hearing both gay and straight people say that the long string of losses
we’ve faced at the polls around marriage equality are really our
own fault; our community pushed too hard and too fast, they argue. The
prominent theme being generated is that we have failed to “educate” the
public about who we really are and get beyond the stereotypes of leather
people, butch dykes, circuit boys and drag queens — and that it
is now our obligation to reintroduce ourselves to the American people.
I also repeatedly hear that it’s up to us to reframe the terms
of the debate away from “moral values” to simpler concepts,
such as fairness, which polls indicate resonate most with the public.
I disagree. This is nothing more than the blame-the-victim mentality afflicting
our nation generally and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender movement
Rather than reframing the debate away from moral values, we must embrace
them. Or more precisely, the utter immorality of the escalating attacks
against LGBT people. And, equally, the utter immorality in the failure
of so many people of good will to stand with us. It is time for us to seize
the moral high ground and state unambiguously that anti-gay discrimination
in any form is immoral.
Webster’s defines discrimination as “unfair treatment of a
person or group on the basis of prejudice.” By any measure, LGBT
people are targets of discrimination in employment, housing and public
accommodations. FBI statistics show that more people are being murdered
because of their sexual orientation than for any other bias reason. Our
young people are still routinely bullied in schools. The examples of injustices
in the area of partner and family recognition are too many to list.
No thinking or feeling person can deny these realities, which, as always,
fall hardest on LGBT people of color and those who are poor.
But, alarmingly, rather than seeing a groundswell of support for measures
to combat these injustices, the opposite is occurring. In Congress and
in statehouses nationwide, it’s rhetorical and legislative open season
on LGBT people. For example, over the last nine months, anti-marriage state
constitutional amendments were put on the ballot in 14 states, 10 of which
also prohibit the recognition of any form of relationship between people
of the same gender. It’s likely another 12 states will have similar
measures on the ballot within three years.
Nothing like this has happened since the Constitution was ratified in 1791 — essentially
a national referendum inviting the public to vote to deprive a small minority
of Americans of rights the majority takes for granted and sees as fundamental.
And who’s been there to fight these amendments? Basically us, the
very minority under attack. Mainstream media and churches are largely silent
to our opponents’ lies. Most progressive organizations and political
campaigns, meanwhile, steer clear. There have been sterling exceptions,
but they have been few and far between.
Many people who see themselves as supporters of equal rights for all tolerate
this because they believe prejudice on the basis of sexual orientation
is profoundly different than that based on race or religion — that
it comes from an understandable disapproval of our behavior — not
on some “immutable characteristic.” Homosexual behavior, they
feel, is “unnatural” (doesn’t the Bible say so?). Pundits
say there is an “ick” factor — that the thought of gay
sex revolts non-gay people, and that this seemingly innate reaction is
proof there is something wrong with homosexuality.
This rationale is hardly unique to gay people. Scholars point to comparable “ick” sentiments
about Irish immigrants in the 1880s, and describe how in preceding generations
sexual ideology was used to strengthen control over slaves and to justify
the taking of Native American lands, and that for centuries Jews were associated
with disease and urban degeneration.
Fact is, there is no justification for anti-gay prejudice; the “justifications” for
it are as unfounded as those used to support the second-class treatment
of other minorities in past generations.
So, what needs to be done?
First, everyone must realize that when straight people say gay people should
not have the freedom to marry, they are saying we are not as good or deserving
as they are. It’s that simple, no matter how one attempts to sugarcoat
This is unacceptable — and it is immoral.
Second, while we should talk to straight people honestly about our lives,
we must flatly reject the notion that we are somehow to blame for all of
this because we have not effectively communicated our “stories” to
others. Fundamentally, it is not our job to prove to others that we can
be good neighbors, good parents, and that gee whiz, we’re actually
Third, equality will remain elusive if we keep relying on intellectualized
arguments or by dryly cataloguing, for example, each of the 1,138 federal
rights and responsibilities we are forced to forgo due to marriage inequality.
The other side goes for the gut; it’s now our turn.
The orchestrated campaign to deny us jobs, family recognition, children
and housing is immoral. Silently bearing witness to this discrimination
America is in the midst of another ugly chapter in its struggle with the
forces of bigotry. People of good will can either rise up to speak for
lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, or look back upon themselves
20 years from now with deserved shame.