When Henry Ford first began producing the Model T, he was asked what colors it would be available in.
"Any color, so long as it's black," he said.
That's how I feel about my wardrobe. Like many middle-aged urban women, I love to wear dark colors. Check out my closet -- it's 50 shades of grey in there!
I'm a humor writer, and I laugh a lot, but I have a deadpan face. Combine that with my dark garb and I could seem a little dour. But I always wear a rainbow wristband. That small splash of color sends a signal: I'm not as dull as you might think.
It also sends another, more important, signal: I support LGBT rights.
I always have. Maybe it's because when I was young, my father, a psychoanalyst, didn't agree with the then-prevailing notion that you were sick if you weren't straight, and counseled his homosexual patients to accept themselves as they were. (One of his favorite patients was a vice cop who had fallen in love -- and was now sharing his life -- with a man he'd arrested in a public bathroom.) Maybe it was because, when the bullies at school tormented me, they often accused me of being "queer." Maybe it was that so many of the writers and artists whose work I loved were gay.
For whatever reason, LGBT rights always seemed like a no-brainer. Alas, other straight folks don't always share my views.
The Rainbow Delegation was started by a young gay man named Matt Mazzei, who grew up in a community so conservative he didn't feel comfortable coming out till he was in his twenties. When he was closeted, he was always hungry for a sign that any of the people around him would be supportive. So, after he came out, he created one. A wristband that was a rainbow, a commonly-accepted gay symbol.
He gives them away for free.
"I thought that if (LGBT kids) could actually SEE the people who love and accept them," he's explained, "they would no longer feel alone."
Wearing a rainbow bracelet is an easy way to let LGBT folks, especially LGBT kids, know you've got their back. I work in a public library, a place where every kid should feel safe and supported. So, when I heard about Matt's wristbands two year ago, I sent away for one.
When it turned up in the mail a week later, I put it on. I've worn it ever since.
Mostly, I forget that I'm wearing it. Once in a while, I'm reminded.
I'm walking down the street in Chelsea. A drag queen strolling toward me sings out, "Gay rights! YEAH!"
A sales clerk at a local pharmacy quietly says, "Love your bracelet!" before reaching into her pocket and bringing out her rainbow key chain. Her boss is a bigot, she says, so she's not out at work.
"Your family?" she asks.
"Just a friend of the family," I say.
"Even better," she says. "Thanks."
In line to catch a train at 30th Street station, I notice the teen in front of me also wears a rainbow bracelet. Then he glances back and sees mine. His face lights up. "Gay pride! High five!" he calls out. Grinning, the two of us high five.
The good news is that my bracelet has never provoked a hostile or homophobic response. The few comments I've gotten, mostly from curious heterosexuals, have been positive and polite.
And I always get super-friendly service from the gay barristas at my local Starbucks.
But I'm happiest about my bracelet when a teen approaches the circulation desk at my library to check out Is It A Choice?, Boy Meets Boy or The Essential Dykes To Watch Out For. Is it just chance that they've chosen my line? Or did knowing they have my support convince them it was OK to check that particular book out?
Wearing a rainbow isn't the only way I support LGBT rights. I've spent decades writing checks, phoning politicians, signing petitions and speaking out. In 1993, when our son was just 4, his father and I brought him along to Washington with us to march (or in his case, be strolled) for gay rights.
Compared with taking action, wearing a wristband is just a small gesture. Even so, I like knowing that as I go through life, 24/7, I stand for something.
A single friend recently asked, "Aren't you worried that men will think you're gay? What if Mr. Right spots you across a crowded room, then sees your bracelet and thinks you're a lesbian?"
Although I'm now divorced, I'm lucky enough to have a great man in my life. But what if I WERE husband hunting? Would straight guys assume I'm gay? Would I care?
Well, for one thing, I'd want to attract a Mr. Right with enough imagination not to assume I was gay merely because I'm wearing a rainbow on my wrist.
And MY Mr. Right wouldn't be put off by a straight woman who visibly supports gay rights.
"If I ever get back into the dating pool, I'm leaving it on," I told my friend. "Sure, it might confuse some guys. But what a great way to screen out the bigots!"
If my life were a sitcom, I'd be husband hunting and meet an adorable straight guy who also wore a rainbow wristband. Hilarity would ensue as we were drawn to each other, each assuming the other was gay. It would culminate, of course, in a Big Reveal. ("You're not gay? Neither am I!") followed by a fabulous wedding ceremony in which we'd exchange rainbow-hued rings.
Thankfully, my life is not a sitcom. But I did ask Mark, the man in my life, what would have happened if I'd been wearing a rainbow bracelet when we met.
"I'm an optimist," he said, "I'd have hoped you were bi."
How long will I continue to wear my bracelet? Until gay kids can trust that everyone, from their teachers at school to the librarians behind the circulation desk to every last judge on the Supreme Court, has their back.
That day will be here sooner than you think. I was born in the fifties. I remember the Bad Old Days, when being gay didn't mean you were out and proud. It meant you were mentally ill. Things have changed so much. And they're still changing. Fast. If you want the day when we can all enjoy equal rights to arrive a little faster, you can always wear a rainbow bracelet yourself.
Human rights are always in fashion.
(This essay first appeared on www.newsworks.org.)