I understand the whole “not getting someone who’s different than you” thing. But even in my fundamentalist in-this-world-but-not-of-it days, I knew that feeling was a big ole signpost pointing me straight toward the unknown. Because there is absolutely no reason to be scared of what you don’t know or don’t understand. Ignorance, actual not-knowing, is nothing to be ashamed of – but refusing to know, to learn, to expand, well, that is shameful.
When I was in ninth grade, we got our first ever out gay kid in school. He was a few years behind me, but there was no mistaking him. He wore eyeliner, nail polish, and had a rock star wardrobe. He was masculine and non-gender-conforming at the same time. I had the feeling that it must be tough to stand out so much, but he was unfailingly sweet and kind and I remember him always smiling.
My senior year, I met my second gay guy. He was out at school but not at home, and when he came out at home, he was immediately kicked out and forced to transfer to a school where he’d risk having his ass kicked daily. I remember being baffled that parents could willfully put their child in harm’s way like that – even if they were conservative, that’s not “loving the sinner.”
At this time I was still of the “love the sinner, hate the sin” mindset. I was nice enough to people face-to-face, but I still would have voted against marriage equality and been a-ok with gay people kept out of schools and scouting and other organizations. At that time -1999 – full marriage equality seemed a far distant possibility. It never occurred to me that gay people would want to get married, have children, and happy nuclear families. Being gay seemed like a thing you should want to keep to yourself, like having sex before marriage, and with enough willpower you could redirect yourself more appropriately. What I didn’t realize then was that I probably knew and was close friends with a half-dozen students who found themselves under the LGBTQIA umbrella. I may never know for sure, but I hope now that I never did anything to make them feel as though they were less-than. I probably did.
A few years later, I found myself in Marshall University’s theater program, where I met some of my most cherished friends. I began working for the theater facilities manager there – a gay man who could not care less what any of us thought about it. The particulars of his relationship were not open to us for questioning – exactly like any straight faculty member. As we worked together and got to know him, he would share more about his personal life with us as he saw fit. We got to know his partner and saw what a wonderful, loving couple they are, and how if we let them, they could provide us with a really excellent example of how healthy relationships are supposed to function. After working with him for four years, I was able to thank him for teaching me more than just theater. I told him that when we first met, I had absolutely no idea what to do with him, but I now credit him with making sure I didn’t spend the rest of my life as a bigot. I told him that I would definitely be looking to him as an example of what I want in marriage one day. It was his 18th anniversary.
Today, I find myself being completely baffled that the same horrible arguments put forth in the 1970’s are being used as arguments against gay marriage today. There is no greater or lesser reason to keep your child for going on a scouts camping trip with a gay adult than with a straight adult – the point is that you need to know well the people that you entrust with the well being of children. And the “sanctity of marriage” is a complete fabrication: many of the politicians who repeat that phrase have been unfaithful in their several marriages – Newt Gingrich, I’m looking at you. And the truth of it is, the only thing that affects the quality of my relationship is how my partner and I treat one another. No other couple, celebrity or anonymous, gay or straight, or even our own parents, has a true and lasting effect on what happens inside our own home.
There has been progress made. It is much less likely these days that gay people will be assaulted for daring to show affection on public, but I do know a teacher who lives in the closet for fear that *they* will lose their position or career if the truth were known. That doesn’t sound much like “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” to me. And there are still some very determined people in this country who are working hard to create a second class citizenship – which is why I’m very proud to show you what arrived for me in the mail this week: