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Wear purple today to support gay rights

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Thu October 20, 2011
A couple embraces as they wait for a marriage license before getting married at San Francisco City Hall in 2008.
A couple embraces as they wait for a marriage license before getting married at San Francisco City Hall in 2008.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • LZ Granderson says that when he buys roses, cashier assumes partner is a woman
  • He says such things are an everyday fact of his life and should be corrected to fight bias
  • He says it's good to support LGBT people but especially important to actively do it
  • Granderson: Today is "Spirit Day"; wear purple to show LGBT people you support them

Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named Journalist of the Year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and is a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com and the 2009 winner of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation award for online journalism. Follow him on Twitter at @locs_n_laughs.

(CNN) -- This will sound a bit strange, I know, but whenever I walk into a grocery store, I have to decide whether or not I feel like telling the cashier I'm gay.

And right now, you're probably thinking: "Under what circumstances would anyone have to tell the complete stranger at the checkout counter about his sexual orientation?"

I assure you it's not about sex.

It's about flowers.

I love them.

I love smelling them. I love receiving them. I love giving them to my partner.

So often when I'm at the grocery store, I'll pick up a dozen roses for him. And then the cashier grabs them off the conveyor belt and, because they're roses, usually says something along the lines of, "Oh, she's going to love these."

And that, my friends, is why I have to decide whether or not I feel like coming out to a cashier when I go to the store.

The assumption is I'm buying the roses for a woman. I'm not. But do I correct the cashier — thus revealing my sexual orientation — or do I just let that person go on with the assumption and, well, in a sense stay in the closet?

And before you answer, first ask yourself if your answer would change if I were straight and the cashier said, "He's going to love those."

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

This scenario is not a hypothetical.

It's just my everyday life.

And there are similar moments of everyday life like these that people in the LGBT community have to negotiate all of the time. I'm not sharing my grocery store anxiety to play victim, nor am I trying to somehow make straight people feel guilty. Some of my best friends are straight, and they are fine people.

But there is something wrong when a man buying roses for the man in his life becomes a political statement.

True, when someone of note comes out of the closet, culturally we're at the point where many of us respond with a great big "who cares?"

That, in a sense, is progress.

But when there are 29 states where people can be fired for no other reason than being gay; when there are 35 states where people can be fired for being transgendered; when 29 states have constitutional amendments banning marriage equality, responding with "who cares?" is either naive or disingenuous.

Obviously, a lot of people care. Otherwise, folks in Michigan, Texas, Idaho and Florida would not be afraid to lose their jobs if their employer were to learn they were buying roses for their same-sex partner.

For those who consider themselves supportive of LGBT rights, perhaps instead of saying "who cares?" the more proper response is "I care."

I care that so many Americans are afraid for their safety for no other reason than who they are.

I care that we have laws in place that deny so many Americans the mechanisms they need to take care of their families.

I care that right now, there is a young person contemplating taking his or her own life because he or she has been the target of relentless bullying at school, has no support and doesn't see a way out.

Thursday — today — is Spirit Day, and organizations such as The Trevor Project, GLSEN and GLAAD — all of which I've been a part of in one capacity or another — are encouraging fair-minded people to wear purple as a way of letting these young, desperate kids know that this country's response to their problems is not "who cares?" — it's "I care."

So many times, the conversation surrounding LGBT rights is framed by the opposition as a movement that is trying to recruit kids, infringe upon religious rights or ram "gayness" down people's throats. The reality is that some of us are just buying flowers.

Am I oversimplifying the issue?

I don't think so.

After all, what's complicated about being a decent human being?

This week, the nation honored the work and life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the dedication of his memorial in Washington, D.C. One of my favorite quotes of his is "in the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

The silence of our friends.

So many of us know better but choose to be silent for fear of outing ourselves or being "guilty by association." As a result, we let the jokes slide, the slurs be said, the punches be thrown.

In the meantime, The Trevor Project reports that LGBT youths are four times more likely to commit suicide than their straight counterparts.

When I hear the stories or see the numbers, I feel as if I have no choice but to tell the cashier in the store that the roses are for my partner.

And he's a dude.

Not because I'm parading my sexual orientation around, but because I shouldn't have to apologetically cram my existence into a dark room, not even for the brief moment it takes for me to pay for my groceries and roll my shopping cart out the door.

I come out to my cashier not because I need to say it, but because of the possibility that someone in the neighboring aisle needs to hear it, and I will wear purple on Spirit Day in case someone whose path I cross needs to see it.

And judging from the numbers, I'm pretty sure someone does.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

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