Tag Archives: North Carolina

Obama Comes Out of the Closet

10 May

When President Obama came out of the closet with his support of same sex marriage (first stated as an Illinois State Senator in 1996), it was a bright spot in a difficult week for LGBT people. The cynical nature of his “evolution” on the issue got an eye roll out of me, but it also got a tear and a cheer.

Coming one day after the passage of North Carolina Amendment 1, Mr. Obama’s statement in support of same sex marriage, perhaps the most politically touchy subject affecting same sex couples, was a calculated political risk taken at a critical time in the career of our nation’s first black president. It was historic.

And, speaking as a gay man, it was also about damn time.

I’m 50 years old. As a child in the 1960s, I could never have imagined this moment. Homophobia was so commonplace in those days that it was not just normal, it was considered righteous. Adults and children alike bullied boys they perceived as gay.

I was no exception. I grew up isolated, picked on, occasionally assaulted, and without hope for the future. I knew I was “different,” and I was sure that adulthood would hold nothing good for me. And as childhood was no walk in the park, I frequently contemplated suicide in the manner of small children, picturing the regret that my tormentors would experience at my funeral.

By my teens, contemplation turned to action. I figured out how to butch up enough to deflect the bullying of my elementary school years onto other victims, but I lived with a secret, terrified at being found out. I turned to drugs and alcohol, taking the slow road to self-destruction. Eventually, I flunked out of school.

As a working-class boy of color, my family and community meant everything to me. Without the support of these social networks, how was I supposed to get work, make a family, and have a rewarding life? Yet, I knew I would be rejected if I came out. When finally it was made clear to me that my immediate family was aware of my sexual orientation and that I was to “never bring it into the house,” I knew it was time to cut out on my own.

But where was I to go? The organized part of the gay community looked awfully white to me. I grew up in a community in Hawaii that was almost entirely, very nearly militantly brown. Turning to a white community for comfort would be perceived as a betrayal of my family. It felt like a form of betrayal to me.

All of that might just be TMI, but I share it because my story is not unusual. It is, in fact, pretty typical of the experiences of LGBT people of color of my generation.

Over the years, I made a life for myself as a political activist and community servant. I created a community among those who believe as I do in the importance of human rights, racial and gender justice, and sexual freedom. Life did indeed get better.

However, like I said, I’m 50. I’ve waited a long time to hear my president acknowledge that I am fully human and therefore as deserving of rights as anyone else. For 50 years, I’ve waited to hear my president say that regardless of his private religious beliefs, I should be able to share in the same rights of citizenship as straight people.

I lived through the AIDS crisis of the 80s. I helplessly watched friends die as our federal government stood idly by because the disease first appeared in the U.S. among gay men. As an out gay activist my 20s and 30s, death threats, hate mail, and the occasional stalking were part of my “normal.” For most of my life, I’ve had no protection from discrimination in housing and employment based on my sexual orientation. As a former Oregonian, I lived through five statewide ballot measure races in which the morality of my very existence was questioned, and my most basic rights put up for a vote.

I know I should be grateful, but, as far as I’m concerned, every day we continue to debate the relative humanity of other human beings is a day spent reinforcing a way of thinking that is an affront to the humanity of all of us. So, I’m not saying thank you. I’m saying what I believe to be on the minds of most LGBT people of my generation. It’s about damn time.

North Carolina Amendment 1: Racism In Homophobe’s Clothing

9 May

Much has been written about Amendment 1, the referendum to change the North Carolina State Constitution to deny official recognition of domestic unions other than legal marriage between a man and a woman. The amendment was approved by 60% of North Carolina voters yesterday.

The passage of Amendment 1 is a serious defeat for pro-LGBT forces. 60% exceeds the polling estimates and, in the land of ballot issues, a 20% margin is pretty much a landslide.

I worked on a bunch of ballot measure races back in the 1990s, starting with serving on the campaign staff of the 1992 No on 9 Campaign against an anti-LGBT constitutional amendment in Oregon. That proposed amendment tried to equate LGBT folk with pedophiles. We defeated it, but not by much.

Ballots measure like North Carolina Amendment 1 and 1992’s ballot measure 9 are as much about racism and bigotry in general as they are about how folks feel about LGBT people. Here’s why:

First, the organizations that sponsor these homophobic measures are part of a movement with a much broader agenda. Oregon’s ballot measure 9 was sponsored by the Oregon Citizen’s Alliance. They also attacked reproductive choice, and held positions against Affirmative Action and humane immigration reform.

That same year in Colorado, an anti-LGBT constitutional amendment passed by ballot measure. The sponsors of Colorado’s measure were the sponsors of an anti-Latino English Only measure just two years before.

For these groups, homophobia offers a soft-entry point into the hearts, minds, and pocketbooks of evangelical Christians. By exploiting a popular prejudice, they build the support necessary to advance much more expansive anti-democratic agendas.

Protestant Pastor Martin Neimoller famously spoke to this dynamic when he stood up in solidarity with German Jews saying:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

But there’s more. The very fact that constitutional rights can be contested in what amount to popularity contests should give us all pause. Our federal constitution, at least in theory, is supposed to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority. Inviting voters to decide whether any minority group’s rights should be protected does an end run around constitutionally guaranteed protections. Amendment 1 and all similar measures put all of our rights in jeopardy.

Measures like Amendment 1 invite us into the dangerous belief that where our civil rights are concerned the majority should rule. That, in fact, majority rule is the most democratic way to determine whether or not any group is eligible for protection when the opposite is true. It is anti-democratic to permanently limit the ability of any group to air their grievances and seek the protection of government.

Japanese Americans understand the danger inherent in majority rule. During WWII, American citizens of Japanese descent were incarcerated en masse because of their ethnicity.

Jim Crow and anti-miscegenation laws were imposed on Southern states by majority rule. If the Voting Rights Act had been a left to the whims of state by state popularity contests, African Americans might still be barred from voting in many Southern states because of poll taxes, terrorism, and literacy requirements.

But what’s even worse, in my book, is the damage of measures like Amendment 1 to our culture. I remember distinctly how angry it made me to see measures on the Oregon ballot concerning LGBT rights. My humanity was put up for a vote.

I’m not arguing that you have to like me because or even in spite of my sexual orientation, but debating my humanity through the elections system? All of us who are concerned about human rights should be united in our understanding that this kind of thing is just never, ever okay. It’s the same kind of objectifying, ugly thinking that perpetuates racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and every other kind of bigotry.

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