4/01/2009

What Are "Gay Rights"?

What are "gay rights"? When we talk about LGBT rights what do we mean?

Hopefully, we mean equal Civil Rights. But how are we denied equality? We know that we face discrimination in marriage, employment, housing, finance, and education. Those impact our lives to greater or lesser degrees constantly.

Are there LGBT people who don't think we are entitled to those rights? Probably. There are surely pockets who don't hold that LGBT people should have the right to marry. However, they often espouse the fall back position of "Civil Unions." If marriage were available or on the immediate horizon they probably would gladly accept marriage. However, they think they are being pragmatic. In a few cases, they are probably just contrarians or loopy anarchist types.

However, for the most part we can all agree on the big issues of Civil Rights.

Recently, on Facebook I posted some thoughts on the scattered nature of the LGBT groups in this part of the world. The thesis of the piece was that we should concentrate first and foremost on core Civil Rights issues in our community as gay "groups" rather than constantly becoming distracted by causes outside those core concerns and diluting our message and impact.

Of course, even the people who berated my thoughts essentially agreed. However, they were loathe to admit that an "outsider" had gloamed onto the basic flaw that we can support causes as gay individuals but should not expect all LGBT people to support those causes by virtue of simply being "gay."

One of the respondents wagged a finger at me saying that my idea of building bridges with people within the community who might not be as liberal or progressive as others would mean that we would all have to adopt values in our personal lives that would make them "comfortable."

Yet, that "all or nothing" approach is just what I was speaking of in my note. The idea that allowing anyone who differs from you politically (in the large sense of that word) and is gay to participate or to even be invited to participate would mean "selling out" is ludicrous.

I get so tired of black and white thinking in the LGBT community. Let's look for a moment at what the Log Cabin Republicans stand for according to their mission statement:
The mission of the Log Cabin Republicans is to work within the Republican Party to advocate equal rights for all Americans, including gays and lesbians.
What in there would cause anyone to have to compromise their principles to work with these people? Nothing. Lord knows I have heaped my fair share of scorn upon the folks over there in my life - but over party politics. However, when it came down to working on equality, I think I could be man enough to do it. Sure, we'd probably fight over whether Welfare reform was a good idea or the budget crisis over drinks. We could probably end up rolling on the floor over whether Obama was better than McCain. But, those are not the points. As LGBT people we DO agree on the big issue of equality. Therefore, we could work on that issue together and politely leave the other items alone. (A lesson I learned early in life as a cradle born Liberal in the South to avoid Thanksgiving disasters.)

It's the idea that having a different opinion on a "liberal issue" makes you a bad gay that grinds my gears. It's the idea that I have to support every cause that comes down the pike whether it affects me personally or not in order to be "in" that can get under my skin.

Perhaps, I have too different an attitude about what it means to be LGBT. While I'm gay I know that not everything I believe is a direct offshoot of my sexuality.

I know that I loathe racists not because I'm gay and can recite Neimoller's poem off the top of my head but because I know deep down in soul that it's wrong and it offends me as a human being.

I know that I support women's rights. That is not because I am gay but because I was raised in a family of wonderful strong Southern women who could hold their own with any man around. I believe inherently in my soul that women are equal to men (alright I actually believe they are sometimes superior). I hold that belief not because I am gay but because I am who I am.

I know that I support nationalized healthcare. That is not because I am gay but because I worked in medicine and experienced the terrifying specter of needing major medical care and not having insurance.

I know that I support protection for the environment. That is not because I am gay but because I have always loved natural beauty and the wonders of nature.

I know that I support an end to capital punishment. That is not because I am gay but because I know that once a person is dead there is no remedy if an error was made. I also find it morally repugnant to hire a government to exact revenge. It is not because I am gay.

That, my friends, is my point. I am gay and I have many opinions on many subjects. But, I can tell when my opinion has to do with my sexuality and when it has to do with other life experiences or philosophies. I do not expect nor would I wish, every other LGBT person to agree with me 100% on all of them. To do so would mean having them become less of an individual.

Do I work on those causes? You'd better believe it. Do I let people with whom I work on those causes know I'm gay? Well, it would be hard to miss. I refer to Michael as my husband and I often wear some symbol of marriage equality or something when in public. Do I represent myself as speaking for the "LGBT Community" when working with them? Absolutely not. I am a gay man who supports the cause just as I am a Southern man who supports the cause or a Liberal Democrat who supports the cause, or a guy with brown hair and blue eyes who supports the cause and nothing more.

Does this mean that I feel I need to insure that every gay person follow suit? Does this mean that I feel I need to start a "gay" group for every single social cause? Not at all.

When I criticize LGBT organizations it is usually on the basis that they want to "reach out" to the extent that they lose their own identity and focus. The people running these groups want to embrace every cause not because it directly impacts the fight for Civil Rights but rather because it is an issue near and dear to their heart. Then they like to rationalize that personal desire as "building allies." I'm sure in some cases it also makes them feel important to "represent" the LGBT Community in those causes.

However, the best way to build allies is to be yourself. If you have a cause you wish to work on go at it like gangbusters! But, don't try to drag everyone who shares your sexual orientation with you. Don't disparage others who don't share your passion or cause. Don't try to divert the focus of LGBT activists to your personal cause by rationalizing some tangenital way it might impact gay people.

Now, that said, honestly I don't care what these dozens of mini-fiefdoms do. I pick and choose LGBT groups to work with just as I do other progressive groups. If I find their issue appealing I will work like a dog. If I feel they are running about willy-nilly without a clue, I'll wish them the best and keep on going.

Maybe I don't have the fatalism of others. I know that eventually we will have equal Civil rights. The tide has begun to turn now and it's really only a matter of time. We need to keep on the pressure but we don't need to canabalize ourselves out of a some need to be in crisis 24 hours a day over something.

Being gay is a gift. I am lucky to be gay. I would not want to be anything else. I love my LGBT brothers and sisters personally. I can be quite vocal in my disagreements about organizations but at the end of the day, I also like to leave all that and enjoy life as it is at this second because I know in my heart that moment by moment we move closer to the day when we will see full equality and that moment by moment life is also passing by.

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