First published at 365gay.com on May 27, 2011
Not long ago I encountered an old acquaintance while waiting in an airport for a flight. He noticed that I looked tan—I had recently been to Mexico—so we started chatting about vacations.
“Have you ever been on a cruise?” he asked.
“Not since I was a teenager,” I answered. “And that was with my parents.”
“Oh, I love cruises,” he responded. “I’ve been on a bunch of them. Although, I’ve never been on a gay cruise.”
His volume dropped in half when he uttered the words “gay cruise.” It was as if he were whispering a secret, like “Aunt Bea was just diagnosed with cancer” or “Maria’s husband is having an affair with the maid” or “Bob didn’t come to the party because he’s recovering from liposuction.”
As my friend knows, I speak and write on gay issues; indeed, I had just come from giving a talk where I emphasized—as I often do—the importance of being “out.”
He and I are similar in age (early 40’s), so there’s no “generation gap” between us. And he’s a flight attendant—not a profession known for rampant homophobia. So why was he lowering his voice?
“Neither have I,” I finally responded. “But I’ve always been curious about gay cruises.”
I overcompensated, raising my voice slightly. My friend didn’t seem to notice. But a man standing a few feet to the side of us apparently did, because he spent the next several minutes giving us dirty looks.
Last week the Tennessee State Senate, by a vote of 20-10, approved a bill that would prohibit discussion of homosexuality by public elementary or middle school teachers. Dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by its critics, the bill won’t reach the State House until next year, which is the earliest it could become law.
This is the sort of thing that should outrage all decent people. But it is especially offensive to anyone who grew up in the closet and who thus knows what it’s like to regard one’s fundamental romantic desires as literally unspeakable.
It’s because I’ve experienced the closet’s shame firsthand that I find the idea of whispering “gay” so troubling.
It’s why I go out of my way to say “gay” in full voice—dirty looks be damned. It’s also why I think that defeating the Tennessee “Don’t Say Gay” bill should be a priority for the LGBT movement in the coming year.
The wording of the bill is worth mentioning. The original version included the following language:
“Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, no public elementary or middle school shall provide any instruction or material that discusses sexual orientation other than heterosexuality.”
Unsurprisingly, this language provoked backlash. So the sponsors amended it, substituting the following, apparently more palatable, version. Read it carefully:
“Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, any instruction or materials made available or provided at or to a public elementary or middle school shall be limited exclusively to natural human reproduction science.”
Which proves to me that these senators are not just morally shameful, they’re morons. Because they just passed a bill that technically prohibits teachers from offering instruction in math, social studies, geology, composition, and so on.
Read it again: “any instruction…shall be limited exclusively to natural human reproductive science.” Not, “any instruction regarding human sexuality,” but “any instruction,” period. Taken literally, this bill says that reproductive biology would be the only subject allowed.
How about some instruction in reading comprehension? I’m just sayin’.
This reminds me of 2005, when Texas voters unwittingly passed a constitutional amendment prohibiting all marriage. That’s because the amendment prohibited any status “identical…to marriage,” and it’s a basic principle of logic that anything is identical to itself.
Okay, so maybe Texas conservatives don’t know logic. But Tennessee conservatives apparently don’t know ENGLISH.
(And yes, I’m aware that this is a proposed section of the “Sex education” portion of the Tennessee code. But it nevertheless states explicitly that “notwithstanding any other law to the contrary,” sex education—of a certain narrow variety—is the only thing that the schools may teach.)
All of which would be funny, except that it’s not. These are elected officials passing legislation that will make LGBT kids’ lives miserable, by reinforcing the idea that their love “dare not speak its name.”
If you live in Tennessee, write your legislators and tell them what you think of this bill. (Better use small words.) Remind them that, for vulnerable youth, silence can indeed equal death.
And wherever you live, don’t just speak out. SPEAK UP.