“If all we feel is outrage, then we have not found a remedy.”- Jim Geringer, Governor, State of Wyoming, following Matthew Shepard’s death
Since I was a young girl and old enough to understand who I was, I have known discrimination. It hardens your heart and dampens your soul until you conquer the fear. Some don’t make it and commit suicide. To have the media, family, co-workers and friends tell jokes and make hurtful remarks is the life of a GLBT person. Unless you are a person of color, you likely don’t know what it is like to live a life of separation. As a GLBT person you are not allowed to do basic things like date, or attend the prom. You can’t hold hands or show affection in public for fear of retribution, or get relationship advice, or bring your boyfriend or girlfriend home to meet the parents. If you do, then you risk abandonment, ridicule, or even physical harm. There are churches who condemn us, and even reject us from attending. We are made to seem sub-human, and even demonic. You can’t experience the life you were born to live….freedom to choose, freedom to live, freedom to marry.
I had to leave a job I loved in my early career for fear of being found out. For the first half of my life I was closeted so I could keep my job. I lived in a small community that did not accept GLBT people as teachers, coaches or principals. After moving to Denver in the late ’80s, I sat in a hospital room with a gay friend (who was a terrific elementary teacher). He had been cornered by several young people who were trolling for a gay person to beat up. They beat him with a baseball bat and kicked him in the head until his eyes were so swollen he couldn’t see. For three days he was in a coma. I stayed with him until the swelling went down in his face and he wasn’t afraid someone would come back and kill him. He was a small man, and one of the kindest people I have ever known. His father was a Baptist preacher, and he was excommunicated from the family (with the exception of his sister). He thought moving to a bigger city would help.
The charge for nearly killing Mark was reduced to a misdemeanor. Those who beat him paid a $50 fine and were turned back out on the street to harm another day. Although animal abusers still don’t receive harsh enough punishments, you can get a lighter penalty for committing a hate crime against gays, even today. We are often treated as less than animals by those who are there to protect the innocent. That is the life we live, rather than the one God intended for us. For some of you, this is preaching to the choir. For others, I am glad you can’t relate. No one should have to understand it.
I once went shopping in a furniture store with an African-American (straight) male friend. He told me he was going to look at some cabinets on the other side of the room. He told me to pay attention to the store clerks. I followed his suggestion. They followed him everywhere he went and totally ignored me. It dawned on me in an instant. They subconsciously expected him to steal something. I tell you this story just to point out that discrimination has a lot of faces. It is doled out in jokes, behaviors and in other very scary ways. These are judgments…..very hurtful judgments that impact lives. My friend could not have put a cabinet in his pocket, and factually, Kevin is a terribly honest and trustworthy person. If I had children I would trust him to take care of them. He didn’t deserve that treatment, nor does any other person or group.
The truth of the matter….In the U.S., 75% of students have no state laws to protect them from harassment and discrimination in school based on their sexual orientation. In public high schools, 97% of students report regularly hearing homophobic remarks from their peers. Of the estimated 1.6 million homeless American youth, between 20% and 40% identify as LGBT. That is a huge number considering the overall percentage of GLBT people. One study revealed that 26% of gay teens who came out to their parents/guardians were told they must leave home; LGBT youth also leave home due to physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Also, LGBT youth report they are threatened, belittled and abused at shelters by staff as well as other residents. There are smaller numbers of GLBT people who are pedophiles by far than the straight population, and virtually none in the female lesbian ranks. (That is a statistical fact.)
Why are civil unions not enough for gay rights activists? The federal government accords 1,138 benefits and responsibilities based on marital status but not on civil union status. A few of those benefits are unpaid leave to care for an ill spouse, social security survivor benefits and spousal benefits, and the right not to testify against one’s spouse. The same man I told you about earlier (Mark) owned a home with his male partner. They had wills leaving everything to each other. My friend died of a brain tumor. His family sued for his half of the house and won. His partner was evicted and thrown out on the street until the home was sold…..by court order in Denver. If you are unlucky enough to find a GLBT hater judge, they have the power to punish the innocent. If someone you know thinks it can’t happen, it does.
- There are already thousands of children living in gay couple households. The 2000 U. S. Census reports 33% of female same-sex couple households and 22% of male same-sex couple households already have at least one child under the age of 18 living at home.
- According to the American Psychological Association Policy Statement on Sexual Orientation, Parents, & Children, “there is no reliable evidence that homosexual orientation per se impairs psychological functioning. Second, beliefs that lesbian and gay adults are not fit parents have no empirical foundation.”
- The American Psychological Association states “research suggests that sexual identities (including gender identity, gender-role behavior, and sexual orientation) develop in much the same ways among children of lesbian mothers as they do among children of heterosexual parents.”
- There is no conclusive evidence that homosexuality is linked to one’s environment. In other words, growing up in a gay couple household will not “make” a child gay. Read Nature vs. Nurture: Born or Made Gay.
Why do we want marriage? Other than basic reasons like benefits and protections under the law, we just want the ability to live freely. I have been with my partner for 17 years. Like many of you, I knew in an instant…a holy one. I don’t want to harm anyone or take away anyone’s freedoms. I am no threat to the “sanctity of marriage” – in fact, I think we might give it more credibility, given the fact that about half of straight marriages end in divorce and many of the ones that survive are anything but sanctified. At the end of our lives I want to be able to have my partner by my side. If I am in an ICU we will have to sit in the hall because we are not “family.” Many GLBT people pass from this life alone.
I am thankful I was born the way I am. God gave me this gift so I could stop judging. I had a choice to love or hate. I chose love. Some days it is more of a challenge than others.
Below is a video from Mayors for the Freedom to Marry – a group aligned with the Freedom to Marry Campaign and featuring 80 mayors from 25 states – that explains why this courageous group of municipals leaders believes that this is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. I encourage you to watch the video and sign the pledge.
I also ask you to pass these links along to your friends, your family members and those in your various community and religious organizations. If you share your conviction in this initiative it means many more signatures and a greater momentum towards an important milestone in American social justice. If only GLBT people sign the petitition it will be ignored, and if the history of the struggle for equality in the US has taught us anything, it’s that, as the famous Solomon Burke song teaches: “none of us are free, one of us are chained.”
Thanks to the Mayors for the Freedom to Marry, and thank you for reading and supporting fairness for all Americans.