Work has been kicking my ass lately. It was well after the lunch hour the other day when I finally wrenched myself away from my desk and went in search of sustenance. I needed to get back quickly, so I braved something I normally avoid: fast food. When I got to the counter I noticed that the young man behind it had one of those silicone wristbands with pride colors. "I like your wristband," I said, giving him a smile. Bold displays of the rainbow may be commonplace in California or New York, but I live in a flyover state, a red one, and they aren't here.
He looked back at me more than a little surprised. Then I was the one who was shocked, as his eyes filled with tears. He told me how he'd gotten it at church, a Unitarian Universalist church that he had just begun attending. He asked if I went there, too. I said no, but I knew people who did and really loved it. By this time my food was ready, so we said goodbye, and I left. As I made my way back to the office, I was so bothered. What the hell had happened to this young man (who looked to be about 19 or 20 years old) that a compliment from some random stranger was enough to move him to tears?
I've been vocal in support of equal rights for LGBT people for years. I have been met with surprise, frustration and even anger, but lately one response has been more disturbing: apathy. More people are acting like it's just not all that important. Glee and Modern Family are on television, a handful of states allow equal marriage, gay people can have families. It's done and the struggle is over. What is the big deal anymore?
There have been definite steps in the right direction in the last 10 years. Equal marriage is supported in six states. The media has started to portray gays and lesbians as real people, going beyond the stereotypes. The most popular daytime talk show is currently hosted by an out lesbian. Even this week, Hillary Clinton spoke at the United Nations' human rights body in Geneva in support of LGBT people across the globe.
But while all these things are great, the struggle for true equal rights and fair treatment under the law is far from over.
It's not over because 44 states do not allow equal marriage.
It's not over when over half of our states allow the legal discrimination of LGBT people.
It's not over as long as people hide behind religion as a justification to hurt their fellow citizens, even their families.
It's not over because the Secretary of State needed to make that speech.
Lately, I see this all too clearly. When kids write to me, feeling lost, alone and scared, I wish I could start by telling them to talk to their parents, but I can't. First, I have to ask, "Are your parents cool? Do they support equal rights? Do they support you?" Because when it comes to gay kids, the biggest bullies in their lives could very well be Mom and Dad.
There is this sense when discussing equal rights for LGBT people that both sides of the argument should be heard, and there should be debate. Well, I don't agree. The freedom of religion is important to this country, and something I hold very dear. But this freedom does not give anyone the right to declare a portion of our population second-class citizens, guilty of nothing more than being born.
It is so frustrating when a "reputable" news source is having a conversation about equal rights and equal marriage, and people from groups like the Family Research Council or the American Family Association are invited into the conversation. What if they invited the Grand Dragon of the KKK to speak about the problems of racism in this country? People wouldn't stand for it. So, why are these groups, which were designated hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2010, treated as legitimate? (I expect it from Fox News, but CNN should know better.)
And I know I could be over-thinking a few minute conversation with a fast food restaurant employee. Who knows? The young man could have had a sudden allergy attack that caused his eyes to water... but I don't think so. So, I will continue to speak out and stand up and vote, because I want to keep moving forward until equal rights are the reality everywhere in this country... until I can urge a child to talk to his or her parents without worry... until writing about my young son's crush on a boy isn't a big deal. I look forward to it.