April 18, 2012

Me Vs. Music

She’s so Grand

When I was 11, I met a friend who would alter my life. She was the first kid in my new neighborhood who befriended me. She — I’ll call her Nell — was also the first white person I knew outside of school. Being the new kid in a neighborhood with real diversity was strange; its impact has lasted. I had moved from an apartment next to the Greyhound bus station, where the only people who were not black were driving or getting off the bus.

One thing that bonded Nell and me was music. We both liked Duran Duran, Cyndi Lauper and Madonna, an ’80s pop trifecta. We spent many afternoons clipping pictures from our teen magazines and trading them with each other. Trading them was more like poker than swapping: She would see my Nick Rhodes, and I would raise her a John Taylor. We discovered The Ramones together, and soon made the leap from BOP to Thrasher magazine.

It was around this time that she told me a secret about her mom: She was a lesbian.

Nell’s house was like a second home. We’d eat dinner together, or her mom would rescue my sister and me during storms while our parents worked. For me to learn that she liked women was a pivotal moment in my transition from child to tolerant adult. I’m pretty sure that in the past I had parroted the offensive views that gays were somehow bad people, without thinking or understanding that gays were real people. It’s easy to repeat what you’ve heard when you haven’t confronted reality. My parents did not teach me this directly, though my dad did occasionally make homophobic statements. In retrospect, he wasn’t homophobic; he simply parroted things he’d heard but not experienced.

For the first time, I had to confront a concept attached to a human being. I’d built a relationship with Nell’s mom, loved her and spent long hours safe in her home. I was a child, and children like most people as long as they are nice. The pejoratives I’d heard quickly faded from my vocabulary. There was no reason to dislike gay people; it would be the same illogical thinking that creates racism. Vive le différence! I wanted a life of rich experience, and that kind of life comes from letting diversity be an everyday occurrence.

Once I knew she was gay, I was not surprised when she kissed other women in front of me. I was never offended by it or put off. I had accepted it as her expression of love and, for me, that’s all I ever saw. It’s all I see now when my friends who are gay show affection to their partners.

When I heard that Cyndi Lauper was going to be the grand marshal of the Derby Festival’s Pegasus Parade, I was happy because I’d finally see a childhood idol. I was also struck by the importance to the local LGBT community. One of my many jobs these days is working part-time with the Louisville Youth Group. It’s an organization that provides a safe, educational and fun space for LGBT youth and their allies. As a longtime ally, I admire the work Lauper has done to promote equality and education about LGBT issues, particularly in the heterosexual community. Her True Colors Fund has spawned several projects, one being the Give a Damn Campaign. The campaign directs its message for straight people to get involved with equality issues that affect the gay community. The other major project, the True Colors Residences, is an initiative to end homelessness in the gay community. Nationally, almost 42 percent of homeless youth identify as gay or lesbian.

For festival organizers to place Lauper in the position of grand marshal, in conservative Kentucky, is a step toward a progressive and open future. I’m excited for my inner 12-year-old, and excited that the youth I serve will see someone admired and respected, like Lauper, working for them. The only thing better would be a chance for the kids to actually meet and talk to Ms. Lauper. Experiences like that are valuable, and I think LYG kids deserve that chance. Who’s in to help make
this happen?

Erica Rucker is a freelance weirdo, writer and professional wedding/portrait photographer at eElaine Photography.