4/09/2009

An American Sea Change

Newlywed male same-sex couple at Gaypride 2006...Image via Wikipedia

I never thought that a quote from the American Family Association would give me hope that we have truly turned the corner on LGBT rights but it is true. Speaking about the recent decision by the Washington, D.C. council to recognize same sex marriages performed in other places, Peter Sprigg of AFA issued the following quote:
"I’m concerned that every step closer to same-sex marriage that does not meet resistance makes it easier for some people to accept same-sex marriage down the road."
I read in that quote a note of fatalism on the part of those who have so long stood against equality and civil rights for all Americans. It appears that Sprigg and the AFA no longer believe they can win this fight. Instead, they are concentrating their efforts on simply making the battle bloody and fraught with as many offensive statements as possible until the day arrives when like the White Citizens Council they are relegated to the dust bin of history.

The past week has been amazing. We saw the Iowa Supreme Court invalidate their anti-gay law. We then saw the Vermont legislature pass a full marriage equality bill then rally to override the veto of their Governor. We saw Washington, D.C. opt to recoginize marriages performed elsewhere. We saw the National Organization for Marriage launch a $1.5 million dollar commercial and almost immediatley go down in flames over its lies and distortions - not to mention the use of paid actors to represent "real people." We see the Wisconsin courts casting an eye toward taking up the question of the validity of their own anti-gay law. Meanwhile, equality legislation is winding its way through the process in New Hampshire, New Jersey, Maine and possibly New York state while the New York City council calls on the Federal Government to recognize same-sex marriages in the upcoming census.

Can we not look at these events and find hope? What must this be doing to the forces of hatred and intolerance as they watch progress even as they bleed cash and public good will?

Times, they are a changing - and changing at a rate I doubt any of us could have imagined. After the Prop 8 and Prop 102 campaigns we saw anti-gay organizations spend themselves into near bankruptcy only to have their gains called into question in the courts.

Even here in Arizona there are subtle signs of change. While Arizona remains stolidly conservative and white centric once you leave the large metropolitan areas, a cursory glance at the Arizona Policy Council - an ultra right group - shows how the base of these groups is shrinking.

While Cathi Herrod continues to run her mouth in her personal fiefdom of hate, it appears that those she is attracting to her cause are not the middle-class families she wishes. Instead, in recent months it appears her base of support is shrinking to just the ultra-religious fringe groups and her active troops are now neo-nazi groups and other white supremacists such as the Nationalist Coalition. What better sign of demise is there than having to turn to such people for your support? Certainly, her coalition makeup will make it increasingly uncomfortable for people who don't seem themselve aligned with these types to continue with her cause. Without her constant spin a message of tolerance and openness might take root in their lives.

We know that education is related to people accepting the fact that all people are entitled to civil rights. After all, the fear that drives these people comes from ignorance and ignorance is bred by lack of education and life experience. The current rate of Arizona students who never graduate high school is 30%. This fact has gotten the attention of people who would never think much of LGBT rights. They want to increase educational opportunities in the state and insure a higher graduation rate. The good news is that indirectly it will assist the LGBT community by educating the population, exposing them to greater chances to learn history, civil rights, and civics making for an educated and thoughtful population versus one ignorant of even the most basic concepts of our national government and civics.

Truly, it is a time to ponder how far we've come. As I sat reading news this afternoon I was struck by the changes since I first came out in the mid-80's.

Gay Activist, a publication of the Gay Liberat...Image via Wikipedia

I came out in 1985 while visiting my brother in San Diego. At that time (I was 18) it seemed as though the "Gay Liberation" movement was ancient history. Yet, it was only eight years after the Brigg's Initiative in California and Anita Bryant's hayday. Still, the thought that one day I might be able to be married seemed, well, like science fiction. At the time people were dying of AIDS at alarming rates and our government was ignoring it. I often heard that gay people should be put in concentration camps so they wouldn't infect the "normal" people or that AIDS was the wrath of God and steps should not be taken to find a cure or even provide palliative treatment. Even four years later when I worked as a surgical technologist, there were nurses who refused to treat HIV positive patients. Women were told they didn't have to treat an HIV positive patient if they were pregnant. It was amazing how many people became suddenly "pregnant" the moment an HIV patient entered the surgical suite! Often there were only 3 or 4 of us on staff who would treat these patients - and this was before "Provider Conscience" rules were enacted to make this not only legal but perfectly acceptable.

That was the environment into which I emerged as a young gay man. Within a decade AIDS had become not the "gay scourge" but a disease being researched with amazing advances in care. People were no longer being thrown out of their homes or jobs because of fear.

Even more amazing, people had begun to talk about allowing gay people to marry!

We've come a long way, baby. There's a lot of work to be done. We've got to get DOMA overturned, DADT off the books, ENDA passed, and a comprehensive hate crimes law and marriage equality in the other 46 states. But, deep down in my gut, I feel these are now givens. These things will happen. It might be a bloody battle because I think our opposition know that they've lost the war. They refuse to sue for peace and are determined to make every remaining battle as hard and heartbreaking as possible. Yet, I think we all know how this war will now end.

Rainbows and departing storm clouds, Minsi Lak...Image via Wikipedia

The world has changed and continues to change at amazing speed. No longer are we having to fight an uphill battle while our opposition stakes out the moral high ground. Now we are on the moral high ground as people of all backgrounds begin to understand the equality is right and proper and those opposing equal civil rights do so out of ignorance, hatred, and hubris.

Yes, I am strangely positive and feel like I can see that rainbow beginning to peek through the clouds of the storm.


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