This week, many of us may have felt a bit of whiplash as we saw Amendment One pass in North Carolina, followed closely by President Obama’s historic, public declaration of support for same-sex marriage. Both of these events carry much more weight than just their legal and political implications; they each carry a message.
As a queer person who grew up in a liberal, accepting city, who went to socially liberal, accepting schools, having never lost a friend to my coming out, I’ve had it easy. So many other queer folks have faced – and continue to face – being kicked out of their homes as teenagers, homelessness, losing friends, losing jobs, physical assaults and bullying, self loathing, and suicide. The challenges I faced in coming out do not compare to what I just described, and yet, it was still hard and scary. Why? And what does this have to do with NC’s Amendment 1 and President Obama?
As we grow up – and by ‘we’ I mean everyone – we look to the environment around us for guidance about how to navigate the world. We see how our family members and friends react to different situations, and, increasingly, we see everything that is portrayed on TV, the Internet, and in the news – and, notably, we don’t see what is not portrayed. Everything we see sends us both conscious and subconscious messages about what is ok and good, and about what is not ok, weird, and bad. We internalize these messages, whether or not they are correct, without realizing that this is happening, and they influence how we see the world.
What I see in the news is a world dominated by straight white people. Gay people are either absent entirely from TV shows and commercials, or they are the main focus and are explicitly pointed out. I see legislation being pushed to further solidify legal discrimination against gay people. I see our rights being put to a popular vote, as if the majority is capable of understanding the needs of a minority, and capable of making a fair decision, harmful power dynamics aside. I see straight politicians who know nothing about the life of any queer person questioning the morals of queer people, making sweeping generalizations about promiscuity and disease, and then declaring that no one has to be gay, that it is a choice,* and therefore should not be supported. I these politicians maintain public credibility and support while saying these things. And up until very recently, I have seen all realistic candidates for president go out of their way to reassure the public that they are not in full favor of gay rights.
The messages I have received as a gay person have been that, regardless of who I am or what I do, I don’t deserve equal rights – that public opinion is more important than my equality, than my well being. I see my values questioned, the legitimacy of my feelings questioned; I see that I am supposedly inferior to my straight counterparts, somehow weird or a spectacle, not normal, a curiosity or a good subject for gossip. I see that though I have been fortunate so far, violence against me could be around the corner if I am not careful. The news about Amendment One in NC fuels these negative messages, which are not only internalized by gay people, but also the straight people with whom we interact every day. Homophobia and the physical and emotional violence that go with it are reinforced, legal implications aside.
This is why President Obama’s endorsement of marriage equality is so important. Even if it doesn’t change anything about what he can and will do, it sends a very important counter message. Now, even the president of the United States believes and knows gay people are just regular people too, and deserve equal rights. This kind of message has the power to make the difference between violence and safety, between life and death for many queer people less fortunate than I. It also has the power to make life easier and safer for the next generation of youth who come into this world, looking for guidance.
I am very disappointed in North Carolina for passing Amendment One, and incredibly angry at all the people who see fit to judge me and my life (among the lives of many others) without knowing a single thing about me other than the fact that I am gay. I am relieved and happy to hear President Obama finally voice his full support – it’s past due. With this blog, I hope to add my voice, in whatever small way, to the positive messages out there on the internet.
Until next time,
*A note about gayness as a choice – I find the nature vs. nurture argument to be completely irrelevant. Aside from all of the evidence that gay people cannot choose to become straight, I find the argument that being gay is only ok if you can’t help it to be a little insulting. Even if it were possible to change, why should I have to engage in the work of trying to change if I am happy and healthy as I am? Just because some other people are uncomfortable? Yeah, right.
Once again, find me on Twitter at choosetolearn.