Gay residents of Northeastern Pennsylvania deserve to study, shop, dine out, dance, work, date and otherwise exist without fear of being the target of hate-filled comments, harassment or worse.
Ditto for every area resident, regardless of sexual orientation. Yet in Luzerne County even today — 44 years after the Stonewall riots and, good grief, 15 years after NBC first aired “Will & Grace” — the social climate for transgender, bisexual and gay people continues in too many cases to be unwelcoming and sometimes outright hostile.
The situation can be especially daunting for teenagers. For a youth questioning his or her sexual identity, despite growing up in the age of “Glee,” the hallways and classrooms of area schools might seem lonely, intimidating, bleak. Outside, the view doesn’t always get much brighter.
Unmistakably, however, things gradually have been getting better compared to years past for members of the area’s gay community, which means things are ever so slowly becoming better for the entire community.
Consider, for example, developments such as the Luzerne County Community College students’ inaugural PrideFest on campus last week and, separately, an upcoming educational conference in Wilkes-Barre focused on non-heterosexual individuals and issues they face.
The latter event, titled “LGBTQA United Together: Individuals, Families, Communities,” will be presented by the Family Service Association of Northeastern Pennsylvania. LGBTQA is an abbreviation that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and allied individuals.
Attendees at next month’s event can choose among sessions such as “My child is gay. My parents are gay. It’s okay” and “Safe and Supportive Schools.”
At LCCC’s Nanticoke campus, meanwhile, student leaders organized an event aimed at fostering a more tolerant campus environment. “Many of our students are still struggling to find themselves,” said Merissa Sims, 33, president of the college’s Student Government Association. “We need awareness, understanding and support for them.”
Organizers of the PrideFest encouraged activism by providing voter registration cards and information on matters such as the state’s same-sex marriage ban. Plus, they passed out pledge cards, asking signers to refrain from using anti-gay slurs and to speak out to stop bullying of LGBT individuals. “We don’t want anyone to feel afraid that there is no place for them to turn,” said sophomore Melissa Eipper, 20, of Exeter.
Historically, one of Northeastern Pennsylvania’s biggest barriers to progress — aside from the way we have treated the environment — has been the way we treat each other, particularly those people perceived as being “different.”
However, by our attitudes and daily interactions, each of us can play a role in improving the atmosphere.
Yes, our community always should be one in which religious and other differences of thought can be openly discussed, even debated. But our words and deeds should never create an environment in which certain people live in fear because of who they are. Or who they love.