James O’Neill was not quite a teenager when the New York Police Department raided the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. Yet last week, as the law enforcement agency’s chief, O’Neill apologized to the LGBTQ community for what had been years of harassment not just leading up to the Stonewall raid, but after, too.
But why? That’s a question asked every time there’s a formal apology for atrocities committed long before our lifetimes, like with slavery or persecution. Stonewall was 1969, not necessarily an eternity ago, but long enough that those involved would be in their 70s at best, if even still alive.
Apologies can’t change what happened. But they can change what could happen. It can heal wounds. It can create closure. It can provide assurances that we, as a society, have learned our lessons from the past, and will not allow ourselves to repeat those dark days.
Not to detract in any way from other heavily discriminated groups — hatred is wrong on every level — discovering that you’re gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or even questioning comes with its own unique challenges.
Like, it’s one thing to find your place in society. But members of the LGBTQ community, in many cases, have to find a place in their own families. Mothers. Fathers. Brothers. Sisters. Grandparents. Uncles and aunts. Cousins.
“No mother wants to hear her son say he’s gay,” Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir wrote in his 2011 autobiography. “Those two words rip the picture of a daughter-in-law and grandchildren into pieces.”
But it shouldn’t have to. Parents bring their children into the world with high expectations — get into a great college to lead to a great job to make a lot of money. Get married and have plenty of children. Those are noble expectations, and the kind that help make our society what it is.
However, one expectation that gets lost in the shuffle is the most important — parents should want their children to be happy.
And not just if they fall in love with someone you didn’t expect them to. Maybe they don’t want to marry. Maybe they don’t want children. Maybe they don’t want to need an armored truck to cash their paycheck.
Happiness is the thread that makes life wonderful. It’s what gets us out of bed in the morning. It’s what makes us excited about our day. It’s the key to long life.
And Johnny Weir’s mom understood.
“I don’t really care, Johnny,” she told him, “as long as I know that you are going to be happy.”