This country trumpets diversity as one of its primary characteristics, even devoting a nickname to it. A melting pot is a metaphor for a heterogeneous society moving towards homogeneity. It is pretty evident that we are a cluster of different people, with stories, experiences, and prejudices that weigh heavily on our perceptions of the world like dry contacts on heavily lidded eyes. We blink to shrug off what may block us from interacting with people who are different than us only to find that so often the discrepancies are the ties that bind.
I can't say what it was like to grow up with a teenage consciousness in 1960's America, or even begin to fathom what my parents saw in Apartheid South Africa. But with fervent assuredness, I can say that despite the leaps and bounds this country has made in order to practice what it preaches, there's a lot of work to be done.
Even within the confines of a remarkably liberal campus like Northwestern University, we have to stop and address the ignorance of a few to remind ourselves why simple human respect is imperative. Granted these are anomalies, but garish instances of racism and bullying of any kind reflect unconscious tendencies of a community. Just because some people don't act on impulses, doesn't mean that they aren't there in the first place.
Racism is a concealed enemy that is not going away anytime soon. In terms of the entire history of this country, there has been a mere fraction of the time during which racism wasn't a systematic, cultural norm. That hasn't been ameliorated by the presence of a black president, despite what anybody tells you. It is less of a rampant epidemic now than it was 30-40 years ago, but the scar tissue of institutionalized racism is still forming.
My generation has been witness to new wounds born from gay prejudice. It is estimated that 30 percent of all completed suicides amongst teens are in some way related to sexual identity. At this point, even NBA players have to go on national television to remind youth why it is not OK to label negative things as being gay. The PSA seems to have made an impact, as the number one YouTube comment reads: "usin gay to mean dum or stupid is cool." This user is clearly in need of grammatical studies as much as civility ones, not to mention a walloping slap across the face. The use of the "N" word is rightfully frowned upon but the use of the word "gay" in attribution to negative things is used at the drop of a hat. It injects the word with derogatory connotations, such that being homosexual is implicitly perceived as negative in itself. Even in colloquial conversation, we disavow the rights of a particular group to fit a hetero-normative standard.
If gay rights truly is one of my generation's biggest issues, shouldn't our political predilections in some way reflect this? This week President Obama announced his support of same-sex marriage, a sentiment which incited as much joy as it did election brownie points. He has completely galvanized the LGBT community to vote for him this year, in a manner unlike any previous president. The fact that the announcement does wonders for his reelection campaign, does little to diminish the importance of the act itself. It's a big goddamn deal. Yet simultaneously it's an appeal to voters of my age bracket, the very same people that have stigmatized homosexuality in years past. It creates an interesting conundrum that forces us to reanalyze where we stand on the issue.
And then a somewhat disturbing story from the other side emerged to soil all the free-loving fun. Mitt Romney allegedly bullied a homosexual student named John Lauber during his high school years at the esteemed Cranbrook School. While Romney apologized for the incident in which he, according to sources, pinned Lauber down and cut off his hair, he did not directly acknowledge that this instance of bullying had occurred. Now, everyone's closet is filled with skeletons, which get dragged out at the drop of a hat. And it's very easy to besmirch a candidate's reputation based on events that happened prior to their entrance into the political realm. All of that being said, there are no fathomable reasons to even consider condoning Romney's alleged actions. People don't make this kind of stuff up for sport either. There was no discernable political agenda that compelled Romney's high school associates to publicize this story.
This will obviously not break Romney's campaign -- gay rights are likely not of primary concern to his voters. But the fact that Obama made his announcement seemingly within hours of the story of young Romney emerging, portends almost unanimous support from the LGBT community for the current president.
Gay rights are an issue like any other, which people can obviously choose to support or not. But in an era where bullying, especially targeted towards teens and their expression of sexual identity, is an online and in-person epidemic, the shadows of Romney's past will loom tall in the winding, sunset glow of this presidential race. It is difficult to separate a candidate's societal perspectives from political qualifications, especially when the issue strikes such a resounding nerve. The events of this past week shouldn't necessarily be the sole incentive for approbations toward either candidate, but when one of the most pertinent social issues of our time is in question, the choice can become all that much easier.
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