Being New Yorkers, one would think that we live in an open-minded society, but they would be wrong. Even though our City as a whole is generally liberal-minded, diverse, and accepting, there are still those throughout the City with conservative beliefs who choose to practice prejudice and hate over acceptance and love. Exactly a year ago, I wrote an article and sent it to the local paper, the Staten Island Advance. Even though it was never published, I felt it necessary to share my story as it relates to one of my gay friends living in Staten Island and his experience running the 2017 Forest Avenue Mile, an annual race that is very popular throughout the Staten Island running community. Reading his story will help others understand what the gay experience is like in a society that still has a long way to go in accepting others who may be different from you.
Below is the article in it’s entirety.
C’mon Staten Islanders, you’re better than that!
By Josh Pesin
I love Staten Island. I love the people, the communities, and the strong sense of patriotism, volunteerism and charity that permeates throughout all corners of the borough. When the tsunami of 2004 devastated Sri Lanka, Staten Islanders were the single largest donors to help that country. Staten Island is home to many public service workers who leave behind their loved ones every single day to serve and protect the City. Staten Islanders have engaged in grassroots causes from cancer awareness walks to pet adoption events and everything in between. Over the years, the borough has become more culturally diverse. All the new Polish, Albanian, Dominican, Russian, and other cultural businesses that have been popping up throughout the borough can attest to that.
You would think that I have only good things to say about the Island and I wish that were true. Something happened a few weeks ago in a very public way that reared Staten Island’s ugly head and reminded me that the Island is far from idyllic.
My running club, the Staten Island Athletic Club, hosted a one-mile race called The Forest Avenue Mile. This annual event takes place along the same route as the Staten Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade, an event that begins immediately after the ending of the race. With the help of our club president and members who share a common love for running, we make all new members feel welcome including those from the LGBT community whose population has been gradually growing in our club. I am friends with them and I’ve found them to be great people. Upon hearing that the LGBT community was not allowed to march in the Parade yet again, one of our club members, Chris, wore a rainbow-striped race shirt as a form of solidarity during the race. As the race began and the runners went off, Chris ran by throngs of families who were lined up along the Parade route. What happened to Chris during the race can best be summed up by what he posted on a social media site later that day:
“Today I pushed myself to a new height. Today I strived to be better than I was yesterday; better than I was last month; better than I was last year. I was blessed by a crowd of supporters including family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers. Running with my pride on full display for a borough and community that is negligent and hateful towards myself and my community, refusing to allow the LGBT community to march in the parade. Today I heard cheers for me. I saw people beaming with pride about my singlet. I gave people hope, along with my fellow runners with the Young Democrats of Richmond County. Today I heard more jeers than cheers. I heard people screaming pussy. I faintly blocked out the crowd hollering faggot. I didn’t allow the disgusted looks and leering stares deject me from my goals. Today I was me. Today I was freer than I have ever been. More open and vulnerable than I ever considered possible. Today I had more love for myself than I have ever felt before. Swelling with pride, with confidence, with self acceptance. Today I was fearless. To everyone who has followed my journey and continues to support me as I pursue and achieve my goals. As much inspiration as I gain from myself, all your love and support inspires me to be a greater runner and person. Today I was me. Today I was free. And tomorrow I will wake up a better version of myself.”
Chris later told me that people of all ages; children, teens and adults, were chanting gay-related obscenities at him along the route. Out of the 140 runners who ran the race that day, Chris came in third place. Chris’ race performance and his resolve to overcome prejudice and hate to achieve success reaffirmed my belief that Staten Island can still be a great place to live if only more people embraced diversity like him.