow across the chest. I loved rainbows. And I still do. They’re bright and cheerful and diverse and unexpected. I had wanted a rainbow shirt FOR YEARS and, thanks to a shopping trip with my grandmother, I finally had one. And it was perfect.
And then all of a sudden, everything changed.
One of the “cool kids” bumped me with his back pack, looked at my shirt, and laughed.
“So, you’re gay now, huh?”
I froze. What was he talking about? Where was this coming from? I felt caught. Trapped. Suddenly, inexplicably ashamed of something I only vaguely understood. Theoretically, I knew what gayness was. I knew it was okay for adults of the same sex to be with each other romantically, but I also knew that in my elementary school world “gay” was just another synonym for “stupid.” I knew that the “right” answer somehow involved denying gayness, but where did the gay part even come from? What made him ask me that? How could he know what I asked myself when no one was around?
I must have looked like the deer-in-the-headlights that I felt, because after a long pause, the boy grinned a not-so-nice grin at me and pointed to my shirt.
“Rainbows are for gays. Don’t you know anything?”
I wanted to argue that rainbows were for everyone. That they were pretty and bright and colorful and comforting. Anyone could wear rainbows; it didn’t have to mean anything extra. And that if it did, that was okay, too. Love and diversity were something to be celebrated, not ridiculed. But instead I just stood there, silent and confused, convinced that this symbol meant what this boy told me it did, convinced that he had the right to interpret my clothing and dictate my choices. With just one short exchange, he had convinced me that I couldn’t wear rainbows any more, no matter how much I loved them.
And I let him.
A few years later, I came to terms with my love of women and my own gayness and I took my rainbows back again. I started painting rainbows on anything and everything. Buying rainbow shirts and socks and head bands. I was ecstatic. And it wasn’t just that I wanted everyone to know that I was gay, it was that I was so excited that I could finally have rainbows in my life without feeling like I was lying or pretending or doing anything wrong. I felt liberated. No more rainbow-free prison.
But then a few years after that, I moved to Cincinnati for the state-side portion of my rabbinic education and suddenly, rainbows changed once again. They felt vulnerable, like target practice. I took the rainbow bumper sticker off my car and felt the difference. There were less stares. Less whispers. Suddenly, the kid in my elementary school class felt right, rainbows really did mean gayness. At least when you find yourself driving through rural Ohio.
But on a really grey day in the spring or in the fall, when the ground is brown and the leaves barren and the sky colorless, any rainbow, any drop of color, also looks like a beacon.
A spot of hope. Something beautiful and bright and powerful and diverse. Something that says simply by existing that it is proud to be who and what it is, no matter how elusive that might be. It says that we are stronger together than we are apart. Alone, each color is beautiful and vibrant, but together, each individual color is in community with every other color in the rainbow, creating something new and different and greater.
This month, there are rainbows everywhere. In shop windows, on t-shirts, and flags and bumper stickers—all shouting at us to be proud of who and what we are, no matter who or what that is. To be proud of our own individual colors of Judaism and our multiplicity of identities. This month, we celebrate the beauty of interdependence and diversity and the power of living our lives more honestly.
This month, we take Pride in who we are.