Connie Schultz reflects on Pride Month and the ‘nonsense’ that confronts the LGBTQ community

Pride Month always stirs up a lot of memories for me. They float up like snapshots, a collection of captured moments in time:

My daughter’s gay high school guidance counselor insisting that she is worthy of her dreams. Holding my breath as people recite long lists of names of friends and loved ones who have died of AIDS. Pastor Kate officiating at our wedding, even as she is legally forbidden from marrying Jackie, her longtime partner in the front pew.

Some pastors are more inspiring than others. I doubt I’ll ever forget that time when a group of right-wing ministers crusaded against the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants because he held hands with his friend, Patrick, and liked to vacuum. The professed concern was that children would watch the show and think they, too, could become homosexual sponges. Or something like that.

Connie Schultz is an Opinion columnist for USA TODAY. (Photo: Lylah Rose Wolff)

How I wish we could say that kind of nonsense is behind us.

This is where Mom would have interrupted to say, “You were raised better than this.”

Carry as we climb? Or limit ourselves and grow bigotry?

Twenty-two years after her death, I am still Janey Schultz’s daughter. So, I’m going to mind my upbringing and pause to introduce myself to those of you who don’t know me as a USA TODAY columnist. This would be everyone including me, since this is my first day to lay claim to the title.

I was hired by a woman, which is how big things often happen in my life. Here I am, on the receiving end of my favorite mantra, that we carry as we climb. I can feel my mother’s smile.

On the first day of Pride Month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill barring transgender girls from playing on public school teams for athletes born as girls. Of course, he did.

Pride Month: Photos celebrate the LGBTQ community

There is no rampant domination in sports by transgender athletes, but like other governors who have signed similar laws, DeSantis wants to keep his base of voters happy. So many of our limitations are self-imposed, and never is this more obvious than in our biases. To affirm bigotry is to grow it.

Another memory bubbles up. My husband and I are sitting in the church sanctuary for a service for a Transgender Day of Remembrance. The altar is lined with more than two dozen poster-size photographs of transgender people killed in a single year in the United States.

A glossary: LGBTQ definitions every good ally should know

I don’t remember the date of that service, but here’s what happened last year: 350 transgender people were killed around the world. A fifth of them were murdered in their own homes. We can’t talk about banning transgender girls and women on sports teams without also talking about this. It’s driven by the same fear of someone who is different. One person’s discomfort becomes another person’s aggression.

Waiting for change, fearing truth and embracing hope

Change is often hard but is also as inevitable as a full moon’s parade. We can shield our eyes, but it’s still going to light up the night.

I am mindful of some of my LGBTQ students at Kent State, in America’s heartland. They write essays about hiding their true identities from their families and sometimes entire communities of friends, out of fear of being ostracized and forgotten. They long to be with their parents and siblings, to be loved for who they are. Once they’re away at school and find such acceptance, returning to a life in shadows would be an act of self-harm. How could we ask anyone to volunteer for that?

One more memory, more than two decades old: My daughter is in fifth grade, troubled by what is happening at school. “It’s supposed to be an insult,” she says, “but every time someone uses the word gay that way, I think of Jackie.”

Jackie Cassara, left, and Kate Matthews marry in New York in 2014. (Photo: Jackie Cassara)

She was talking about Jackie, Pastor Kate’s partner in that pew on the day of our wedding. Jackie, who is now Kate’s wife, because the brightness of that moon could not be denied.

Connie Schultz is a columnist for USA TODAY. Reach her at CSchultz@usatoday.com or on Twitter: @connie.schultz

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to letters@usatoday.com.

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