by Pete Forester
It’s nighttime and I’m about to grab four hours of sleep before I have to get up for my first job (I have about five – I live in New York City). I decide to take one last look at Twitter. I see one of the sneaker blogs I follow has another tweet about Nike’s #BeTrue Pack, the one that celebrates gay pride and the LGBT community, so I click. I want to look at them again because for the first time, gay pride shoes are cool.
A handful of brands have spent the last couple years taking stabs at combining gay pride and sneakers, but they’ve basically been a bust. The designs just weren’t there. They were lazy, on bad silhouettes, and most likely a marketing ploy to engage a community with a ton of disposable income looking for brands who weren’t taking stands against them.
When this started, Chick-fil-A was officially against marriage equality. Barilla Pasta explained that a happy family headed by a same sex couple didn’t reflect their values. Even Urban Outfitters was embroiled in an anti-gay political donation PR mess. There are 29 states in this country where you can get fired from your job just for being gay, and it’s 100 percent legal. So having a cool pride sneaker makes me proud as a gay sneakerhead.
The shoes are fire. Sock Darts are flames, and the rest of Nike’s pack is pretty good. Even adidas jumped in the pool this time with a different interpretation that is refreshing and bold. And then I scrolled to the comment section. Fuck.
“ “be true"? Ok then tell people that being gay is disgusting and stop lying to them acting like the shit is all good.”
“I'm all for equality until some faqqot school teacher tries to turn my kid into a faqqot too. These butt pluggers need to keep their fetishes in the closet.”
“We must exterminate these people root and branch; the homosexual must be eliminated.”
“How does it feel to know your son likes it up his backside? You've failed at being a man- You raised a gay son, the definition of failing as a man. Thanks for adding one more degenerate to society with no purpose other then to fulfill and promote their twisted reproductive urges. What did you do to make your son gay anyway? You're probably gay. You should be arrested.”
That third one, with its correct spelling and soberly expressed thought stick out, and is actually by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s PR guy. But it fits in pretty squarely – don’t you think?
It’s strange to read comments like this on a sneaker blog. Especially as a gay sneakerhead. This is my community. The people who are commenting on these posts are the same that read what I write. These are the people I’m supposed to rub shoulders with. This is the community I write for, that I spend my time explaining aspects of the industry they don’t understand. These are the people I’m a voice for. That I help keep informed and educated. And these comments are pathetic, small, and the worst versions of our culture because they think that my sexuality somehow impacts them. These are people who will wear clothes designed by gay people and be styled by gay people.
We make your clothes and your coffee. We’re your teachers, your bosses, and your cabbies. We’re in your church. We’re not going anywhere, and our voices are only getting louder. We’re already here. We are not the problem. (And we’re not making more gay people, only straight people are. Science.)
When Nike first started releasing pride packs I thought they were cool but unnecessary. Despite being called “faggot” for most of my childhood, I was living in New York City. I'd walked down the street holding my boyfriend's hand (we did get beeped at, and one neighbor threatened to return with a bat for everyone in his crew). I was living my life mostly in peace. But once I grew out of my early 20s and discovered a world outside of my own experience, I realized that people were still having a hard time like I did when I was a kid.
When my mother walked in on me during an attempted suicide in my middle school years, it was shocking for her, not because she walked in on her son in the middle of an attempt at his own life, but because it was wrong. I seemed fine, a little depressed sure, but not in this house. Not in a Connecticut suburb with a kid in private school.
Things changed at school pretty quickly after that. My biggest bully was told that if he were caught saying another negative word to me again that they would take parts of his own social life away from him, as he did to me. All that was curtailed were his words, his insults. And it changed everything. It made my days bearable.
"If sticks and stones..." The adage starts, but names do hurt people. They kill people. Every day LGBT kids are losing their lives. Some suffer publicly. Others, like me, suffer silently.
In many ways, explaining why a Pride Pack is important is heartbreaking and insulting. In doing so I join a long, long list of writers and thinkers who have had to turn to their fellow man and pitch their own existence to their neighbors. This is an argument that the past and present suffering of my community, including millions of deaths through time, was wrong. This is an argument that what has for centuries been considered a reason to kill someone is actually just another element in a rich arrangement of who we are. This is an argument that a part of me I cannot control does not, will not, and has not discounted me from anything. But it is a pitch I must make. I must approach, with palms up, and request that I am treated at worst with disregard, at best with respect.
For the gay community, Pride Month isn’t about flaunting our wares in brightly colored outfits and getting inappropriate in the streets. That is a means. We are shouting over history that has sought to destroy us. We’ve been thrown into fires before Columbus sailed from Spain. Heinrich Himmler hunted us and arrested us in the hundred thousands. Even the NYPD has targeted us since they were first incorporated. Our history is American History. And it is Black History. The “Gay Revolution” that is credited as starting with the Stonewall Riots got its start in Harlem and the Bronx, when Black gay bars were raided for doing more business than the white bars downtown.
Pride is about being who you are loudly. There is space for everyone there. The rainbow isn’t our symbol, it’s the symbol of diversity. The gay community just loves diversity so much that we’ve used the rainbow for decades, and it’s been so closely associated with us that it’s been assigned to us. Our real symbols include the pink triangle that was sewn onto our clothes during the Holocaust. The fence where Matthew Shephard was tied up to and murdered in Wyoming. The face of Harvey Milk who died begging for equal treatment under the law.
If you are reading this, there's a color in that rainbow that is for you. You are on that flag. It is, whether you like it or not, representative of you. All we ask is that you recognize the other colors on there, your neighbors of all stripes, and let them live their lives. You don't have to like it, and you don't have to agree, but you do have to get out of the way of something that has nothing to do with you. Don’t like reading what I’m writing? Close out this box (don’t forget to like, comment, and subscribe). Don’t like hearing what I’m saying? Leave the room. Don’t like gay people living next to you? Move. If you have a problem, you’re the one who has it. Take it somewhere else. If you have a problem with me, or people like me, that’s fine.
For me, as much as these words hurt, I’ll live. I’ll see these things for the rest of my life. It’s part of the deal. I can lie and hide, or I can be honest and take the heat. I’ve decided to take the heat. Since that day when my mother found me with that knife in my hand I’ve never picked another one up with the same purpose. But every day there are kids who read the same thing and they don’t have someone walk in at the right moment. They know that there are people out there who will wish them dead, and those people say so with a smile. And that’s true – just check the comments below this piece. But as saccharine and manipulative it is for a sneaker brand to use gay pride as a vehicle to sell sneakers, it adds to the voices of acceptance. It reminds these kids that they’re not alone.
When I was in that room, I was alone. These shoes, even though they’re just shoes, are a visual reminder that none of us are ever really alone.
Pete Forester is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter here.