Having spent a majority of my formative years on the north shore of Eastern Long Island; I led a sheltered childhood when it came to different races, ethnicity, political beliefs and, yes, sexual orientation. During the late 1960's through mid 1970's, eastern Suffolk County was a Caucasian, Roman Catholic, republican haven for middle class businessmen and their families. We had the McCarthy's on one side of us and the Esposito's on the other. Our fathers rode the Long Island Railroad to Manhattan every morning while we frolicked in blissful suburbia. Yes, in hindsight, it was probably not the most healthy of social environments; but who knew any better then.
To be honest, the first African American that I became friends with was during a brief time my family lived in Florida. We moved down during Florida's desegregation of its schools. I spent many a school day being bused over a hour each way to junior high school. It wasn't until I entered college, 35 years ago this September, that I met my first non-catholic, democrat and, yes, gay (not all the same person, mind you). Did lightning strike during any of these encounters? Of course not.
When given the chance to move to Binghamton in the early 1990's for business and family reasons, I looked forward to giving my children the chance to experience a broad spectrum of diversity that was not available to me at their age. I am proud of the young men that they have become. Much of the credit needs to go to the Binghamton School District and Binghamton, overall. They did not see the diverse cultures and races as being anything out of the norm. Their friends were their friends no matter what color their skin, or what religion they were, or how much money their families had. They didn't have to question whether their friends preferred boys or girls. A friend was a friend no matter what.
Much has been written about Binghamton's diversity; unfortunately, more negative than positive. Why is that? Is it easier to speak ill of someone who is different than yourself than to accept them for who they are? Is it a lack of understanding coupled with a fear of asking questions in order to understand?
Diverse populations are necessary for communities to thrive. If everyone was of the same beliefs and backgrounds, any community would become stagnant very quickly. We need to celebrate our differences rather than distance ourselves from them.
June is Pride Month. Let's start by celebrating with our family, friends, neighbors and co-workers who are members of the LGBT community right here in Binghamton. On Saturday, June 7th the Pride Rainbow flag will be raised outside City Hall. Showing our support is the first step in understanding. If there is something about the LGBT community you do not understand; don't be afraid to ask. Again, lightning will not strike you down for doing so.
I look forward to seeing you all on Saturday morning.
(p.s. - that non-catholic I met 35 years ago, is now my husband of nearly 31 years.)