One great thing about a slow news/busy life week, is it gives me some time to reflect on the bigger issues happening in our country. I write about current events frequently because I'm a news addict and whatever story inspires, angers or confuses me on a given day has a good chance of showing up here. However, on these quieter weeks, my thoughts turn to certain things that are sitting out there on the horizon, waiting to leap back into the country's consciousness. One of those issues is gay marriage.
Now, I don't suggest that the issue had disappeared for awhile. Quite the contrary. It had just been drowned out by the cacophony of Bush and Republican implemented disasters that afflict our nation. It had merely dropped off of my radar for a bit, though the knowledge that our wingnut Senate is about to take up the Gay Marriage Amendment again next week had been tickling at the back of my mind. The entire issue jumped straight to the forefront of my thoughts, though, after having read this letter from playwright Jeff Whitty to Jay Leno, chastising Jay for his constant use of obtuse gay stereotypes in his humor. It's not really the target of the letter that interests me; I don't watch Leno and have no idea what passes for humor on his show. What really touched me about Jeff's letter was his bleakly honest description of what life is like being gay in America.
When I think of gay people, I think of the gay news anchor who took a tire iron to the head several times when he was vacationing in St. Martin. I think of my friend who was visiting Hamburger Mary's, a gay restaurant in Las Vegas, when a bigot threw a smoke bomb filled with toxic chemicals into the restaurant, leaving the staff and gay clientele coughing, puking, and running in terror. I think of visiting my gay friends at their house in the country, sitting outside for dinner, and hearing, within hundreds of feet of where we sat, taunting voices yelling "Faggots." I think of hugging my boyfriend goodbye for the day on 8th Avenue in Manhattan and being mocked and taunted by passing high school students.
When I think of gay people, I think of suicide. I think of a countless list of people who took their own lives because the world was so toxically hostile to them. Because of the deathly climate of the closet, we will never be able to count them.
I challenge anyone to try and imagine what life would be like to be treated this way, assuming, God forbid, that you don't already know from first hand experience. Imagine living each day knowing that a huge chunk of the country you live in despises your lifestyle so much that they're willing to commit unprovoked violence and murder. Imagine waking up each morning and reading in the paper how your government, the government to which you pay taxes and turn to for a redress of grievances, is working fervently to ensure you never enjoy the same rights as the rest of society. Contemplate the horror of realizing that a large chunk of your fellow Americans are willing to amend the very framework of our society just to prevent you from marrying the one you love. It would take a supreme act of courage just to get out of bed each day, and yet this is the reality that the millions of gay Americans constantly face. It's horrifying...
When I think of gay people, I think of a brave group that has made tremendous contributions to society, in arts, letters, science, philosophy, and politics. I think of some of the most hilarious people I know. I think of a group that has served as a cultural guardian for an ungrateful and ignorant America.
This probably my favorite paragraph of the entire letter, as it was a point I had never even considered before. The stereotype of the artsy gay man is so ingrained in our pop culture that it quite literally squeezes out any deeper understanding of gays as individuals. It does seem to me that, anecdotally at least, many gay men are drawn into areas of art and literature as professions or hobbies. And Jeff is absolutely correct: that makes them the caretakers of our American culture. A society without art is a gray mass of individuals wandering in a dismal institutional wilderness. Artists like Jeff create and preserve the brilliance that elevates American culture out of its mundanity. Our gratitude to the gay community for this invaluable service is so sorely lacking as to be a national disgrace.
When I think of gay people, I think of centuries of suffering. I think of really, really good people who've been gravely mistreated for a long time now.
I think of a group of people who have undergone a brave act of inventing themselves. Every single out-of-the-closet gay person has had to say, "I am not part of mainstream society."
I suspect that sometimes, I, as a liberal and progressive, get so in-tuned to the fight for civil liberties, that I forget I'm not just fighting for better public policy. These issues have real consequences and the treatment of homosexuals in this country is not just a philosophical battle for a higher morality. A culture that despises homosexuality, with a government willing to legislate that hatred, tears the very life out of people. It cheapens our culture and erodes our humanity. It's not just about policy and morality but about the lives of real people, with real lives, real hopes, dreams and aspirations. Real people forced to live in a country that doesn't value them and doesn't protect their interests. I say a heartfelt "Thank you" to Jeff Whitty for reminding me of just why stopping the Religious Right is so important; these are real lives in the balance.
I know the canned religious response to homosexuality is "hate the sin but not the sinner". Well, I think that's self-deluding garbage designed to help certain religious folks justify despicable treatment of others. We are taught from an early age to judge a person on their words and deeds, the indicators of their beliefs and character. Sexuality is an intrinsic part of who we are as individuals; it cannot be neatly compartmentalized away. It is impossible to condemn a person's sexuality and lifestyle, stripping them of the same rights enjoyed by all other Americans, and claim that it's a moral stance against an evil behavior. Hating the "sin" is hating the "sinner", and it takes an utter lack of empathy to believe otherwise. Claiming to care about the well-being of homosexuals as people while supporting every attempt made to marginalize them is shameful hypocrisy.
Next week our Senate will begin deliberations again on enshrining the Christian prohibition against homosexuality into our Constitution, an unnecessary and cruel violation of everything for which America is supposed to stand (and the First Amendment, frankly). The only other time our nation has placed an Amendment in our Constitution limiting the rights of Americans, it was an abject failure with far-reaching consequences. And that was over something as insignificant as booze. The Gay Marriage Amendment is many magnitudes more destructive than any liquor prohibition, and yet our Republican Senators, most either servants or leaders the Religious Right, have placed this dung pile on their legislative agenda, in hopes of getting out the anti-gay vote in November. It may work but I doubt it will pass.
The more Americans consider the real human costs of anti-gay bigotry, the costs of which Jeff reminds us , the more they begin to see their gay fellow citizens as people just like them. And that's the bane of bigots of all stripes and the antidote to the toxicity of intolerance.