First published at 365gay.com on November 9, 2009
When I was a “fag” on the junior high playground, getting punched hurt even when I saw it coming. So too with Maine this past week.
Like many, I was dispirited but not surprised when we lost. The rights of minorities (gays especially) generally don’t do well when put to a popular vote. And the opposition’s central message—that gays want to influence schoolchildren—remains as effective as it is sinister.
The message conjures up the image of gays as child molesters—a myth debunked but never fully extinguished.
A slightly less sinister (but still false) version portrays us as anti-family and anti-morality. Still another falsehood is that we’re trying to “recruit.”
Then there’s the underlying truth that sustains the myth as plausible. Yes, of course marriage equality will affect what children are taught in schools, because if same-sex marriage is legal, they will naturally be taught that it’s legal. That it’s an option for consenting adults who want it. That women sometimes fall in love with women, and men with men, and live happily ever after.
We should not shrink from saying these things, but we do. No doubt, the ugliness of the sinister versions—not to mention our opponents’ penchant for quoting us out of context—makes us nervous about discussing the truthful version. And that’s surely one lesson of this loss: the closet is still powerful, and our opponents use it to their advantage.
But we will not go back in the closet again.
We will keep telling our stories. We will keep showing our faces. We will keep getting married, even if—for now—Maine doesn’t legally recognize our relationships. We will not go back in the closet again.
And though we’ve lost this particular battle, we will continue to win the war.
On the same day that Maine voters took away marriage equality, Detroit (where I live) elected an openly gay City Council President. This, in a city that’s 84% African-American and where churches exert considerable political influence. The rest of the country hardly noticed, but Detroit defied several stereotypes on Tuesday.
His name is Charles Pugh. A popular newscaster before running for City Council, Pugh was actually endorsed by both the Council of Baptist Pastors and the AME Ministerial Alliance. They knew he was gay and they endorsed him anyway.
One could argue that Pugh was endorsed—and won—because of name recognition. Detroit elects all nine councilmembers at-large, and the top vote getter automatically becomes council president. It’s a dumb system in several ways, and in the past it has resulted in famous but incompetent councilmembers—Martha Reeves, of Martha and the Vandellas, leaps to mind. (Incidentally, in this year’s primary Reeves was voted out, and in the general election voters overwhelming approved a referendum for council-by-district.)
But even if Pugh’s landslide can be attributed to sheer popularity, it sends an encouraging message about the way the world is changing. Being openly gay is no longer an absolute bar to getting public support. And even those who regularly oppose us will sometimes let other factors trump whatever makes us scary otherwise.
Meanwhile, the more they know us, the less scary we become.
It’s unfair and unfortunate that we need to work harder than our opponents to win. They win by exploiting fear, which is easy to do when you’re in the majority. We win by building relationships—by letting voters know who we really are. That takes time.
So our opponents have a soundbite edge, but we have a long-term advantage. The closet is crumbling.
In the wake of the Maine loss, we will catch our breath and press on. We will continue to live our lives; we will keep speaking our truth. We will stand up in the firm conviction that our love is real, and valuable, and worthy of equal treatment under the law.
Because whatever legal roadblocks they may put in our way, we will never go back in the closet again.