A recent concert by Rainbow Voices, a Bakersfield choir consisting of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning singers and their straight allies, moved me to tears. The concert was a benefit, organized by Tehachapi's Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) chapter, to fund the first "Honoring Diversity" award, to be given to a Tehachapi High School graduating senior who plans to further his or her education.
The choir's performance began with a couple of Broadway show tunes, and then the director, David Clark, discussed his choice of the song "Somewhere" from the musical "West Side Story." He cited in particular the following lyrics:
"There's a place for us
We'll find a new way of living
We'll find a way of forgiving --
Somewhere . . ."
He asked us to listen to the song with his ears: For a young boy growing up in the early 1970s in small-town Iowa, these lyrics held a special meaning. He knew he was gay; he was different, and he wondered if there would ever really be a place for someone like him.
His words made me cry, because I know my daughter, who is a lesbian, grew up in small-town California as the millennium turned, and wondered the same thing: Where did she fit? Had God made a big mistake in creating her? And there are still boys and girls growing up now, here in Tehachapi and elsewhere, wondering in fear: Is there a place for me, for us? That young people are still suffering because of their sexual orientation, which is something we have as much control over as our height or eye color, is a blotch on the integrity of our society. That we are still allowing bigotry and ignorance to go unchallenged in our presence is a discredit to us all.
Then the Rainbow Voices sang "Somewhere," and I cried some more. Afterwards, Clark pointed to his tuneful, smiling choir, in their solid ties in all the colors of the rainbow, as evidence of how far we as a nation have come. He's right.
But there is still a ways to go.
Thursday is National Coming Out Day. There are, all over the country, nervous LGBT people, young and old, who are about to reveal a secret, one that they've perhaps carried for a long time, to people who might very well reject them. I pray that the families and friends who hear this news react with love and compassion, even if it is colored with surprise. I pray that we have come far enough that LGBT people coming out Thursday are not only safe and accepted, but are celebrated for who they are, and for their bravery.
In further testament to how far we have come in Kern County, the ninth annual Bakersfield LGBTQ Pride Festival will be held this Saturday at Stramler Park. From 3 to 9 p.m., folks can enjoy vendors, food, information booths, live entertainment (including Rainbow Voices: not to be missed!), a Kid Zone, and raffle prizes. The entry fee is $10, and kids under 10 are admitted free.
The music of the Rainbow Voices made for a delightful afternoon in Tehachapi. Now we as a community face the task of complying with the mandate of the Office of Civil Rights to educate our students (and teachers) about the importance of inclusivity, and the unacceptability of bullying or discriminating in any form. It's a tall order in a place where some people still refer to homosexuality as a perversion, a sin, or an aberrant "lifestyle choice." But maybe one of their kids will be among those who benefit from the inclusive programs to be implemented by the school district. This can be the place where LGBT kids are lifted up in hope, where they find a peaceful heart.
We have arrived at the crossroads in American history where we can make clear that there truly is a place for everyone, a place that is built on love and mutual acceptance of all God's creatures. This can be the place where we'll find a new way of living, and the grace to find a way of forgiving. "Somehow/Someday/Somewhere!"
These are the opinions of Valerie Schultz, not necessarily those of The Californian. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org