Apartheid: A system of laws applied to one category of citizens in order to isolate them and keep them from having privileges and opportunities given to all others.
Particularly for an elder member of the GLBT community, the marches across the nation protesting the passage of Proposition 8 in California are a bittersweet phenomenon. It is reassuring that tens of thousands, most especially many of our young, are (re)discovering and/or (re)affirming the spirit of pride that has fueled our community since Stonewall. After generations of participating, even passively, in our own oppression, the community became an actual community by joining in a powerful cry of, "Enough is enough!" Since then, we have pushed the limits of intolerance by coming out aggressively, pushing for laws to protect us from discrimination and demanding that Courts acknowledge our equal status as American citizens.
Yet forty years after that defining response to oppression, it is difficult to celebrate the actual impact we have had on either our country or our culture. In 29 states there are Constitutional amendments passed for the sole purpose of assuring that gay and lesbian citizens are not treated or given the same rights and privileges as heterosexual Americans, to say nothing of the innumerable laws to issues like parenting and adoption. In addition to the outrageously titled Federal legislation, "defending marriage", 15 additional states have felt compelled to add their own laws barring same sex marriage. It should be noted that 18 states have written legislation in order also to limit other legal relationships such as civil unions and domestic partnerships. We were founded as a nation based on law, in large measure for the specific purpose of saving minorities from being tyrannized by the majority. The inescapable reality, however, is the law is being used for the conscious intention to accomplish the opposite.
This is not, however, a diatribe about our victimization. It is an appeal to our country, but most especially to my community, to be reminded of what we are all here for.
Since very early in my life, I felt like being gay was a blessing. Since it was clear in my fundamentalist Christian family that I would never be "the right stuff", it seemed to me that I could actually observe, from the outside, the system that human beings operated out of rather than being co-opted by it. (Perhaps that realization influenced my choosing to lead a life as a psychologist.) As a result I had the awareness that as "outsiders", we gay people could actually show the dominant culture "another way to be in the world", -- one in which you can be true to your own experience, not have to pretend to be something you are not, and actually think in a truly autonomous way, even if it sometimes would appear to fly in the face of some of your most sacrosanct convictions and those of the world.
My definition of "coming out" has always been different from others and, in fact, has little to do with verbalizing one's sexual orientation. For me it simply refers to an existential moment in which one realizes that literally all the forces of the Universe impinging on you - familial, social, religious, legal, etc. - are pushing to force you to be something you are not. A gay person has to have the personal clarity and courage to stand up to that pressure and say, "No. That is not the way God created me. My commitment is first and foremost to be true to myself as God's creation."
That is why, many years later (and many years ago) when my parents and I talked about their understandably upset feelings about my being gay, I was clear with them that it was necessary for them to choose between their belief system and having a relationship with me. Like the GLBT community relating to this country, my parents and I had endlessly repeated all the conversations. I had offered them the alternative ways to read the scriptures, including all the objective religious experts, etc. At that point I said, "I will not come back here if I am being patronized, condescended to, or marginalized in any way. To me, I am your success, not your failure."
It is worth noting that nearly forty years later when I said something to my Mother (who has still not missed a day of her 92 years reading her Bible) referring to something about being gay, she responded by saying, "You know; I pray about that every day." Stopping my impulse to roll my eyes and conclude that we had not in fact made the progress together that I had believed we had, I asked her what exactly she prayed. "I should be more accepting by now! I ask the Lord to help me."
She had arrived at the realization that it was not I who had a problem that still needed to be dealt with but her. My response to her was, "Remember to be patient with yourself; you have been brainwashed all of your life. But you are correct." (She was totally astonished at the thought that anyone would "brainwash" her.)
The gay community has supported this country in coming to a new way of relating to us as gay Americans. Since each of us has had to deal both with the conundrum of our experience and what we have been taught, we have been over the course of forty years both temperate and patient in the process of "demanding our rights".
At this point it behooves all Americans to realize that the issue at hand is not "gay rights". It is the moral credibility of the United States. We are now living in a time when it is legitimate to question whether the system, to say nothing of the vision, on which the country was founded is truly valid or, in fact, a linguistically elegant but empirically unattainable fantasy.
The GLBT community seriously needs to look at the effectiveness of the strategy we have followed in relation to our country. We need to consider that our role is not to "demand our rights" or to "lobby for equality". The movie "MILK" reminds us that it was in 1978 that California fought much the same battle we fought again this year. Then it was Proposition 6 which made it legal to fire teachers for being gay. While we pulled a victory out of a hat on that one, we lost our leader, Harvey Milk, who insisted that "this is a political fight but it is a moral issue". Decades have passed but our process remains distressingly unchanged.
Our role is to hold a mirror up to the country and no longer allow it to shift the focus away from who we have become. We have become a nation increasingly devoted to an encroaching system of apartheid for a designated category of it citizens.
The conversation about whether the gay civil rights issue is the "same as" the Black civil rights issue is totally missing the point. What needs to be recognized is that both of them are moral issues and reveal an underbelly of this country that turns the "American dream" into a fraud and a lie. The question is not whether "we are the same as Blacks" or whether "our issue is the same" (which, of course, means as "worth fighting for" and protecting). The point is America is operating the same way in relation to us as they did in relation to the Black community.
Much the same can be said of religious leaders who quote verses from their holy books but totally misrepresent the true message of their founders. As I said to my parents during the worst moments of our struggles, "If this is what you consider love, I would ask you to spare me," and "If this is what being Christian looks like, you should be ashamed of Christianity."
Be clear, however, I do not consider the problem religion, and certainly not Christianity. I agree with G. K. Chesterton who said, "It is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting; it is that it has been found difficult and left untried."
My message though is to my own community. We have to recognize that our strategies of marching and protesting and lobbying and demanding are not working except to keep us going around the same track endlessly. Our visibility is not our progress; it is our empowerment. We must quit attempting to get "them" to "accept" us and treat us equally. We must be responsible to our entire nation by making clear that the treatment of us, just like the treatment of African Americans, reveals a moral crisis that threatens the very fiber of this nation's core.
We must stop being willing to be reactively involved in "their conversations" and proactively insist on having the ones not only we, but "they", vitally need to have if we are to have any future as one people. We have discussed the "seven Bible verses" ad nauseam; now we must discuss the verses from all holy books that have to do with the real message of the religion.
All of them are about love - both a loving God and about love for one another. All of them are about all human beings fundamentally being one. All of them recognize that it takes an immense amount of humility, dedication, and intention to grow into realizing the potential inherent in each and every human being to say nothing of a culture. All of them are reflected in the great experiment that is this country and are embodied in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
It is understandable, and merely human, for people to have the divisive and often cruel responses they do. In this country as much as any in history, however, that has to be the beginning and not the end.
In reality everything that every American truly cares about is at risk until Gay Apartheid is reversed and the impulses in its direction are seen as the real "abomination" and healed by the people who suffer from it.