October 2009

First published at 365gay.com on October 30, 2009

Less than a week before the election, polls continue to show close races in both Washington State, where voters may substantially expand domestic-partner legislation, and Maine, where they may rescind marriage-equality. We could win in either state (or both)—but we could lose, too.

Win or lose, there’s one truth this campaign has made abundantly clear. It’s an unpleasant truth, one that most of prefer not to dwell on. Yet it’s important to face:

Many people still find homosexuality weird, disgusting, or abhorrent, and they don’t want it around their children.

If you found that last sentence distasteful to read, let me assure you that it was not pleasant to write. But it’s what we need to reflect on if we’re ultimately going to win.

Confronting this truth is necessary for countering a pervasive myth in our community—namely that, when it comes to securing our rights, it doesn’t really matter what other people think of us.

This myth gets expressed in various ways: Morality is a private matter. What we do at home is no one else’s business. Our rights don’t depend on other people’s comfort-level.

Like most myths, it sounds plausible because it contains a measure of truth: the objective value of our relationships indeed does not depend on what other people think of us. But political battles don’t track objective value. They track public opinion.

And so our opponents run apparently effective ads stating that (for instance) if Maine keeps gay marriage, kids will be taught homosexuality in schools.

This claim is, strictly speaking, false: Maine curriculum is controlled locally, and whether or not Maine schoolchildren learn about homosexuality doesn’t directly hinge on whether the state embraces marriage equality. But the claim also contains a germ of truth: the greater the number of states with marriage equality, the more likely it is that, in the course of regular instruction, students will learn about the existence of gay people.

Such a result is very scary for some parents. As Matt Foreman writes at Bilerico [http://www.bilerico.com/2009/10/tv_ads_arent_the_answer_in_maine.php]:

“[T]he kid/schools attack ads are effective because they go right to the parental-protection gut of parents. They carry a double-whammy: first, that young people can be taught (read ‘recruited’) to be gay or lesbian, and second, that kids will come home asking questions about sex and sexuality. Whether we like it or not, most parents deep down would really rather their children not turn out to be gay and certainly don’t want to be talking about sex, period, let alone gay sex with their kids. This is deep, non-rational stuff.”

(It should go without saying, but age-appropriate discussion of gay people and relationships does not usually involve explicit discussion of gay sex. It SHOULD go without saying, but it can’t, because many opponents seem unable to make that simple distinction.)

There are several lessons to be gleaned here.

First, the closet is still powerful. While some of us treat “National Coming Out Day” as a quaint relic of bygone times, the reality is that many who claim to be our friends and neighbors are still viscerally uncomfortable with us at some level. I don’t care how popular Ellen is: a majority of her fellow Californians voted to deny her the right to marry.

What this means is that merely knowing that we exist is not enough. Our fellow citizens need to know us at a deeper level. It DOES matter what they think of us.

Second, and related, the case for marriage equality can’t be divorced from the case for moral equality—that is, the case for our relationships’ being positive and valuable (and holy, for those of a religious bent). Those of us who make the moral case are sometimes dismissed as “apologists.” We need more apologists (in this classic sense of the term).

Third, we need to keep exposing our opponents’ true intentions, which have become increasingly evident in this campaign season. As Jonathan Rauch explains at the Independent Gay Forum [http://indegayforum.org/blog/show/31970.html],

“Opponents of gay marriage in Maine do not just want to block gay marriage. They want to use the law to force all discussion of gay marriage out of the schools. In other words, they demand to turn the public schools into closets.”

This, despite the fact that nearby Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut have marriage equality. And despite the fact that some of these schoolchildren have gay relatives. Or are being raised by gay parents. Or are gay themselves.

In short, our opponents’ agenda is a truly radical one, which aims not merely to deny us marriage but to obliterate our very existence. We need to call them out on it.

I’d love to be pleasantly surprised next Wednesday morning, and discover that our opponents’ appeals to voters’ irrational fears were no match for our appeals to their better nature. It could happen. But whatever happens, we have much work left to do.

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First published at Between the Lines News on October 29, 2009

Dear Parent,

Gay-marriage opponents claim that we gay folk are trying to influence your children. In one sense, they are quite right.

We are not trying to “recruit” your children, if by that you mean “turn them gay.” As gay people, we understand enough about how sexual orientation works to know that you can’t turn people gay—or straight, for that matter—by some act of will.

Rather, we’re trying to do just what those scary “protect marriage” ads say we’re trying to do. We’re trying to teach them about same-sex marriage. In school.

There—I said it. The secret’s out. The gay agenda has been leaked. Call the Maine Yes-on-1 campaign and tell them there’s new material for Frank Schubert and company to quote out of context.

Meanwhile, let’s talk about that campaign—specifically, the ads warning that if Maine keeps marriage for gays and lesbians, Maine schoolchildren will be taught about homosexual marriage.

Put this way, the claim is extremely misleading. Maine (unlike California, which micromanages everything) does not dictate teaching about marriage. Maine curriculum is controlled locally, and individual schools can teach about same-sex marriage (or not) whether or not Maine has marriage equality.

To put the point another way: just because something’s legal, that doesn’t mean it must be taught in Maine schools (or vice-versa).

But whatever happens with Maine’s Question 1, I want Maine schools to teach about gays getting married. Other states’ schools, too.

Part of my reason for wanting this has nothing whatsoever to do with my support for marriage equality. I also want schools to teach about genocide, and I’m pretty staunchly anti-genocide. Schools are supposed to inform students about what’s happening in the world. For better or worse, same-sex marriage is happening in the world. Even if it is taken away in Maine, it will keep happening elsewhere. Indeed, even if it were somehow eliminated everywhere, it would remain part of our history. Students need to know this.

Of course, when we teach about genocide, we make it clear that genocide is a Very Bad Thing. By contrast, responsible teaching about same-sex marriage would have to acknowledge that it is a controversial thing, with sane and decent people on different sides of the issue.

And that is doubtless one reason why you, dear parent, fear teaching about same-sex marriage in schools. You’d rather that your children not know that there are some sane and decent people who deny that same-sex marriage is a Very Bad Thing. Indeed, that there some who think it is a Perfectly Fine Thing. You want to shelter them from such diversity. I don’t.

I want them to know that there are people with different views on marriage, and that gay people are getting legally married in parts of the United States and elsewhere. I want them to know it because any informed citizen ought to know it. But I also want them to know it because some of them might themselves be gay.

That’s right: there’s a small but statistically significant chance that your child might be gay. Ignoring the issue won’t make it go away. And isolating him from the fact of other gay people won’t make it go away, either. It will just make him…well, isolated.

Now, your child might not be gay, and if that’s so, learning about gay marriage isn’t going to make him gay. Sexual orientation doesn’t work that way. (If it did, I’d be straight.) If your child is straight, he will remain straight, regardless of what happens in Maine, California, Massachusetts and elsewhere.

But let’s suppose he’s gay. If so, and if I’m right that he can’t willfully change that fact, then his best chance for a happy, fulfilling life is probably in a relationship with someone of the same sex. (I say “probably” because some people—a very rare subset—are happier single; let’s assume he’s not one of those.) Realistically, his choice is not between a gay relationship and a straight relationship; it’s between a gay relationship and none at all.

Now I don’t expect you simply to take my word for any of this. You want your child to be happy, and you can’t imagine his happiness as a gay person. Maybe you’re deeply convinced that he’d be better off alone than with someone of the same sex.

I don’t doubt that you sincerely believe this. But I sincerely believe that you are wrong—badly wrong, wrong in a way that does needless harm to your gay child.

I want your child to know that his love is a good thing. I want him to know that he deserves a chance at romantic bliss. I want him to know that, regardless of sexual orientation, he can seek someone to have and to hold, for better or for worse, until death do they part.

I want him at least to have that option.

And that, to be very frank, is the bigger part of my reason for wanting schools to teach about gay marriage. I want all kids, including gay kids, to have a fair shot at happiness.

That’s my homosexual agenda in a nutshell.

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First published at 365gay.com on October 9, 2009

As much as I aim to seek common ground, some aspects of the marriage debate make it impossible. Consider, for example, the Maine campaign.

If you haven’t been following the campaign, you should. To my mind, our side has done a model job in framing the debate, telling our stories, responding quickly to opponents’ false messages, and perhaps most important, tailoring its own message to the local climate rather than simply going with stock arguments. Check out the ads at http://www.protectmaineequality.org/.

By contrast, the other side is essentially a re-run of the California Prop. 8 campaign (which is not surprising, as they’ve hired the same mastermind, Frank Schubert).

Of course, the other side won Prop. 8. Polls in Maine had us trailing until recently. But if ever there were a campaign that could come from behind, the Protect Maine Equality campaign is it. If you don’t believe me, compare their website to the opposition’s (http://www.standformarriagemaine.com/), and see if you don’t come away impressed and encouraged.

You are also likely to come away angry with the opposition. Good. Channel that anger into action by going back to http://www.protectmaineequality.org/ and making a sizeable donation.

Of all the things that irk me about the other side’s ads—and there are plenty—what struck me the most was Boston College law professor Scott Fitzgibbon’s claim that if marriage equality stands, “It will no longer be live and let live. Homosexual marriage will be the law whether Mainers like it or not.”

Let me repeat that, in case you didn’t get it the first time. Allow gays to marry, and “It will no longer be live and let live.”

If someone were awarding prizes for bizarre commentary in the marriage debate, this claim would be a formidable contender. The statement is so self-contradictory that it’s hard to discern its intended meaning.

But I’ll try. For marriage-equality opponents, “live and let live” must mean something like, “You are free to live as you please as long as I am free to live in a world in which you are not free to live as you please.” (Ouch. My brain hurts.)

If there’s anything worthwhile about the Fitzgibbon ad, it’s that it sharply exposes our opponents’ real intentions. They don’t merely want the freedom to marry whom they love, to worship as they choose, to raise their children as they see fit, and so on. They want the freedom to live in a world where those who differ don’t get the same freedom. In short, they want the exact opposite of a free society.

Whenever an educated person (like Fitzgibbon, who is a law professor) says something so bizarre and stupid, I assume that there must be something true somewhere in the neighborhood. If not the neighborhood, the county, perhaps.

In this case, the truth lies in the fact that freedom has a flip side, so to speak—namely, that other people may freely choose to do things that you don’t like.

Whether Maine retains marriage equality or not, our opponents are free to teach their children (and anyone else willing to listen) that same-sex relationships are wrong, that our marriages are not “real” marriages, that our families are not “real” families, and so on. They are free to do the same with respect to interfaith marriages, second marriages, whatever. You and I are free to tell them why they’re wrong.

What they are not free to do is to live in a world where everyone agrees with them. Nor are they free to live in a world where marriage between two men or two women is unthinkable, unspeakable, or legally impossible. Even if we lose Maine, we will still have marriage equality elsewhere.

And there’s the crux of the matter, and the point at which the debate really becomes a zero-sum game. Our opponents want a world where same-sex marriage is not even an option. In particular, they don’t want their kids—some of whom might be gay—to see it as an option.

By contrast, I want every gay and lesbian child to know that when they grow up, they deserve someone to have and to hold, for better or worse, ‘til death do they part.

I want them to know that when they fall in love and seek commitment, their love is real, and worthy, and good. I want them to know that marriage IS an option.

If you want that, too, support marriage equality in Maine and elsewhere.

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First published at 365gay.com on October 2, 2009

Chad and I met on my first visit to Detroit, back in the spring of 1998. “Damn, he’s good-looking,” I thought to myself–a familiar reaction for those who met Chad. He was thin then–he didn’t become a gym bunny until a few years later–but it was his handsome face and his unassuming manner that captivated me. He had piercing blue eyes and a gentle, welcoming voice. I was in town to look for an apartment, but I remember hoping that we would meet again upon my return and that the “boyfriend” he introduced me to was merely a temporary fling (I was single at the time).

As it turned out, his relationship with the boyfriend grew stronger and I acquired one of my own in the months prior to relocating. But Chad and I became friends, and a year later we decided to buy an old duplex together and move in with our respective partners. Within eighteen months both relationships soured, a development we always jokingly blamed on the house. Nonetheless, Chad and I kept things platonic. He seemed to have difficulty being single, and no sooner did he break up with one boyfriend than he would cling to another.

Seldom did his friends approve of the choices. The bolder ones would tell him what the rest of us were thinking: “You’re good-looking, you’re an attorney, you’re charming–a total ‘catch.’ Why are you dating this mooch?” Chad’s good nature sometimes got the better of him; besides, he seemed desperately afraid of being alone.

He was also deeply closeted. Having grown up with a fundamentalist upbringing, attended school at Hillsdale College, and chosen a fairly conservative profession, he was terrified of people–and in particular, his family–finding out that he was gay. Once, when we were walking through a suburban downtown with our boyfriends, he suddenly disappeared. A few minutes later we discovered that he had ducked into a store after spotting some law-school classmates across the street and fearing that our presence would somehow “out” him.

While the dual life he led took an emotional toll on him, it also created (or perhaps exacerbated) some unfortunate character traits. To put it bluntly, Chad was someone too comfortable at lying. This manifested itself not only in his closetedness, but also in his cheating on his boyfriends, and ultimately, in his gradual spiral into drug use, which he kept largely hidden from those friends (like me) he knew would object.

Of course, it’s hard to keep some things hidden for very long. I had heard from mutual acquaintances that Chad was using crystal meth, though he denied it (and later, when that became too implausible, falsely claimed that he had since stopped). Eventually he lost his job, not to mention many of his friends.

I tried to remain close with him, even after I moved out of the duplex, but it became increasingly difficult as his drug use increased. One day a routine check of my credit report revealed missed payments on our mortgage. Chad, I discovered, had not paid for months, even though he continued to collect my contribution. I will never forget the look of shame and despair on my friend’s face when I confronted him: he had hit rock-bottom, and he could no longer conceal it.

We met for lunch about a month after that. I urged him (as many times before) to get counseling, and for the first time he seemed somewhat open to it. He claimed that he was taking several steps to get his life back on track. I was reminded that day of the reasons I had grown to love him: his gentle, reassuring manner; his endless well of charm; his fundamental kindness. Maybe, I thought, he could get treatment for his depression, stop self-medicating, and tap into his enormous potential. I felt hopeful.

Two weeks later, I stopped by the duplex to pick up a check from my tenants. Chad was outside, pleading with the electric company not to turn off his power. I called him later, but he never answered my call or returned my message (it had become a familiar pattern). That was the last time I saw him. The following week, on September 29, 2004, Chad committed suicide, hanging himself in the basement of the home we had once shared. My tenants found him. He was 32 years old.

At the reception following his memorial service, the boyfriend I had met on my first visit to Detroit turned to me and said, “We failed him.”

“Yes,” I replied, “but he failed us too.” Five years later, both claims still pierce me.

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