By Paul Uhlenkott, 18, Hamilton HS (2007 graduate)
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Paul hopes that society will accept gay people for who they are.

When I realized I was gay I felt so different compared to the gay people I had seen on television and in the media. I didn’t have that gay accent or the fashion sense or anything a stereotypical gay man had. I had this misconception that if I were to hang out with a lot of other gay people, I would be so different from the people around me, that the typically shy me wouldn’t belong. That was until I went to the True Colors concert this past summer.

My mom and I bought tickets because the Dresden Dolls were performing. But a couple weeks before the show I looked online and saw that True Colors was a concert celebrating gay pride, which made me a little nervous.

My mother, who has several gay male friends, wasn’t much help. She told me that these types of events could get wild. My imagination did the rest. Images of people making out in front of everybody else ran through my head. I have a hard time as it is with new and different experiences and I got more worried now that this could turn out to be a wild party, another thing that I have a hard time with. I felt like I would not only have to defend myself, but possibly my mother, from this craziness, even though she had been to events like this. In the end my mother said it would still be good to go. She figured large social events are unavoidable in life anyway.

When we got to the Greek Theatre, where the concert was held, they gave us purple rubber bracelets that said “ERASE HATE” and listed a website, “” I hadn’t heard of Matthew Shepard and figured this was some kind of promotional item for a business. But I liked the bracelet’s purple color and rubbery feel, so I wore it.

I felt comfortable in such a diverse crowd

As we entered, I was surprised that about half the audience looked nothing like how gay men and women are usually portrayed in the media. There were big, burly men who seemed as straight as rulers, but had their arms around other men’s shoulders. There were women who looked feminine and petite, talking to their girlfriends. Television and movies show gay men as skinny, with feminine accents. They talk like Valley girls, and wear incredibly tight clothes. Lesbians are all butch, large with short hair, maybe a piercing in the nose, or five piercings in both ears. Seeing that a lot of people were like me, not flamboyant, but wearing jeans and T-shirts, and not fitting the stereotypes, I felt more at ease.

Illustration by Sarah Evans, 17, Temple City HS

Illustration by Sarah Evans, 17, Temple City HS

The first band sounded pretty good. If the crowd went crazy later, I thought that at least the music would be there to comfort me. Margaret Cho, a comedian who I’ve since learned is big in the gay community, came on during the intermissions between acts. Her jokes spanned everything that you would not want little children to hear. She swore a lot, and talked about sex toys and her sexual habits. It freaked me out hearing these kinds of jokes while sitting next to my mother. But as I saw my mom laughing, it helped me relax and enjoy myself. It amazed me that Cho felt free and open enough to joke about those subjects. I could not have done what she did, even if it were casually in a small group of friends. You could tell everyone loved her by the way they yelled and laughed at everything she said. She described her perfect female lover, and the two women next to us yelled, “Call me!”

When she finished, the Dresden Dolls, who were the main reason we had come, were ready to play. Overall, the performance was good, not great. The lesbian couple next to me drank wine and would randomly start making out. This embarrassed me for a minute, but then it became charming. I liked that they could show their affection in public and not be judged. I was thankful my mom encouraged me to come to the show because I had found a place where I could kiss another man if I wanted to, and receive the same respect straight people do.

After Deborah Harry from Blondie performed, Rosie O’Donnell did a hilarious comedy act. She told jokes about her size, and about life as a lesbian with children. She talked about how she picked up her son from daycare, and her son’s friend didn’t understand why her son had two mothers. He said that his parents were gay, but his friend didn’t understand. The child said, “You know how when you hook up the trains, and there’s one that just won’t hook up, no matter what you do? That one is definitely gay.” Everybody loved her, and screamed out her name during the whole thing. I liked seeing everybody so light-hearted and open about being gay, which I had usually been hesitant to mention. It felt nice that there was a sacred space where gay people could express themselves so freely.

Everyone started dancing—even me

When Erasure, the 80s electronic pop band, took the stage next everybody stood. My mother and I were the only ones sitting, and I felt like the only one who didn’t understand why everybody had gotten up. As soon as they began playing, everybody cheered and started dancing. The girl next to me moved like she had just suffered a stroke, and kept hitting me in the face with her rainbow boa, which is a feathery, light scarf. As for the band itself, I loved the music. The electronic beats and singing were fast-paced and fresh.

I eventually got up and started dancing, something that I’d never done before. Sometimes I would dance in my room, but never publicly. However, my mom encouraged me, and it did look kinda fun. I felt embarrassed because I had no idea what I was doing. Eventually though, I got over my uneasiness and just closed my eyes and did whatever felt right. I figured that if I could do something as bold as come out of the closet, then dealing with a little public embarrassment from my dancing was no big deal. Plus, everyone was dancing, and some of them danced worse than I ever could. And nobody seemed to be judging anyone or cared how they looked dancing. I had so much fun, that time flew by and Erasure had finished.

When Margaret Cho finished telling more jokes, Cyndi Lauper took the stage. A screen on the left wall started showing slides that contained information about hate crimes against homosexuals, including teens brutally attacked by their peers. First, it would show either a family photo or picture of the crime scene, followed by the person’s name, age, where they lived, and a description of what happened. I could hear the crowd gasping. A lot of the victims were killed on the spot or later died from their injuries. I had heard of crimes like this, but it became much more real for me in that moment. Each slide was shocking and disgusting, and it was enough to make me hate the people who could do such things. By the last slide, anger boiled inside of me. I could not stand the thought that somebody could do such terrible things to somebody else, just for liking a certain gender.

We all must ‘erase hate’

When the screen faded out, Cyndi told us the story of Matthew Shepard, a 22-year-old man from Casper, Wyoming who was tied to a fence and beaten, and left to die, because he was gay. His parents started an organization, called the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which had been trying to get a bill passed that would extend the meaning of “hate crimes” to gays, transgenders and people with disabilities. This would mean that if something like what happened to Matthew happened again, the punishment would be severe, and the police could invest more time in tracking down those who committed such acts.

Though I was glad to hear of the proposed law, I still felt angry that this bill was not only taking so long to get passed (it still hasn’t passed after being introduced last April), but also facing so much opposition from religious conservatives. Some religious leaders have argued that such an act would discriminate against their beliefs, because they think homosexuality is a sin. Then Cyndi said something that changed my feelings.

“Erase hate.”

Everybody around me was silent. So simple, yet the thought never came to my mind. A wave of seriousness subdued the rowdy crowd that sat at the Greek just 10 minutes earlier.

Erase hate. If I didn’t let go of my hatred, would I be any better if I hated those who hate me? Wouldn’t I be as bad?

Erase hate. It echoes through my mind even now. I realized it’s not about what other people do. It’s about what one can do to make sure the past is never repeated. Just by not wasting my energy disliking a kind of person, I could put that energy to something greater, and become someone better than they could ever be.

It doesn’t matter if I’m gay. Sure, it’s a part of who I am, but it’s not the whole portrait. I have ambitions and fears and loves just like anybody else. A lesser person would focus on hate and allow it to become them, and I decided then and there that I would not be this lesser person. I realized that’s what brought us together. It didn’t matter that we were gay or young or old. What mattered was that we are all real, unique people, and it’s a loss for anybody who can’t see that for themselves.

On the way home, I told my mother how wonderful it was to be around other gay people. I told her that, though I felt uncomfortable a few times, I also felt at home, like at a family reunion with all of your crazy cousins. Though I always knew that I was not the only one who was gay, it felt reassuring to see physical proof by the hundreds. I left with a small feeling of pride for who I am, so the concert definitely did its job.

Other stories by this writer:

The courage to be shy. Paul, 17, got help overcoming his anxiety around others, while also learning to accept who he is. (January – February 2007)