We were recently walking the grounds of the NY Botanical Garden when my partner of a year and a half went to grab for my hand. I uncomfortably pulled away, which I do often when outside certain stretches of streets that lay within the confines of Chelsea or Hell's Kitchen. He asked me why I did that. A long discussion ensued about my internalized homophobia, and how I really still cared what others thought of me. As much as I have tried throughout my life to take a stand for myself, I found myself wanting to not stand out. I just wanted to blend in and not deal with any uncomfortable feelings. I didn't want to be looked at as an alien or clown. I didn't want to be laughed at, mocked or sneered at in disgust. These were the things I have grappled with since being in the third grade and getting picked on.
I stuck out because I was gay (other kids saw this before I was able to). I've tried so hard to shed those feelings that I just don't want to become that little third grade boy who is getting picked on again. So in these moments, I feel it is better to not rock the boat. I feel instances of shame for being gay, which is juxtaposed by anger for not being able to take a stand and show the world that there is nothing strange or weird about my sexual orientation. My partner reminded me of how important it is to do something like holding hands in areas where it is relatively safe. It might feel uncomfortable, but we have to push against that. That is how change comes about. And it is in these moments that I realize how my internal homophobia can so easily swallow up the LGBT activist inside me.
Any day now, we are expected to get a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on the landmark case of Obergefell v. Hodges. This is the case that will determine whether the United States has marriage in all 50 states. Obergefell v. Hodges is a case that comes out of Ohio. James Obergefell is suing the state of Ohio for not recognizing his marriage to his partner John Arthur. After 20 years of being together, they were married in Maryland on July 11, 2013. John Arthur was suffering from ALS and died only three months and 11 days later. On July 19, 2013, a lawsuit was filed by Obergefell and Arthur stating that Ohio discriminates against same-sex couples married legally in other states. Arthur wanted the Ohio registrar to identify Obergefell as his surviving spouse on his death certificate after he died.
The Ohio Registrar agreed that not doing so would be discriminatory, while the state's Attorney General took an opposing stance. They would move ahead with defending Ohio's same-sex marriage ban. The U.S. Supreme Court has consolidated this case with three other same-sex marriage cases coming from Kentucky, Tennessee and Michigan. On April 28, 2015 oral arguments were heard. The general sentiment amongst legal experts and community leaders is that the court will rule in favor of federal marriage equality.
This decision is coming only two years after the historic 2013 Supreme Court ruling in Windsor v. the United States. Edie Windsor took on the long standing Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and won! Six weeks before the decision came down, I had the honor of assisting Edie by mainly escorting her to events and helping her with her calendar. I felt incredibly lucky to be able to do this and not only witness history up close, but to have the opportunity to hear what Edie had to say about life, being gay and the importance of love.
Before her wife Thea died, they had been together 42 years. Edie was grateful for the special love and connection that she had, and being the giving, caring person she is, spoke of wanting others to have that kind of joy in their lives. At the time, it had been 11 years since I had been in a long-term relationship. It would not be until about a year and a half later that I would find my current boyfriend and once again be in a long-term relationship.
Despite the fact that things have gotten so much easier for LGBT people in this country, especially in N.Y.C., there still lingers a dark veil of internalized homophobia that keeps gay men apart and prevents them from one another and experiencing rich, intimate, long-term connections. Body dysmorphia, perfectionism, stereotypes, issues with gender roles, etc., can all be grouped together under this one umbrella. There are so many single gay men of quality in N.Y.C. that don't have success dating. (I used to be one of them!) They want to find that special someone and for all their trying just can't seem to find the one. I believe it has a lot to do with outside societal factors, but we can't ignore the fact that we so often get in our own way when it comes to dating. Edie and Thea met at a time when it was almost imperative to be secretive about being gay. They were still able to share a beautiful love and bond. Certainly one to look up to. This was the part of the story I wanted to most take away, with the hope that I might also be able to have the same in my life one day. All of these political fights were anchored to the solid core of the two of them and their love. It's important in our struggles to not forget the prize that we are fighting for. It is our right to have love just like anyone else, to be able to display it like anyone else, be open with it and be equally respected. To not have to be in fear ANYWHERE we walk because we are holding our partner's hand.
Edie was quoted in New York Magazine recently as saying, "We have to stop using the term 'same-sex marriage.' It's marriage. It's about marriage. It's about dignity. It's about equality." Dignity means being able to get a marriage license anywhere without being turned away like Carol Ann and Thomas Person were almost 40 years ago for being an interracial couple. The magistrate cited religious beliefs that precluded them from issuing the license. This was later found to be unlawful, but as of June 11th a law was put into effect that would once again give some court officials the right to refuse service to gay couples based on religious beliefs. Before this law went into effect, Ms. Person implored in an Op-Ed piece that:
Whether gay or straight, black or white, Jew or Gentile, nobody has a right to tell anyone who they can love or marry. House representatives must finally stop Senate Bill 2 and sustain the governor's veto so that no other couple in North Carolina ever has to go through what we did when they want to marry the person they love.
Marriage Equality makes us equal in some ways, but only scratches the surface. It does not garner full acceptance. It does not make something simple like holding hands safe. It makes gay okay in theory, but not in practice. It has been four years since the Marriage Equality Act was passed in New York, yet being gay and walking in the Time Square subway station holding hands with your partner will make you feel like you just grew three more heads! We have to face the fact that we have a long ways to go in the same way that we still have a lot of work cut out for us with racism. There are interracial couples who I am sure have experienced the same feelings I'm talking about. There is a constant shifting of what is safe to do in certain areas and what is not. All of this, just for being what you are and loving who you do.