Thursday, July 21, 2011
Let's Just Call This What it Is
Yesterday, I watched the Senate committee hearing on the Respect for Marriage Act (H.R. 116, S., 598) introduced in both the U.S. House and the Senate. I was home sick from work, so instead of chairing a meeting as previously planned, I propped myself up on pillows and watched the live stream of the committee hearing. Those old white men who spoke out against it and in defense of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) sat there as others testified about the harmful and discriminatory realities of 15 years of DOMA (homes, death benefits, health coverage, inherited property--all lost or denied because of federal policies) and then went on to say that it wasn't that they were "against" gays and lesbians, they just believed that getting rid of DOMA would open the doors for children to be taught how to be homosexuals and that same sex families were normal (never mind the children who grow up within such families), that "traditional marriages" are the only ones that count, and that if gays and lesbians can legally marry then taxpayers will be subsidizing polygamy next. Whew. Good thing those people are not "against" gays and lesbians!
Yesterday was also the day I was reminded that there are some relatives who won't be attending our ceremony because "it makes them feel uncomfortable." We tried to weed out the obvious antis and right-wingers in the guest list construction, but as Teri and I and every other gay person in the world knows: you just never know. We never know how people truly vote, what sort of language they use with their kids or in the privacy of their homes, or what they might actually do in the face of differences and diversity. You just never know...until you do. And then we get to come face to face with a unique kind of bigotry: homophobia.
The reason that I think of homophobia as a unique sort of hate and bigotry is that when one is a person of color, part of a minority religion or some other diverse group, chances are, so is one's family of origin. There is a sense of belonging--at least to the family or to a minority culture--from which one can draw strength, survival skills and a defensive base of self-acceptance. That just is not the case for LGBTQ folks where often the first line of rejection, hatred and homophobia comes from our families. We have to go out into the homophobic world to create a sense of belonging and to create safe spheres where we can be ourselves in any sort of genuine way. For many of us, our families eventually come around--or they learn how to "accept" and "tolerate"--I don't think that is the case for other targeted populations who know that even if the rest of the world rejects them, they have a kindred haven within their families. I am not saying that one form of bigotry or racism is better or worse, just that there are some differences. Of course, I will NEVER know what it is like to be a person of color, so I can only truthfully speak to what I do know and experience.
So we fight and struggle within our families, our schools, our communities, and then we continue the struggle on a larger, political and human rights level. We have people tell us that they are not "against" us, they just can't imagine seeing two women kiss or wonder what two men do in bed or other imagined moments they believe justify denying fairness and justice. We bolster ourselves for the comments, legislation, misinformation and fear that people seem to feel necessary. To be honest, I can't really decide if I am sorry that these people feel "uncomfortable" or not. As I told Teri last night in talking about the people from our world who are choosing not to come to our ceremony, I don't know if it really bothers me or not since I have had years to develop the thick-skin necessary to live in a world of "isms." Of course, we don't want anyone present who is thinking icky thoughts, but we also would like to think that by now, our ordinary "outness" has made a difference in easing people's homophobia. With all the movement toward increased social justice and basic rights, we can forget that people are still victims of gay-bashing and homophobic violence, schools are still unsafe for our kids (and not because of the gay people), and every day people still come out to families who reject them.
The elephant in the room is that there is STILL an elephant in the room...